reviews and recommendations

Carrie Brownstein: Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl

Let me start this review of Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by confessing I am a great big fan of Carrie’s band Sleater-Kinney. I own all their back catalogue, including the 1994 7” You Ain’t It. I wept when they finally returned to the UK after an almost decade long hiatus. When I got married I walked down the aisle to Oh!  Guys, I really like Sleater-Kinney.

If you aren’t familiar with Carrie’s music you might have seen her comedy sketch show Portlandia, which she created with SNL alumni Fred Armisenin which they affectionately lampoon Portland’s idiosyncrasies.

Carrie and Fred as Candace and Toni, owners of a feminist book store in Portlandia
Carrie and Fred as Candace and Toni, owners of a feminist book store in Portlandia

This memoir is not about Portlandia, or ThunderAnt – Carrie and Fred’s first comedy project – rather it is a raw love letter to Sleater-Kinney, the band that both saved and almost destroyed Carrie.

While Carrie’s younger sister is rarely mentioned in the book, she is frank about her thoughts on her mother’s anorexia and her father’s distant parenting style – a side affect of being a closeted gay man. Everyone, including herself, is held up to a critical light with their faults and shortcomings revealed alongside their good points.

This openness allows Carrie to recall cringingly embarrassing moments in wry detail that perfectly encapsulates the earnestness of a teenager. Long, confessional fan letters, band audition outfit choices involving a backwards cap and bad dye jobs all get a look in.

While Carrie’s comedy career is not mentioned in much detail here, we do get glimpses into humour being important to Carrie. When she first met Corin Tucker, who she would go on to start Sleater-Kinney with, Carrie mentions how serious Corin appeared and her desire to draw out her silliness if the band was going to work. Describing Corin’s apartment, Carrie recalls: “It was part feminist art show, part lecture hall, part house of mirrors. You’d walk around the apartment and be confronted with words like ‘racist’ affixed to a can of Calumet baking powder. I’m not sure why she didn’t just avoid the brand, but I suppose if you’re in a period of continual confrontation, why stop at yourself.”

The book shows how a young, funny and sensitive girl who never fitted in became part of the creative Olympia crowd, started bands and would go to any lengths, even Australia, to get the right sound.

Well written, there is a surprise one liner on nearly every page that will make you laugh aloud, this is an honest book of love, risks and music in sickness and health.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein is published by Virago and available now. For her UK book tour dates click here!