Review: ‘Why Not Me?’ by Mindy Kaling

Tickets for Mindy Kaling’s book reading later this month at Washington, D.C.’s, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue sold out in two minutes. On Twitter she has 4.64 million followers, almost double the number of fellow TV boss-lady-turned-author Lena Dunham.

So even if the star and creator of The Mindy Project had filled the pages of her new book with nothing more than old tweets, the thing would sell — fast. Happily, though, that’s not what she did. Instead, Kaling has written a second book that’s funnier, sharper and more confident than her 2011 collection of personal essays and pop culture riffs called Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Even the title of that initial effort implied that Kaling was trying to find her place; the tone of this new one announces that she has found it and is comfortable inviting people to spend time with her there.

As was the case in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, the writing in Why Not Me? is conversational and punchy, and the subjects are wide-ranging. The Massachusetts native formerly known as Kelly Kapoor from The Office covers wedding etiquette (“There are few things that I have more ideological problems with than the concept of the ‘honeyfund’ ”); the commercialization of female empowerment (“I just sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that corporations are co-opting ‘girl confidence’ language to rally girls into buying body wash”); and what it’s really like to make out with someone for the purposes of television comedy (“If you interview any actor about having to do sex scenes, you always get the same answer: they ‘hate’ doing them. … I am here to tell you that they are all lying”).

Kaling knows her young, female fans see her as aspirational and accessible, and she deftly manages to come across as both. She liberally name-drops but without sounding braggy. (After describing an embarrassingly overconfident attempt to interrupt a party conversation between John Kerry and Bradley Cooper, for example, she admits that her subsequent interaction with Cooper was “a solid B-minus.”) She invites readers into her Hollywood circle via photo-illustrated essays of life on the set of “The Mindy Project,” which was recently picked up by Hulu after getting canceled by Fox. And in a chapter (excerpted in the New Yorker) about typical TV show pitches, she describes a series about a 40-something woman whose husband cheats on her: “Everyone on this show drinks wine while sitting on couches. And they’re in jeans and barefoot with one foot tucked under them.”

There are times when Kaling relies on semi-frustrating authorial life hacks. As in her first book, she invites a friend to write one of the chapters — this time, it’s Office creator Greg Daniels — and she includes the text of a funny speech she made at the 2014 Harvard Law School Class Day. As forthcoming as Kaling might be, there are also some things she has decided to keep private; though she acknowledges the death of her mother in the chapter on Novak, she never delves more deeply into the impact of that recent loss.

Kaling prefers to tell happier, more amusing stories, some of them intentionally fictionalized, such as the “Perfect Courtship in My Alternate Life,” a romance that awkwardly blossoms via emails and texts between “Mindy Kaling, Dalton School Latin teacher,” and a shy widower who clearly should be played by the younger equivalent of Colin Firth. Kaling’s gift for capturing the awkward flutter of adult courtship speaks to what’s so enjoyable about The Mindy Project and suggests that maybe she’s the woman best suited to write a Bridget Jones’s Diary for the current decade. Hey, plenty of stars have tried their hand at novel-writing. Why not Mindy Kaling?

Jen Chaney reviewed this book for The Washington Post.