Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Melissa Amster:
The first thing you need to know about me is that I'm a huge fan of The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling is hilarious and totally seems like someone with whom I could see myself becoming friends. And I'm not just talking about her as the character of Mindy Lahiri, but also about what she is like in real life, based on what I've read in her memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

I had purchased Mindy's book earlier in the year, before I knew I would fall in love with her show. As I was in the middle of season two after my marathon catch-up sessions, I decided to finally check out the story behind this genius of a comedic actress. (That, and I needed something light and entertaining after reading a particularly intense novel.)

From the very first page, Mindy had me laughing and grinning. Her book is very easygoing and random at times. It reminds me of The Mindy Project, even though it was written before the show premiered. She mostly focuses on The Office (and tells us some interesting things about the actors) and her writing experience for Saturday Night Live. I was a fan of The Office until Steve Carell left, and I always thought Mindy was a lot of fun on that show too. She even had some chick lit novels available during an episode where they were all having some sort of giant garage sale. I was even more impressed to learn that she was behind some of the really funny episodes. They all had "the Mindy touch." It was really interesting to get an insider look at writing for television.

Mindy is not only a talented actress, but an amazing comic writer of both scripts and books. I'd love for her to write a chick lit novel because I think she'd make it perfect on her first try. I feel like Mindy is the celebrity mascot for chick lit. She's so girly and is not afraid to show it. I also wouldn't complain if she wrote a follow up to this book talking about her experiences working on The Mindy Project. (And not just because I want to know what it's like to work with Chris Messina, but that would be a perk!)

Miriam Plotinsky:
Almost every woman I know had an awkward phase, usually peaking in middle school. We look back at old photos and cringe at our big glasses and braces, wondering why we ever thought wearing a side ponytail with a scrunchie was a good idea. Hastily, we shove the photo album underneath the bed, hoping those incriminating pictures never see the light of day. Well, most of us. Mindy Kaling, who came into public consciousness as Kelly Kapoor on the popular sitcom The Office, wears her childhood embarrassment on her sleeve, sharing those difficult moments of growing up. As a result, we laugh with – not at – Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, an honest and hilarious look at several aspects of female life.

Kaling spends much of the book detailing her rise to success, first as a writer, and then as an actress and comedian. However, the best parts of the book are grounded in Kaling’s relatable voice and experience. A self-proclaimed size eight, Kaling approaches her size as she does every aspect of her life, with proud confidence and a wry sense of what society would like her to be instead. Though Kaling is a celebrity, she never comes across as one. She still hangs out with her college friends, she struggles with dating, and her parents drive her crazy. In other words, she has the same life as everybody else, with an intriguing element of fame added to the mix.

Sprinkled throughout the book are pictures of what Kaling looked like growing up, another testament to her confidence. Hidden behind the giant lenses and awkward bowl-style haircut is the face of a woman who not only gives Hollywood’s preconception about women lacking the skill to be funny an irrefutable run for its money, but who is also conquering a notoriously shallow industry through her wit and unapologetic attitude. Kaling’s brand of humor is gentle and often absurd, showing a vast intelligence that trumps cruder and more common forms of comedy, like slapstick or vulgarity.

Though Kaling entered my realm through the self-deprecating lens of Kelly Kapoor, reading her book was a no-brainer and a rewarding experience. She is one of the many feminists out there working to have people understand that women are funny, intelligent, and edgy. Maybe it’s time for me to take those middle school pictures out and dust them off. After all, I don’t look like that anymore, and that awkward girl is part of my journey to who I am today. It’s time to uncover her comic potential.

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Janine said...

It sounds like a good book. I've heard good things about her show too. I really need to watch it.

Dee DeTarsio said...

Thanks for the review! I am obsessed with The Mindy Project (and loved last night's cliffhanger!). She is awesome!

Rivki Silver said...

I really enjoyed this book as well, and when I read it I didn't have any idea who Mindy Kaling was. I think I saw it in the library and liked the cover or something. So, even without loving Mindy previously, I definitely came to love her after the book!