While reading Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?, I started imagining, somewhere in the middle of the chapter “A Perfect Courtship in my Alternate Life,” that Mindy and I were best friends. It was easy to do—that particular essay is Kaling’s imagined alternate reality, one where she never goes to Hollywood and instead becomes a Latin teacher (which I studied!) at a high school in Manhattan (where I live!) who just wants people to like her (which I do too!).
Luckily, the great thing about Why Not Me? (out in paperback now) is that it allows each reader to feel like they’re seated in the manicure chair next to Mindy, listening to her gab in her utterly relatable voice about spray tans, Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies and the exhausting to-do list that comes with being a bridesmaid. Even Kaling’s essays that examine life in Hollywood—from the scrutiny on actresses’ weight to unflattering paparazzi shots to kissing Seth Rogan—feel less foreign through her telling and more like banter shared over brunch. Moreover, her adorably awkward fumbles in professional and social situations resonate deeply and provide the greatest of belly-laughs.
I knew I was fangirling over Mindy pretty hard after reading Why Not Me? and her first bestselling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), but then I found out she’s also a reader and my girl-crush deepened even further. Here, Mindy shares the literary reason behind Dr. Mindy Lahiri’s name and why her favorite funny author is her BFF.
Read it Forward: What book did you read as a girl or young woman that has stuck with you? What about it do you remember most?
Mindy Kaling: Probably Harriet the Spy. I loved that Harriet was an independent and maybe even a lonely kid, but she had such exciting adventures. I remember her traveling inside the dumbwaiter in her house and my dad had to explain to me what that was.
RIF: Which authors do you admire?
MK: I love Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve read everything she’s ever written, and no book has resonated more personally with me than The Namesake. My character from The Mindy Project, Mindy Lahiri, is actually named after her, and in the world of the show, they are cousins. I also love Zadie Smith and Gillian Flynn.
RIF: Is there another author who makes you laugh?
MK: B.J. Novak’s book of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, is so funny and great.
Author photo: © Emily Shur