Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Written By: Mindy Kaling

222 pages

Autobiography/Humor

Publisher: Crown Archetype

First Published: 2011


When I tell you I read Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, in just two days, your first reaction may be, “Of course you did—you don’t have a job, a boyfriend, or a life.” Well, okay, yeah you’re right about the not having a job thing, and even though I would argue that having a life is subjective—and compared to someone in, say, solitary confinement or whatever, I do have a life—you’re probably right there, too. I actually do have a boyfriend, thank you very much, but based on the amount of time I spend in pajama pants, I can see how you would assume the contrary. But, when I make this claim, I am actually not giving further evidence on why I am a sad individual whom you should pity and maybe buy a cat for (do not ever buy me a cat); rather I am expressing how much I liked the book, and that I think you (if you have a soul, an appreciation for cupcakes and/or Hello Kitty, and a healthy sense of humor) would like it too.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? begins as a memoir, detailing Kaling’s childhood, as well as her path to becoming a comedy writer and actor. It’s interesting stuff, especially for anyone aspiring to do what she does. Although I am already old and dead inside, I can imagine that teenagers with a penchant for comedy could really benefit from reading about how Kaling parlayed her interest into a career. As for me, I totally hate her: when she was my age, she was already writing for “The Office.” The memoir is, in some ways, the book’s strongest section since it is the most concrete and focused. Kaling is witty and engaging no matter what—and so breezily conversational that she feels like not just a friend but a best friend—but she starts to lose her through line when she begins discussing topics as varied as “Irish exits” (leaving a party without saying goodbye to anyone) and why men put their shoes on so slowly.

The latter half of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? reads more like unperformed stand-up. While it is no less entertaining, it also feels more haphazard, as though Kaling ran out of things to say about herself and so began piecing together the funny things she likes to think about. One of the greatest chapters in this section is titled, “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging,” in which Kaling imagines elaborate revenge scenarios in order to motivate herself to keep working out. She envisions herself tracking down the serial killer who murdered her star point guard husband, or the terrorists who focus on interracial marriage and kidnapped and murdered her husband on their honeymoon. If you’re not totally on board with that description, you may not appreciate this book. But, trust me, it’s bizarrely hilarious. (You can listen to it here.)

By the end of the book, you will feel like you and Mindy Kaling, or M-Kal, as you will probably feel comfortable calling her, are old friends who can call one another up whenever and never have to worry about restraining orders. Just a kind reminder: you’re not. Still, I’d like to think that I do know Mindy Kaling a lot better after reading her book, and that if we did ever meet, our encounter would not end in bloodshed or tears. I hope you’ll feel the same. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a great way to spend an afternoon or two, although it probably won’t last much longer than that once you get going. It’s hard to put down because doing so would be like hanging up prematurely on your best friend from college who you never see anymore. You’ll want to hear all about her life—who she’s dating, what embarrassing situation she got herself into this time—even if it takes you away from what you “should” be doing. Don’t fight it. You know your priorities. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is definitely worth the extra attention.

Memorable Quotes: The Moon and Sixpence

When I write reviews of the books I read, I always try to keep two goals in mind. My first goal, since this is a small blog without many readers, is to create a record of what I thought the book was about, along with my own personal reactions to it. I want to feel personally satisfied with the review because I am not seeking a lot of outside feedback. Of course, since this is still a public blog, and since I do have some readers—and because I believe it is important to develop some facility in describing plot points and relaying critical views to others—I also want to keep any potential readers in mind. My second goal, therefore, is to make the book knowable to people who have never read it so that they might have some idea of whether they would ever like to read it. I want to offer a review that can be appreciated by people who do not know me, or who have never read my blog before: that is, I want to write reviews that can stand alone, without any explanation of how I read books and what the purpose of my blog is.

Although I try to vary my approach in minor ways, most of my reviews adhere to a certain format in which I compose a synopsis of what I thought were important plot points and then offer some judgments on the book as a whole. If I have remembered beforehand, I will include a quotation or two that I think exemplifies the story. Most of the time, though, the writing I offer is solely mine. This is effective to a point, but it fails to give a complete picture. It frequently privileges plot over style; the author’s voice remains a mystery. While ideally I would rectify this problem by including more quotations for every review I write, I must be realistic and admit that I find the prospect too tedious and time-consuming. It’s a lot of work to find exactly the right quote! Thus, my somewhat lazy solution is just to create a post listing a number of quotes that I found particularly interesting. Especially since I have been more in a reading mood than a writing one, I have decided to write “Memorable Quotes” entries for those books I never got around to reviewing.

The first book I am going to cover is The Moon and Sixpence, a short, impressive W. Somerset Maugham novel loosely based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin. As with all Maugham novels, the language is lovely and the insights profound; additionally, all of the characters are unsympathetic, and many of their actions despicable. Perhaps one of the reasons I never reviewed the book is because the subject of the story, Charles Strickland, is so unlikeable. He leaves his wife and children to begin life as an artist (never thinking of them again), and disdains everyone, even those who make sacrifices to keep him healthy and alive, because he is so singularly focused on his pursuit of art and beauty. It is only Maugham’s superb writing that makes this story worth reading, which is why a plot summary would be ineffective and a poor representation of the reading experience. Thus here are some memorable quotations to give a better idea of the virtues of The Moon and Sixpence.

  • “Life isn’t long enough for love and art.” —Charles Strickland
  • There was in him something primitive. He seemed to partake of those obscure forces of nature which the Greeks personified in shapes part human and part beast, the satyr and the faun. I thought of Marsyas, whom the god flayed because he had dared to rival him in song. Strickland seemed to bear in his heart strange harmonies and unadventured patterns, and I foresaw for him an end of torture and despair. I had again the feeling that he was possessed of a devil; but you could not say that it was a devil of evil, for it was a primitive force that existed before good and ill.
  • Love is absorbing; it takes the lover out of himself; the most clear-sighted, though he may know, cannot realise that his love will cease; it gives body to what he knows is illusion, and, knowing it is nothing else, he loves it better than reality. It makes a man a little more than himself, and at the same time a little less. He ceases to be himself. He is no longer an individual, but a thing, an instrument to some purpose foreign to his ego.
  • Unconsciously, perhaps, we treasure the power we have over people by their regard for our opinion of them, and we hate those upon whom we have no such influence. I suppose it is the bitterest wound to human pride.
  • To the acute observer no one can produce the most casual work without disclosing the innermost secrets of his soul.
  • Strickland was an odious man, but I still think he was a great one.
  • I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

Matched

At the beginning of Ally Condie’s Matched, the first book in the Matched trilogy, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is eagerly awaiting her matching ceremony. It is at this event that she will first lay eyes on the boy with whom she is to spend the rest of her life. This ceremony will reveal an essential part of the Society’s role for her. You see, in Cassia’s society, every eligible citizen who elects to do so is matched at age 17 with the person with whom he or she is most compatible. This practicing of matching has essentially eradicated all diseases, as it takes physical compatibility into account; it is also believed to promote the happiness of the citizens, who are additionally matched on a mental and emotional level. Cassia trusts in this process, as she sees how happy her parents are together. She also trusts in it because it is the only way she has ever known.

To say that the Society has taken the fight out of its citizens would be an understatement. But then, the Society seems like a sort of Utopia, one in which everyone’s every need is taken care of. Jobs are assigned, meals are made according to the diner’s nutritional needs and sent directly to the home, and even death is scheduled, receiving its own special banquet. There are no risks, and, in return, there is a more stable level of happiness. To rebel against a society that provides so thoroughly would only mean ensuring less happiness and endangering one’s “freedoms.”

Anyway, Cassia has no interest in rebelling, nor does she see any need to. At her matching banquet, she receives the most perfect match imaginable: her best friend and neighbor, Xander Carrow. Xander is handsome, kind, and someone Cassia already knows extremely well; indeed, before the ceremony, it was her secret wish that she would be matched with him. Cassia’s life, however, begins to change in unexpected ways shortly after this perfect banquet. Her beloved grandfather is scheduled to die on his 80th birthday, and there is nothing Cassia can do to prevent it. Worse yet, Cassia has finally viewed the microcard given to her on the night of her match banquet, only to make a horrible discovery: Xander wasn’t her only match. The Society made a mistake. The Society is capable of making mistakes. And her true love may not be Xander at all; it may be another boy she has grown up with but never considered romantically, Ky Markham. It may be anyone at all.

When Cassia’s grandfather dies, as planned, Cassia realizes that she was not as prepared for the moment as she had hoped to be. She no longer trusts in the Society’s rules or excuses. She starts thinking rebellious thoughts, in part sparked by her grandfather, who revealed to her a hidden compartment in the compact he gave to her shortly before his death. This compartment contains a poem preserved by Cassia’s grandmother, a poem that is not part of the 100 poems that the Society has approved. It convinces Cassia that she cannot “go gentle into that good night.” She must think for herself. She must fight.

While the premise of Matched is intriguing, the execution is more lackluster, in part because it centers around a rather lifeless love triangle. The question of who Cassia is meant to be with, and if that can truly be determined at all, is an interesting one, but one that just as often drags the story down. Because Cassia has been obedient for so long, she has trouble behaving in any truly rebellious way; thus, most of her reaction to the Society is tied up in her responses to these two boys. Choosing to love Ky is, in a sense, her way of rejecting society. But, of course, it is difficult to become too invested in either Ky or Xander when they function so symbolically. Perhaps this is the biggest problem with the novel: none of the characters feel particularly real. They all offer up glimmers of humanity, but in such a restrictive society, true individuality appears impossible.

This may mean, and I hope it does, that the latter two books in the trilogy will better develop these characters, who are just beginning to step outside the boundaries of their stifling society. Based on the excellent book covers, which feature a girl in various states of bursting through a bubble, I can only assume that the action will pick up as Cassia learns to stand up for herself and the people she cares about. There’s no denying that Matched is a compelling entry into the ever-popular genre of dystopian YA fiction, but it has yet to prove itself, to me, as a trilogy with staying power. I can understand the appeal for teens looking for a new addiction to supplant The Hunger Games, but I have trouble imagining that general readers will catch on.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong — maybe it’s already bigger than I realize. (The film rights have already been optioned by Disney.) I’ll need to read the sequel, Crossed, before making any further judgments. For now, I would recommend Matched to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel, and is willing to give a chance to something with a more leisurely pace. The fact that this series is willing to take its time may just be a sign that truly great things lie ahead.

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