When I was younger I read a lot. I read the Bible every day. It was full of stories and lessons I could apply to my life. I pulled apart verses and parables, trying to glean every ounce of wisdom, reading symbolism into each word, and personalizing everything. I started to analyze everything I read, from the Bible to novels to poetry to songs. I remember listening to Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam over and over in High School. I started to attribute deep meaning to every line. “Maybe when he references a letter he really means his heart,” I would say, or something close to that. I don’t remember my actual analysis but I do know I was trying very hard to determine what the song was about. (We didn’t have Wikipedia back then.) My friend looked at me and shut down my overactive, analytical brain with one remark, “I think it’s just a story.”
Just a story. Is there such a thing?
When I read books today, particularly essays and memoirs, I am still looking for meaning. I try to pull out lessons from the author I can apply to my own life. What can I take from their story to guide my own? Hunger is the first work by Roxane Gay that I have read but it will not be the last. (Bad Feminist is enroute to my house courtesy of Amazon Prime as I type this.) In fact, I had never heard of Roxane until she came to Pittsburgh earlier this year and my Twitter feed BLEW UP. Not literally of course but people were going CRAZY for Roxane, maybe literally, I don’t know. I looked her up. I had to know who this woman was that everyone was raving about. I was curious but in the middle of reading a few other books and working on my blog so I didn’t read any of her work at that time. (I know, I know…)
Her name stuck with me though and at my recent girl’s weekend everyone was relaxing and reading one afternoon except for me. (I had forgotten to pack everything from face wash to shoes.) I looked around and saw Hunger sitting on a table in our rented cottage. I recognized Roxane’s name so I picked it up immediately and read about a quarter of it in one sitting. Sadly, I had to part ways with that particular copy but I could not stop thinking about her words on my drive home. That night I ordered my own copy and when it arrived I devoured it in two days. As I closed the back cover I sighed and held onto the book with both hands. I physically was not ready to put it down. I love when I finish a book and can add it to my bookshelf to be admired proudly from a distance. This time, I wanted it close to me so I placed it on my desk where it still sits today.
Hunger is a look into how childhood trauma literally shaped Roxane Gay, her body and her life. Hunger is not clean and tidy. It doesn’t try to impart wisdom, humor, or life lessons. Yes, it delivers all of those things at times but it doesn’t try to. It’s her story told in her way. Some chapters are one paragraph long. Some chapters repeat their first sentence a few times before moving on. She writes in a style all her own, direct and descriptive, raw and real. Roxane’s memoir made me understand her just enough. She was honest and revealing but kept parts of her story for herself, as she should. At times I felt like I was reading her diary and other times I felt like she had read mine. My favorite line is:
“…I felt so utterly alone…I no longer need the layers of protection I built around myself but pulling those layers back is harder than I could have ever imagined.”
More than any other book or memoir I’ve read recently, Hunger doesn’t try, it just is. It is just a story, her story, and I loved it. I LOVED IT.
The Office was never a show I watched consistently. I would go through phases of watching for a few consecutive weeks but it was easy for me to make other plans or just plain forget it was on. I can’t say that Mindy Kaling really stood out to me on the show (sorry Mindy!) I do remember seeing her name in the credits and being impressed that she was a writer on the show. Since The Office she has created her own show called The Mindy Project, currently airing on Hulu. It’s hilarious. I look forward to new episodes and I found myself thinking, “I wonder what else she has to say?” Turns out, she has written two books so far. Yay for me and yay for you. Her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is an easy, fun read that gives you a look inside how she grew up, grew her career, and ended up as a writer on The Office. She graduated from college in 2001, the same year as me, and lived in New York during 9-11, which she only mentions in passing. We have just enough in common that I think we could have been friends had I opted to attend Dartmouth, not that it was an option mind you.
After finishing her first book I immediately picked up her second, Why Not Me? By this point in her life Mindy had moved on from The Office and had started working on The Mindy Project. “Why Not Me” is an entertaining collection of essays that gives the reader a look into Mindy’s successful life in Hollywood. One thing is clear, she works hard. Really hard. She is also witty, smart, funny, and refreshingly down to earth. Mindy, I will sneak out of a party with you any day.