I completely abused the Highlight function on my Kindle when reading this book. A vital, sensitive exploration of her childhood and youth, heading into maturity and fame, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is written by Carrie Brownstein (and ONLY Carrie Brownstein) with a wit and honesty unusual for the vast majority of celebrity memoirs. There were only two flaws, for me: 1. the ending seemed scattered and unfocused (a flaw common to most memoirs, tho,) and 2. the oddly judgmental tone she takes when discussing “slacker” rock stars like Beck and Rivers Cuomo, who don’t exude a wild exuberance when performing on-stage. She accuses them of performing from a place of entitlement, which is an odd interpretation for someone who also confesses to being painfully shy: in an otherwise empathetic book, the fact that she doesn’t immediately assume the same of them is jarring. Having said that, I’ve seen both Ms Brownstein and Mr Cuomo perform live, and while the former is definitely more kinetic and, thus, electric, I wouldn’t call the latter at all a lazy entertainer.
Another thing I found odd, if understandable, is the title, and its possible relation to Ms Brownstein’s mother’s anorexia. I’m fairly certain Ms Brownstein sees the irony of the connection, as she herself admits to having a remarkable constitution despite her undiscerning diet, but nowhere is it noted explicitly in the book.
Anyway, there were so many great and relatable moments otherwise, including this observation regarding looking back on our pasts:
[N]ostalgia asks so little of us, just to be noticed and revisited; it doesn’t require the difficult task of negotiation, the heartache and uncertainty that the present does.
On parents, she reminds us of deeply held, if unfairly assumed, notions of their roles in our lives:
Parents are supposed to be our storage facilities: insert a memory, let them hold on to it for you.
We want our parents to be the norm from which we deviate.
Possibly my favorite words of hers had to do with the (primarily, but not necessarily adolescent) search for identity:
It’s hard to express how profound it is to have your experience broadcast back to you for the first time, how shocking it feels to be acknowledged, as if your own sense of realness had only existed before as a concept.
and this one, that hit me hard, as I too had quested fitfully through my adolescence and college years for purpose:
I needed other people’s outward manifestations of self to help me realize who I could be.
Here, she echoes what I’ve always felt about performing:
[J]ust being up there, engaged in a momentary artifice, a heightening of self, is sometimes enough to get by, to feel less worn down by, less withered by life.
After a less than stellar audition for a band she admired, she wrote the bandleader a confessional letter that had me cringing in both empathy and embarrassment at having done something very similar in my own youth:
People think that the digital age and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter nurture over-sharing, but in 1992 there was nothing stopping me from treating any piece of paper like a personal diary. I wanted so badly to be taken to some special place, to be asked into a secret club that would transform my life. I felt like music was that club. And to see inside for a moment and then be asked to leave was devastating.
And finally, an excellent passage that I could have written myself, were I smarter and more self-exploratory:
Underneath that nervousness, however, I had a cunningness and intentionality, or at least a cluelessness that was intrepid enough to get the job done. I cared too much about what people thought but also not enough.
That isn’t even all of the bits I highlighted, but man, am I looking forward to owning my own physical copy eventually and abusing it just as much. The book also got me to listen to my old Sleater-Kinney CDs, that are just as good as I remember. I got to see them perform live several times, and still remember standing in line to get into the 9:30 Club when I saw Janet Weiss lug some band equipment out of the trunk of a car. She had a wry expression on her face as she gazed at the chattering crowd oblivious to her presence, and I instinctively leaned forward to ask if I could help, but she turned away and I was too shy to call out to offer. After reading this book, with its tales of what touring life was really like for them, I know that I should have.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve ever read. Carrie Brownstein is an incredibly talented and intelligent writer, with a capacity for self-reflection and empathy that is refreshing to read in this kind of work. The book adds depth to my existing admiration of Sleater-Kinney, and to the minor girl crush I’ve had on her since seeing her perform one of her signature kicks dressed in the business casual garb that, on her, always gave off a louche Desire of the Endless vibe to me. Love love love.