‘Port­landia’ star is funny, fem­i­nist, frank — and su­per cool

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY RUTH GRA­HAM be book­world@wash­post.com Ruth Gra­ham is a con­tribut­ing writer for the At­lantic and the Bos­ton Globe.

It would be un­cool to be­grudge in­die-rock star Carrie Brownstein her cool­ness. But it is hard to write a sat­is­fy­ing mem­oir when your life’s nar­ra­tive arc is, “I was born cool, I got cooler, I was re­warded hand­somely for my cool­ness, and I kept on be­ing cool.” That’s es­sen­tially the story in Brownstein’s “Hunger Makes Me a Mod­ern Girl.”

Still, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to like Brownstein, at least as she por­trays her­self here. The Sleater-Kin­ney gui­tarist and “Port­landia” star is funny, fem­i­nist and frank. She tells un­flat­ter­ing sto­ries about her­self and seems ap­pro­pri­ately abashed by them; she also seems to hold no grudges. She blames her­self for the breakup of Sleater-Kin­ney in 2006, af­ter a bad case of shin­gles on a Euro­pean tour pushed her so far that she punched her­self in the face back­stage. (The band re­united last year for a suc­cess­ful tour and a new al­bum.)

Through­out, Brownstein is re­fresh­ingly un-rock-and-roll. At times, that thor­ough­go­ing de­cency might frus­trate read­ers. With a gay fa­ther and a near-ab­sen­tee mother, for ex­am­ple, Brown stein’ s child­hood is ripe for stein tells that story beau­ti­fully, but she isn’t in the mood to dig too deeply, and her par­ents fade into the back­ground as the story pro­gresses. In fact, she hov­ers at a re­move from large swaths of her own story, which can make for a flat read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Hunger” opens with Brownstein’s child­hood in the sub­urbs of Seat­tle. She was a pop­u­lar kid, and she latched onto al­ter­na­tive cul­ture early. She was a tour­ing mu­si­cian by the time she was barely out of her teens, and her rise was rel­a­tively quick and bump-free. In 2001, when Brown stein was 27, the critic Greil Mar­cus called Sleater-Kin­ney the great­est rock band in Amer­ica. By the sec­ond half of the book, we get sen­tences like this: “The next day, Janet, C or in, and I went to the de­signer Marc Ja­cobs’s apart­ment to help Kim Gor­don out with a Sonic Youth video.”

While Brownstein may shy from in­tro­spec­tion, she ex­cels at cap­tur­ing the era that fos­tered her rise to stardom. In her telling, the mu­sic sub­cul­ture of the Pa­cific North­west in the ’90s was at once gritty and friendly, edgy and earnest. More sig­nif­i­cantly, she cap­tures a kind of an­ti­quated Gen-X at­ti­tude. “Punk was about mak­ing choices that didn’t bend to con­sump­tive and con­sumerist in­cli­na­tions and ide­olo­gies, that didn’t com­mod­ify the mu­sic or our­selves,” Brownstein writes. “We didn’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with a brand. Mostly, we didn’t want to a brand.” In an era in which even of­fice drones are ex­pected to shape their own brand on­line, this reads as adorably quaint.

En­gag­ing and wit ty ,“Hunger” is nonethe­less a book best ap­pre­ci­ated by de­voted S le at er-Kin­ney fans. Ad­mire rs who came to Brown stein through her work on“Port­land ia” will find al­most noth­ing for them here. In­stead, read­ers are treated to a minutely de­tailed ac­count of Brownstein’s pet dogs and cats over the years, and how they in­ter­acted with each other. There’s more on her cat Lyle’s gas­tri­tis than on the mak­ing of a hit TV show. That’s Brownstein’s pre­rog­a­tive, of course, but it will leave some read­ers of “Hunger Makes Me a Mod­ern Girl” hun­gry for more.

HUNGER MAKES ME A MOD­ERN GIRL A Mem­oir By Carrie Brownstein River­head. 244 pp. $27.95

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