I generally try to avoid the US version of The Office, as I do any US remake of a television show, as I often find them too in-your-face and more contrived than the original. The comedic memoir and collection of essays by Mindy Kaling – a writer for The Office USA, who also acts in the show as office chatterbox Kelly Kapoor – was therefore a risky choice. However, a good friend had persuaded me that her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is funny and relatable, so I brushed aside my prejudices at the promise of a kindred spirit. My first meeting with Kaling was this:
Thank you for buying this book. Or, if my publisher’s research analytics are correct, thank you, Aunts of America, for buying this for your niece you don’t know that well but really want to connect with more. There are many teenage vampire books you could have purchased instead. I’m grateful you made this choice.
It’s a strong start to a debut book, and indicative of the tone of Kaling’s work. Smart, witty, and with the times, Kaling’s book details formative life experiences and reflections on her childhood up until her current stint as a Hollywood writer (as well as strict instructions for her funeral). The book is not structured as a detailed memoir, but rather as a series of humorous essays, lists and short asides with titles such as ‘Don’t Peak at High School’, ‘Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real’ and ‘The Day I Stopped Eating Cupcakes’.
Kaling’s writing is very easy to read, as her style is straight-talking and fairly colloquial. She provides plenty of insight into her motivations for entering the field of comedy writing and acting, with her career musings particularly relevant for those familiar with the US TV comedy scene or those with aspirations to enter a similar field.
Kaling’s story is particularly interesting, as she doesn’t quite fit into the traditional Hollywood ‘mould’, as the child of Indian migrants and a self-professed ‘chubby girl’. Her musings on relationships are particularly refreshing for those who don’t subscribe to the Sex In The City stereotype, with some honest discussions about relationship dynamics presented not in a preachy manner, but as an innocuous and genuine offering of her own opinion. For example, Kaling suggests ‘happiness can come in a bunch of forms, and maybe a marriage with tons of work makes people feel happy. But part of me still thinks … is it really so hard to make it work? What happened to being pals?’
Memoirs and autobiographical pieces, personal as they are, can often fall into monotony. However, Kaling has managed to avoid this. Her snappy essays and subheadings give the reader space to breathe and reflect, and her self-deprecating and joking banter reminds the reader to not take it all too seriously. The use of photos alongside witty captions is rather enjoyable, particularly the photos of Kaling as an androgynous 90s kid in thick glasses and cardigans, and an essay devoted to what she deems her ‘narcissistic’ Blackberry photos.
While there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in Kaling’s book, it isn’t necessarily fits-of-laughter type stuff. Furthermore, Kaling’s references to her apparent ‘chubbiness’ eventually spill over the threshold of cute self-deprecating humour. She focuses on the subject very early in the piece, and while it begins as a joke, she refers to her weight time and time again. Such musings obviously serve as catharsis for Kaling, but hearing one person’s rants about the world and their personal insecurities can be grating at times. Nevertheless, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is full of observations that keep the pace going and readers entertained.
While the predominant theme, Kaling’s apparent ‘rise to fame,’ is interesting, the main success of the book comes from her observational essays, as they appeal to a wider audience. Is Everyone Hanging Without Me? is unlikely to create new members of ‘Team Kaling’ or a larger audience for The Office, but nonetheless, Kaling’s book is a pleasurable read, and captures the reader’s attention enough to appreciate her achievements in life so far.
Chelsea McIver is a recent Arts/Commerce graduate from the University of Melbourne and a freelance writer.