Why Not Me?
Freya: Mindy Kaling is a try-hard, and that’s not an insult. It’s a refreshing departure from the current “I woke up like this” brand of celebrity, where both perfection and effortlessness rule. But the thing about both perfection and effortlessness is that together, they’re unattainable.
Why Not Me? serves to shatter our illusions of celebrity. Kaling freely admits that her red carpet moments take a team of make-up artists armed with hair extensions and refrigerated face masks, and the same goes for every other Hollywood starlet. Looking camera-ready takes effort, much like how building a career as successful as Kaling’s takes work. That’s why, above all, Why Not Me? is a testament to the value of hard work. As she writes (or rather, says), “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.” And that blunt humor and honesty is what makes Kaling’s memoir so thoroughly enjoyable. We’ve all been told time and again that hard work brings success, but Kaling actually practices what she preaches. And she preaches it in an infinitely likable way. With her impeccable wit and charm, Kaling writes:
People love to say: ‘She just walked into the party, charming people with her effortless beauty.’ I don’t understand that at all. What’s so wrong with effort, anyway? It means you care. What about the girl who ‘walked into the party, her determination to please apparent on her eager face’? Sure, she might seem a little crazy, and, yes, maybe everything she says sounds like conversation starters she found on a website, but at least she’s trying. Let’s give her a shot!
An Object of Beauty
Alex: It’s no secret that I’m a fan of reading books based on my location. There’s nothing quite like wandering down the actual street you’ve just visited in your mind; the tone of the book sets a tone for reality, bringing magic to the mundane. So while preparing to visit the East Coast last fall for the first time in years, I asked a former New Yorker for her favorite city reads. She handed me An Object of Beauty.
“I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else.”
As these lines attest, Steve Martin’s smartly observed novel borrows a thing or two from a few other famed New York tales. His narrator’s fascination-from-afar with a young, ambitious woman navigating the contemporary art scene recalls both Nick Carraway and Capote’s “Fred.” And the object of his interest is a worthy successor of Holly Golightly: though more traditionally employed, Lacey makes her way through the world with no less gumption and grace. The novel is as much a portrait of a woman as it is of New York’s art scene; Martin, an avid collector himself, shows off his comedic chops while skewering the pretensions of Manhattan’s intellectual elite. As a trip to the museum after finishing An Object of Beauty confirmed, sometimes the people looking at art are just as fascinating as the art itself.
Ashley: Usually I’m scared of satire because it’s so rarely done well, and can be used as an excuse to reinforce the status quo in the guise of progressive social commentary. But I had no fear picking up Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens after it was described to me as a hilarious surrealist satire of Lord of the Flies that explicitly tackles capitalist corruption and the danger of stereotypes based on race or gender. In it, a plane of beauty pageant contestants from each state crashes on a tropical island, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves.
Unlike Lord of the Flies, the girls don’t let their differences or the fact that they’re would-be competitors stop them from banding together to survive. Whereas the boys in Golding’s classic lose their civilized selves to the wildness of the island, the girls in Beauty Queens discover that they change for the better—“maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” Between all these serious postulations there’s plenty of jokes poking fun at reality TV, pop music (everyone’s favorite boy band is Boyz Will B Boyz, despite the rising popularity of Hot Vampire Boyz), and infomercials. The audiobook enhances the experience by adding things like music to the commercial reads, and Bray’s stellar reading won her the Audie Award for Best Narration by the Author.