Mary Karr on Lena Dunham’s book tour

(Photo credit Autumn de Wilde. Courtesy of Random House)
(Photo credit Autumn de Wilde. Courtesy of Random House)

Let’s talk about the most awesome book tour for this year’s hottest memoir.

(Hillary Who?)

On Twitter Tuesday, Lena Dunham announced that she’ll travel to 11 cities to promote “Not That Kind of Girl,” which will be released by Random House on Sept. 30.

Tragically, Washington — “America’s Most Literate City” for four years running — is not on Dunham’s itinerary. As Adam would say, “You’ve got to be [expletive] kidding me!”

A Very Serious Spokesperson for the publisher responded, “Random House and Ms. Dunham worked together to identify tour markets for her to visit on her book tour. Unfortunately, there were more fantastic opportunities available than we were able to book in the finite amount of time we have available.”

Just how sad is this omission for the nation’s capital?

As Dunham travels across the country from New York to San Francisco, the creator/writer/star of HBO’s “Girls” will not only read from her book and talk with the audience, she’ll also be interviewed by “oodles of special guests,” such as Zadie Smith and Curtis Sittenfeld.

(Photo credit Deborah Feingold. Courtesy of HarperCollins)
(Photo credit Deborah Feingold. Courtesy of HarperCollins)

At her reading in Boston on Oct. 2, Dunham will be “in conversation” with poet Mary Karr. Considering the impact and relevance of Karr’s 1995 memoir, “The Liar’s Club,” I can’t think of a more interesting pairing.

Karr met Dunham at a New Yorker Festival a few years ago. “More recently, we metaphorically chest bumped at Zadie Smith’s house,” she says. “I told her if she ever wanted an interviewer, I was her huckleberry.”

Karr offers particularly keen insight into the way Dunham depicts young women’s “phase of profoundest desirability [and] its resulting frightened vanity.”

“‘Girls’ revolutionizes the social/carnal coming-of-age story of American women,” she says. “It operates at the nexus of a desire still both sexual and innocent. Dunham’s voice is the poetry of shame and hilaritas and desire (eros) and also real love (agape). People like to say she’s fearless, but the book proves she’s well-acquainted with both fear and shame. She’s counter-phobic: She runs at what scares her. Which makes her a true hero.”

Karr knows a thing or two about running at what scares her. As a poet and a memoirist, she’s written candidly about her own sexual awakening, and she’s confronted the way our language privileges certain kinds of desire.

(Courtesy of Random House)
(Courtesy of Random House)

“Till recently,” she says, “rock-n-roll girls made themselves masculine to emulate men on stage. (Think Madonna’s early crotch grabbing and armored bra.) Men have words like ‘chubbie’ and ‘woody’ that permit innocent male desire. I figured out writing ‘Cherry’ [2000] there were no female equivalents that weren’t fodder for pedophiles. I tried to solve the problem by poetry-metaphor for a libidinal urgency that wasn’t about being boffed into guacamole but was a sweeter, cornball longing for love and connection.”

Although Dunham depicts what Karr calls “the almost tribal connections between girl members of the species,” she notes that the audience for “Girls” extends far beyond young women: “Having been mystified by women all their lives, men get a window thrown open on young women coming of age, and I think it’s less porno or prurient than like a seminar for men. For all of us.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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