Staff Review: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Book cover, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

“This is what it means to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness.” – Carrie Brownstein, “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Prior to reading this book, I would not have necessarily considered myself a Carrie Brownstein “fan.” Like many my age, I knew Brownstein from Portlandia, her charmingly absurd sketch comedy show with Fred Armisen. My apologies to Sleater-Kinney fans; I acknowledge that this is sacrilege. In my defense, the band’s pre-hiatus discography released concurrently with my journey from infancy through elementary school, so I had barely graduated from Barney to Britney Spears. I downloaded the audiobook on a whim and it fully converted me into a fan as Brownstein defines the term.

This is not a sex, drugs, rock and roll type memoir. It begins with Brownstein’s youth in the Pacific Northwest, where her intense love of music and her attention-seeking tendencies lead to the formation of iconic punk band Sleater-Kinney. The format of the book then shifts to each chapter title corresponding to a Sleater-Kinney album, detailing each album’s creation, release and subsequent tour. Brownstein conveys tour life as grimy, unglamourous and exhausting. She does find comfort in the books she reads on the road, which clearly cultivated her talent as a writer. Content aside, “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” is incredibly well-written. The rich vocabulary and shrewd sense of timing make this a visceral and immersive read. Brownstein’s account of her own instantaneous breakdown that led to a 10 year hiatus for Sleater-Kinney is completely gut-wrenching.

Juxtaposed against her tumultuous touring years is the calm domesticity of her life after the band began their hiatus. Initially, Brownstein struggles to find purpose and create a sense of home. Every animal lover will relate to her as she finds fulfillment in her day-to-day life with her dogs and cats and through working at an animal shelter. I was so touched when she described her ritual for leaving her house (almost identical to mine) in which she turns back before walking out the door to assure her pets, “Be good – I’ll be back!”

Sleater-Kinney fans will appreciate the narrative context this book brings to the band’s discography. “Portlandia fans will enjoy Brownstein describing her Pacific Northwest upbringing; though the show light-heartedly satirizes the regional culture, it does so with a deep love and appreciation. “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” also exhibits the more serious side of Brownstein’s wit. 

Above all, though, this book will captivate anyone who appreciates the memoir genre. There is something so powerful about an individual telling her own story in her own words (and in the audiobook, her own voice). Brownstein recalls the alienation she felt when fame robbed her of her ability to control her own narrative. In one instance, a magazine reported on her dating her bandmate, Corin, becore Brownstein had come out to her parents or had even fully come to terms with her sexuality herself. She got a call from her father asking if there was something she wanted to tell him.

In “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl,” Brownstein relishes the chance to take control of her own narrative. She does not abuse this power, frequently confessing to mistakes and embarrassing moments; this book is not an act of self-aggrandizement. Rather, it is an extended hand, an offer of connection and the chance for the reader to find their own narrative in hers.