GA Book Club #11: ‘Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl’ by Carrie Brownstein

Welcome back to the latest instalment of the Girls Against Book Club! For the month of June we’ve been reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl  by Carrie Brownstein, a memoir by 1/3rd of the band Sleater Kinney. Today I’m writing this post collaboratively with Emma, who you might know from our monthly book club Instagram live videos. Rather than having my thoughts on the book and then Emma’s separately, I thought I’d intertwine them throughout the post (if you get confused, my thoughts will be in normal font and Emma’s will be in italics). So, with that, here’s Emma with a bit on Brownstein’s biography:

Carrie Brownstein is one third of Time’s ‘best American rock band’, Sleater- Kinney which was integral in the formation of the ‘riot grrrl’ movement. Often associated with third- wave feminism, the riot grrrl movement allowed women from different backgrounds to come together and express themselves creatively and utilise their music to make political statements about what they were facing within their individual communities and society as a whole. Sleater Kinney were known for their lyricism against war and traditional gender roles. In this memoir Carrie Brownstein captures perfectly what it was like to be a young woman in the underground feminist rock-punk movement that has helped shape music from the 1990’s through to today.

I wasn’t very familiar with Sleater Kinney before reading this memoir and I was kind of worried that this would diminish the book’s value for me. It definitely didn’t though and this book can clearly be enjoyable for Sleater Kinney fans and those who aren’t as familiar with them alike. Although I do think I would have enjoyed some particular details more if I was a bigger fan- such as the descriptions of the intimate moments that the band had- the book’s value, for me, was in learning more about the band who were so integral to the Riot Grrrl movement and getting some perspective from a  woman whose life has been shaped around being ‘a girl in a band’.

Emma writes on Brownstein’s reflections on being female in an overwhelmingly male space:

 In her memoir, Brownstein retells her dissatisfaction with life and her longing to belong within the music scene. As an all female band, the trials and tribulations the band faced are presented in the memoir allowing us to understand the unwavering determination and strength within them. Sleater Kinney’s lyrics  ‘As a woman I was taught to always be hungry…We could eat just about anything / We might even eat your hate up like love” are expanded through her explanation of them ‘To me, that perfectly summed up being a young girl. It was the first time someone put into words my sense of alienation, the feeling that all these institutions and stories we’d been taught to hold as sacred often had very little to do with my own lived experiences.’

One of the most interesting moments in the book for me was Brownstein’s frustration with constantly having to defend herself and her band against the questions they are constantly asked but might not have answers to. She writes, ‘ More than anything, I felt that this meta-discourse, talking about the talk, is part of how it feels to be a “woman in music” (or a “woman in anything”, for that matter- politics, business, comedy, power.) Even today, I feel that women in music are constantly asked ‘how it feels’ to be where they are and who they are and with these questions comes a sentiment on the interviewers behalf, consciously or not, that they do not deserve to be there or shouldn’t be there. These ‘how does it feel’ questions are usually asked to people who have reached milestones, who are the first people to reach a certain point, such as walking on the moon or beating a world record. But women being in bands and within the world of music are no longer anomalies so why are we still asking them these questions? And how do we expect them to answer it? As Carrie writes, ‘To this day, because I know no other way of being or feeling, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a band- I have nothing else to compare it to.’

As well as womanhood, fans, from being one to having them, and fandom is also a significant theme in this memoir as Emma discusses:

Brownstein’s passion for music is described as she intrinsically interweaves her self with her love for the likes of Madonna and George Michael. It is this love for music and the thrill of being a fan that provides the stability and purpose to her life. ‘To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm.’ Brownstein’s sense of attachment to music allows her to transport herself within the music acting as her only salvation from her troubled life. Starting with her early years, her life is tracked out through an intimate style of growth. When Brownstein’s mother is diagnosed as anorexic, during this period of her life it is evident that her sense of security is gone. Her later struggles arise when her Father admits he is gay leaving her doubting her previous relationship with him. Brownstein’s experience as a bisexual woman is explored throughout the memoir as she retells her relationships with her other band members and the struggles which this inevitably brought.

I think this part of the book is what is so important about it for many people and why many music fans hold it close to their heats. Carrie’s love of music is so undeniable throughout this book and it is the thing, for me, that made this book so deeply personal. Brownstein defines herself through music and lives to play it, literally moving cities to find Sleater Kinney. She talks about needing Sleater Kinney in a way that allows the reader to truly understand how much the band means to her. And the fact that the messages in their music promoted feminism and not ‘a version of feminism that was being dumbed down and marketed sloganized, and diminished [but one that drew] deeper, more divisive lines’ perhaps made the band even more important to them, and it certainly does for their fans and for the reader.

I do think some parts of this book were lost on me just because it feels like it’s written for someone who is a Sleater Kinney fan, which is fine, I’m not criticising the book at all but, for me, I just know I could have appreciated it more than I did! Despite this, Brownstein’s writing style is beautifully personal and easy-to-read, a combination that isn’t easy to perfect, and her story is as emotional as it is inspiring.

Here’s Emma’s final thoughts on the book:

In Brownstein’s electrifying memoir, her journey of self-acceptance is written with a beautiful, fiery narrative tracking the events of this incredible woman’s life.This deeply personal memoir exploring the effects of deep passion for music brings inspiration and awe to the reader. With sharp wit and language echoing her jagged, alliterative lyrics, Carrie Brownstein’s writing transports you back to the 90’s and encourages you to treasure the music that truly ignites your soul.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this new format for the book club posts, do let us know as we might make it a monthly thing! Be sure to watch our Instagram Live video on Monday evening to hear more of our thoughts on the book as Emma and I discuss it further!

It’s now July which means the book club has officially been up and running for one year now, how exciting! So this month we are going to go back to our roots and read ‘Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body’ by Roxane Gay as the first book we read was ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay!

Written by Alice Porter and Emma Randall