I think I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: one of the best things about being in a book club is it forces me out of my literary comfort zone (repeat-reading Agatha Christie’s and Margery Allinghams and otherwise sticking solely to a diet of mid 20th century novels written by women set in villages) and pushes me to read contemporary fiction, nonfiction and even, gasp, poetry! My most recent book club read was Mindy Kaling’s memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?If you’re looking for a light, diverting, uplifting summer read to while away an afternoon in the park, this is the perfect book for you. It documents Mindy’s life to date, from her early years as a chubby, gloriously geeky kid in Bill Cosby jumpers and pudding bowl haircuts, through her equally awkward adolescence and career to date as a comedy writer and actress, culminating in her landing an awesome job on the team behind the US version of The Office.
I think the reason I enjoyed it so much was that she is such an unapologetic saddo (I’m sure she’ll forgive me for saying that – after all, it takes one to know one.) She makes no bones about the fact that she was loves hanging out with her family, watching Monty Python with fanatical zeal and is schoolmarmishly bemused by one night stands – “I guess nothing puts a damper on a one-night stand as much as your friend pointing out all the opportunities where you might have been killed.”
So many memoirs by famous people read like one long humble brag. Mindy could easily have fallen into that trap – after all, she managed to be a hugely successful comedy writer by the age of 24, has her own TV show (The Mindy Project) and is pals with the likes of Amy Poehler (pronounced POLE-er, if you were wondering, as we were at book club and so had to Google it.)
But her life story is amazingly, refreshingly ordinary – the child of happily married immigrant parents (her mum is a gynaecologist just like the character Mindy plays in The Mindy Project and her dad is an architect), she has no tales of divorce, addiction or debauchery to share. Thank goodness for that.
Instead we get bittersweet anecdotes about being teased as a chubby teen, stories about how obnoxious and irritating she was in her first few jobs and insight into how a comedy show gets put together (lots of people sitting around a table showing off, apparently.)
It’s gentle, unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable to read (plus it’s helpfully divided into nice short chapters, allowing you to read one on a five-stop tube journey, or to break conveniently to make a cup of tea without losing the thread of the narrative.)
There’s a lovely section about the time she spent, post-college, living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn with her two best friends, which sounds very 'Girls', but in actual fact is infinitely more believable – less grimy hipster sex, more geeky boyfriendless hanging out goofing around. In fact, it's all the stuff about friendship - the claustrophobically tight foursome she was part of in school, her 'weekend friend' who she developed her love of comedy with and those forever friends from college - which makes up some of the most moving, relateable parts of the book.
A chapter in which she describes a mean stylist trying to force her into an ugly navy dress because she can’t fit into any of the beautiful sample size gowns he brought to the shoot gives an insight into the crushing reality of a ‘glamorous’ showbiz life. There’s a happy ending to that particular story though, as after a stealthy cry in the toilets, she returns to the set and in a fantastic display of passive-aggression declares that she ‘doesn’t feel comfortable’ with the navy shift and insists they adapt one of the too-small dresses, which she wears and looks smoking hot in.
Hers genuinely is a story of how determination, establishing what you love (in her case, comedy) at an early age and just enough of the right kind of self belief can end in success. Except of course it’s not the end – one of the complaints at book club was that this memoir felt too lightweight, because enough hasn’t happened to Mindy yet to give it substance. (She deals with this in the Introduction, where she answers hypothetical questions like “This sounds okay, but not as good as Tina Fey’s book. Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?”)
But I think it’s only a matter of time before volume two comes out, because Mindy has her sights set on Hollywood (there’s a chapter devoted to the films she’d like to reboot, including Van Helsing and an all-women version of Ghostbusters, starring Emily Blunt, Taraji Henson, Natalie Portman and Mindy, who of course would be the one who gets to say “I ain’t afraid a no ghost.” I’d totally watch that.
And quite frankly, if Wayne Rooney can have two ‘autobiographies’ (hahahaha) on the shelves, then why shouldn’t Mindy?