Mindy Kaling, by my standards, seems to be doing pretty well. She co-starred in (and wrote for!) The Office. Now she’s got her own TV show, The Mindy Project. She gets to hang out with other fabulous celebrities, including (this one time) the President of the United States! Seems like a pretty sweet gig, right?
And yet, the title of her latest memoir, Why Not Me? reminds me that Kaling, daughter of Indian immigrants, knows what it means to be jealous, ambitious, and curious. Why not me? she wonders, as she watches yet another TV pilot filled with white, skinny actors. Why not me? she insists, realizing that sometimes success is attainable if you devote every waking moment to accomplishing your goals.
That being said, this isn’t a tear-jerking, inspirational autobiography, or some self-help tome on reaching success. It’s just Mindy, doing what she does best: writing well, making people laugh, and poking at our ridiculous inner monologues by exposing her own.
Honestly, I haven’t followed everything Kaling has done. I loved/hated (as appropriate) her character “Kelly” on The Office. And I saw a ton of Mindy Project ads in the subway last fall. But, while I was aware of her as an entertainer, I didn’t know much about her as a person, or her credentials as a writer.
Cracking open Why Not Me? over the past few weeks has allowed me an enjoyable glimpse into someone who is doing a lot of cool things, has a lot of talent, and a has voice worth listening to.
The book is divided into four sections: being a woman, working in TV, dating, and finally, “All the Opinions You Will Ever Need.” Each chapter is essentially an essay on a different issue, hilarious and/or tragic story from her life, or person. She writes about her mentor Greg Daniels and her best friend B.J. Novak, on the Greek life at Dartmouth College, and the difference between friends-of-the-moment and lifelong best friends.
My personal favorite chapter is almost entirely composed of fictional email and text conversations Kaling imagines as an alternate universe, had she stayed in New York City and become an eligible high school Latin teacher.
Whether it’s in her own recollections of her mother, a photo-journal piecing together a typical day in her life, or fabricated emails between Fake-Mindy-Kaling and Fake-brooding-History-teacher-Sam-Cook, Kaling’s sharp wit and light tone make Why Not Me? an easy and enjoyable read.
There is something alluring about the ability to read the confessions of the rich and famous. It’s a comforting surprise to find out that they are obsessed with McDonald’s and that they, too, are terribly awkward at parties.
Kaling knows how to make you laugh out loud and, what’s better, she brings a unique perspective to topics like Hollywood and the world of TV, finding success as a woman in a male-driven field, hard work, friendship, and ambition.
In fact, reading Why Not Me? made me want to check out The Mindy Project, and maybe read her first book too. It got my brainwaves churning about my own goals and struggles. It made me appreciate that Mindy is another girl like me, living the hustle, too busy to even think some days.
And isn’t that exactly the kind of book we need to read, once in awhile? Some days we need Mindy Kaling to tell us, “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled” (p. 223). On those days, look no further than Why Not Me?