Mindy Kaling may love shopping just as much as Kelly Kapoor, her character on “The Office,” does (just check out Kaling’s clothes-obsessed Twitter feed @mindykaling) but she’s a bit more cerebral than her TV counterpart. The actress, a Dartmouth graduate and writer/producer at “The Office,” cites acclaimed playwrights with the same fondness she displays for the Encyclopedia Brown series. Kaling’s high- and lowbrow appeal is on fine display in her book of essays, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).” Bookish sat down with her for an interview and quickly understood why fans often tell her she reminds them of a close pal.
Bookish: When you were a little kid, what was your favorite book?
Mindy Kaling: I loved a book called The Westing Game, which was a murder mystery. It didn’t really condescend to kids, which I liked. I’m very sensitive to books that are condescending, and I felt that book was just a great, well-written mystery thriller that happened to be popular with kids.
Bookish: When it comes to books, do you have any guilty pleasures?
MK: We all know the difference between me enjoying Sweet Valley High versus James Joyce. As a kid, I always loved serialized books. It’s the reason why people love Harry Potter. Serialization is amazing. It works in television. It works in film and it works in books. Especially when you’re a young kid, you get attached to these characters.
For me when I was growing up it was, the Sweet Valley High series, and The Baby-Sitters Club series. There’s something just sort of cozy and wonderful about coming back to the same characters and seeing them on this adventure. And the Encyclopedia Brown books—those were my most favorite. I wish I could say, “No, what I really loved were the artsy kids books like Go Ask Alice,” but that’s just disturbing.
Bookish: Have you read the Francine Pascal Sweet Valley High adult novel in which they’re all out of college?
MK: What? They’re in their twenties? Is it dark? Is it sexy?
Bookish: It is. They smoke!
MK: I wonder if I would like that. Because what I loved about those books, even as a kid, was that you know they are showing restraint. You know that one of the reasons you’re allowed to read them is because they don’t go there about sex and drugs and all that deception to your parents and all that kind of stuff. I’m worried that if I were to read that it’d be like seeing Archie and Veronica having sex in the comics, you know what I mean? I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it, but that sounds pretty juicy.
Bookish: You write for television. You’ve written for the stage. Was there a book or play that inspired you to write?
MK: Almost every college playwright or sketch or improv comedian was sort of aware of Christopher Durang—even kids in high school. His short plays were so accessible to younger people and I think that was inspirational to me. Plus, obviously, Saturday Night Live and things like that.
That’s when I decided that dialogue was a very fun thing to try and master. Writing a book is the most terrifying thing that I’ve ever done. It’s so much harder than writing for television because it is a completely different skill set. I think people think, “A writer’s a writer’s a writer,” but it has been such a brutal challenge—in a good way.
Bookish: It’s not like when you’re performing, say, or even when you’re in a writers’ room, where you throw everything against the wall and you see what sticks.
MK: And you get feedback immediately. One of the reasons I even decided to do a book was because I Twitter. Twitter is the most amazing medium for a comedy writer. I can’t get in every idea I want on the show no matter how hard I try to bully the other writers, so it’s a way of me getting out other comic ideas and immediately getting feedback… The Tweets that I have written that are most popular are the ones that are the kind of universal girly concerns and observations. It has been incredibly helpful writing my book because I went and printed out the most re-Tweeted Tweets. It was a great little source book.
Bookish: What is your favorite thing about your book?
MK: I feel like there are a lot of books now by celebrities—if I’m loosely categorized in that group—with advice about how to be as awesome as they are. What I’m proud of about my book is that I’m giving a lot of opinions, but I don’t give any advice. I’m 31 and I’m not married and having kids. I’m five-foot-three. I weigh, like, 150 pounds and I’m not in this position to be telling people how to live. Everyday, I’m like, “Should I try the Dukan diet? Should I go anorexic for a while? Could I even do that?” Bulimia is too disgusting. My hair would fall out.