Why Lena Dunham's Book Is Worth $3.5 Million

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 8 2012 4:57 PM

Why Lena Dunham's Book Is Worth $3.5 Million

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Lena Dunham speaks at The New Yorker Festival the night before her big book deal is announced.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The New Yorker

When word came down this morning that Girls creator and Tiny Furniture director Lena Dunham had sold a book of essays for more than $3.5 million, I braced myself for a resurgence of the Dunham haters. These are the people who, among other things, argue that Dunham is the beneficiary of nepotism. And what could be a bigger benefit than $3.5 million?

It is a lot of money, and Girls is only a modestly-rated show: About a million people watched the finale on its air date and in its time slot, though about 4.1 million people watched it after that. By contrast, 2 Broke Girls pulled in, on average, 11 million viewers per episode in its first season. But instead of judging what cash value the Dunham name realistically ought to have in the marketplace, I'd rather think about her valuable ideas.

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Dunham's book is only at the (accepted) proposal stage, but first Slate and then the New York Times obtained copies of that proposal. Among the ideas in it are a chapter devoted to “an account of some radically and hilariously inappropriate ways I have been treated at work/by professionals because of my age and gender." And another promises to advise readers on how to wear “Red lipstick with a sunburn: How to dress for a business meeting and other hard-earned fashion lessons from the size 10 who went to the Met Ball.”

These are the kinds of subjects for which there's enormous demand but not much supply. It doesn't help to be told that you should be more aggressive in asking for a raise, in generic lady mag fashion, if the problem is as much that your boss is a sexist as that you're not asking for what you want. I'd rather hear Dunham's embarrassing work stories and what she learned from them than hear the same talking points women have been handed over and over again. And it's not as if most of us can easily relate to Christina Hendricks' experiences getting stylists to send her dresses that work with her cleavage—some of the most-discussed examples of fashion's inhumanity to curvy women of late. Sure, Dunham's been to the Met Ball, but she also looks like she knows her way around a retail outlet and a thrift shop, and she might have real ideas for those of us size 10s who aren’t headed to the red carpet.

Twenty-something women have a buffet of love, sex, and shopping advice at our disposal, but not often, or ever, with the humor and intelligence that Dunham can bring to any of those subjects. Dunham's work on television and in the movies may not appeal to everyone, aiming as it does for humiliating, raw experiences. But part of what's interesting about her book project, tentatively titled Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, is that it appears to be about turning that grueling embarrassment and those profound fuckups into the kind of wisdom that can move a girl from flailing disaster into dignified success. I'm excited to read Dunham's writing on the subject. And I'm even more excited to see an ever-maturing Dunham move, someday, from Hannah Horvath and Girls, to tell stories about women.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

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