When did “hard worker” become a backhanded compliment? When did “thirsty” become such a good burn? Why are we so weird about work, and about wanting, and about working hard to get the things we want?
You could say a lot about Mindy Kaling’s new memoir Why Not Me?—that it is, like its predecessor, extremely charming; that it offers a collegial mix of sincerity and sarcasm and self-deprecation and self-affirmation; that there’s a good chance it will make you love Kaling or at least want to chat with her over cocktails with “fizz” in their names—but maybe the main thing to say is this: The book is, at its core, a defense of work. It is a defense of striving, and wanting, and thirsting. It takes all the glib protestations of Hollywood doublespeak (“I woke up like this,” “omg I basically only eat fried chicken,” “they’re real,” etc.), and says to them: No. You are lying. You worked for what you got. You struggled, somehow, for it. Just own that.
Kaling focuses, in large part, on the dirty mundanities that so often precede and accompany Hollywood success: the spackled makeup, the Spanx, the spray tans, the hair extensions, the long commutes, the late nights, the coffee, the drudgery. Kaling tells her reader (who is “probably a woman,” or perhaps “a gay man,” or maybe someone who “accidentally bought this thinking it was the Malala book”) about her early days in the writers’ room of The Office, when she was so shy she barely spoke aloud. “Years later,” she notes, “I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet.”