Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

by Carrie Brownstein

Hardcover, 2015





Riverhead Books (2015), Edition: First Edition, 256 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: From the guitarist of the pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, the book Kim Gordon says "everyone has been waiting for" and a New York Times Notable Book of 2015?? a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a life??and finding yourself??in music. Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as ??America??s best rock band? by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock.   HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era??s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later.   With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding one??s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating powe… (more)


½ (243 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tootstorm
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a memoir of Sleater-Kinney; of punk, riot grrl, and a young musician’s finding her identity. This isn’t the story Portlandia, but of a time and place that fostered a style of music and the messages that music imparted. Before the Internet coalesced our interests
Show More
and cultural identities, being a musician or a fan of music meant being a fan of regions. This is a memoir about growing up in a music culture simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, about breaking the barriers of what it meant to be a — imagine a nebulously pejorative-but-well-intentioned tone — ‘female musician’ rather than simply a musician.

[N.B. This review includes images and footnotes, and was formatted for my site located through this link.]

This is a memoir about Olympia’s 1990s music scene, what led Carrie Brownstein to it, and how her work in Sleater-Kinney (S-K) contributed to the labels born from it. Brownstein paints her youth as simultaneously typical and broken in the suburbs of Redmond, Washington. Shy, gawky, but not one to avoid the spotlight, her interest in music started in childhood performance-art experiences like Lil’ “d” Duran Duran, a cover-band that didn’t actually cover anything, but played along to Duran Duran’s music on all-wood ‘instruments.’ The privileges of a suburban adolescence drove her to seek her identity in Olympia’s riot grrrl movement, to find strength in simply being on stage and surprising an audience that wants so badly to underestimate her and her bandmates.

## …when you’re part of an early movement like [Corin Tucker] was with Riot Grrrl — where she had to create a space for herself and for her audience, where every show felt like a statement, where before you could play and sing you had to construct a room, one you’d be respected in, wouldn’t get hurt in, a space that allowed for or even acknowledged stories that hadn’t been told before, about sexual assault, sexism, homophobia, and racism, and then, musically, you have to tear that very space down — there’s not a lot of room for joking around. There is a direness in the construction of safety, in the telling of theretofore untold stories. [Loc. 755]

Brownstein’s writing wavers between casual — many of her stories show up almost verbatim from her earliest writings for the Believer and Slate — and academic. It can occasionally be disconnecting, a jolting shift between personal and professional, but ultimately indefinable in why those transitions don’t work. (This may admittedly be nothing more than a built-in prejudice against memoirs, that I preferred the more academic sections distantly deconstructing her and others’ decisions.)

She’s always uncomfortably introspective and self-critical, however. Much of Hunger covers her own search for identity in a movement she didn’t intend to define; she puts herself on the reader’s level in trying to understand the methods and mindsets that went into crafting important discussions in music. Riot grrrl, for its early pioneers, was about creating a dialogue with the listener, about validating and invalidating one another’s views and experiences, making room for inclusion*: It was a movement of self-awareness.

## It’s important to undermine yourself and create a level of difficulty so the work doesn’t come too easily. The more comfortable you get, the more money you earn, the more successful you are, the harder it is to create situations where you have to prove yourself and make yourself not just want it, but need it. The stakes should always feel high. [Loc. 1181]

As S-K’s popularity exploded — a surprise to the crew, for sure — Brownstein, Tucker, and Weiss had to continually reinvent themselves within the label system without falling into the classic trap of ‘selling out.’ They were growing up — not necessarily out of the original intentions and the frustrations of the riot grrrl movement, but in the way that angst was channeled.

Much of Hunger is about the changes within S-K and the Olympian music scene as the world became increasingly aware of them. As their sound got out, they were suddenly at the mercy of the imaginations of thousands of fans who were separated from the scene,† which only further muddled the riot grrrl identity. And the more time the group spent cramped in vans together, scraping together to live on the road — some with increasingly important home lives calling to them — the harder it was for them to not break apart.

It’s a good story, and Brownstein’s a fantastic writer and thinker.

(I think I’m sharing too much.)

## Sleater-Kinney allowed me to perform both away from and into myself, to leave and to return, forget and discover. Within the world of the band there was a me and a not me, a fluctuation of selves that I could reinvent along the flight between perches. I could, at last, let go. For so long I had seen the lacking I’d been handed as a deficit, my resulting anxiety and depression were ambient, a tedious lassoing of air. But with Sleater-Kinney I stopped attempting to contain or control the unknown. I could embrace the unnamed and the in-between. I could engage in an unapologetic obliteration of the sacred. [Loc. 2900]

There’s not a whole lot to her story — here, at least — after S-K broke up the first time, but Brownstein’s more my hero for what she writes, anyway: She spent the year after S-K’s breakup racking up over 100 volunteer hours with the Oregon Human Society — enough to be awarded their Volunteer of the Year Award in 2006 — and started building a family of pets. She shares stories both adorable and heartbreaking, and then it’s 2015, Wild Flag’s come and gone, S-K are back together with No Cities to Love just released, and her memoir’s closed until another day.

Bands like S-K, Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile — they’re special to me. They take me back to when music was more than just background noise to bob my head to, but something that brought to light our plethora of social injustices. Even if that message is now a marketable label for concentrated angst — ‘riot grrrl’ is far removed from its original meaning after journalists‡ and record labels transformed it into two very simple, very cool words — it meant something in and to our youths. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl recalls that wonderfully.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Berly
I am not a fan of punk-rock, so there was a lot of this I didn't connect to. Her band, Sleater-Kinney became famous about 10 years after my college listening days were over and I think I have only actually listened to two of the scores of other bands mentioned as peers and inspiration. Frankly, I
Show More
was really hoping for more on Brownstein's later life--she currently starts in Portlandia (I am from Portland), but I guess that will be in her next book. Despite my inability to relate to her kind of music (and, yes, I listened to a few songs as I read the book), it was cool to hear about the music movement in and around the Pacific NW and I enjoyed hearing about places I know and love. Additionally, Brownstein is very articulate and intelligent and I enjoyed her story. She had a somewhat dysfunctional childhood and literally found herself in the music. I probably would have given this a higher rating if 1) I like Punk Rock and 2) if I were more of a music addict. If you are either of those, then you will probably really like this book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rmckeown
At one time, I devoured biographies and memoirs of my favorite actors. Katherine Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor – to name two – seemed to me Hollywood royalty, and I loved them all. Then I stumbled on a few others, and began to notice a pattern I did not appreciate. I abandoned those books for
Show More
years. I hesitated a little bit, when I saw the release of a memoir by Carrie Brownstein. In the event you might not be familiar with Carrie, she is the co-star of Portlandia, a clever, avant-garde comedy on the Independent film channel. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl reveals her as so much more than the strange characters she plays on the TV show. Carrie also wrote several books about food and visiting Portland, Oregon

Carrie is also an avid musician, who struggled for many years to form a rock band, and finally succeeded with Sleater-Kinney, her band from 1994 to 2006. The memoir is a wonderfully written, honest, and thorough review of her struggles to fulfill a dream she had from early childhood. She never missed an opportunity to entertain family and friends. Her mother was hospitalized as a result of an eating disorder, and the book opens with Carrie and her sister dealing with her absence. When Carrie was about 20 years old, her father helped finance a trip to Australia to make a record with a musician the band had discovered on the internet. If you have never seen Portlandia, you have missed a treat. The humor involves bizarre, eclectic, and a very funny group of characters, who live and work in Portland. Her co-star is Fred Armisen, and the two play most of the characters with changes of costume, makeup, and wigs.

The memoir itself is unlike many of the other show-biz bios I have read. Carrie seems forthright and thorough in her examination of her life, family, and career. She writes, “There is something freeing in seeing yourself in a new context. People have no preconceived notion of who you are, and there is a relief in knowing that you can recreate yourself. When you’re entrenched in a community of people who know you, it’s scary to proclaim wanting to be different and wanting to experiment. We went to the other side of the world to make our own sound. Usually this is a methodology you employ as a restart later in your career. We did it right up front. We traveled to a foreign country for our first record. We had to uproot ourselves, not because we were deep into career ruts, or didn’t want to give credit to the places we had come from, but because we had no desire to sound like or emulate anything that had come before” (96).

Carrie continues, “It was an extreme way to start, but I learned later on how hard it can become to unsettle yourself, to trip yourself up, and I think that’s a good place to write from. It’s important to undermine yourself and create a level of difficulty so the work doesn’t come too easily. […] The stakes should always feel high” (96).

Although she is talking about a rock band, I believe this idea can apply to nearly any creative endeavor. I must admit I am not a fan of punk nor of indie music, but I do love Portlandia and Carrie Brownstein’s Memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. 5 Stars

--Jim, 11/17/15
Show Less
LibraryThing member timjones
While Carrie Brownstein may now be most widely known for the TV show Portlandia, this memoir focuses on her life as a music fan and musician, specifically in the band Sleater-Kinney - the main part of the narrative finishes when the band goes on hiatus in 2006, and its reformation is covered only
Show More

The book is excellent of the intersections of character, place and circumstance that made, shaped, and derailed the 1994-2006 incarnation of Sleater-Kinney, and the strains the touring life place on all musicians, but especially on a highly intelligent, self-identified introvert and homebody. And I grew to like the author more for her analysis of her strengths and weaknesses, or at least areas of difficulty, as they have played out in her life within and beyond music. Her bandmates, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, are delineated strongly too.

I would have liked to see the book carry on into the next phases of Carrie Brownstein's life and career - or, to put it another way, I'd love a sequel!
Show Less
LibraryThing member ecataldi
I'll admit, I know of Carrie Brownstein only through Portlandia (I've watched a whole two episodes!) and have heard maybe one Sleater-Kinney song. I'm a travesty. The hype on this book was too good to pass and the audiobook is narrated by the author so I decided to give it a try. I was not
Show More
disappointed. It was one of the most raw, unapologetic, and brutally honest memoirs I've ever listened to. Besides being a a great artist (I've since listened to her music, better late than never!) Carrie Brownstein is a veritable wordsmith. Her book almost reads as poetry. A must read for music fans and those that love a powerful biographies.
Show Less
LibraryThing member nmele
At 50, which is how old I was when I moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered a lot of Northwest music, including Sleater-Kinney, I did not fit the demographic for Sleater-Kinney, but I loved their music at first hearing; later, I appreciated the witty, pointed humor of "Portlandia". Reading
Show More
Carrie Brownstein's memoir was amazing, she is brutally honest about herself and gracious to almost every other person who appears in the book. I really enjoyed this and got a deeper sense of where Sleater-Kinney comes from and where it is going now.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mirikayla
I was a little afraid, as I often am with celebrity memoirs, that this wouldn't live up to my anticipation of it. I knew Carrie Brownstein mostly from Portlandia, but I'd heard of Sleater-Kinney and knew enough about that to be really excited for the book. I was not disappointed. It's got all the
Show More
insider information you'd probably be hoping for if you've been a fan of the band, which can't help but be interesting in itself. But for me, by far, the most compelling aspect was her personal journey, her examination of the sort of desperate mania that drove her to music, that constant need to define herself and find somewhere she belonged. I listened to all of Dig Me Out one night in the middle of my reading, and it was brilliant—you can hear the fury, the anxiety. I can't wait to track down the rest of their albums, or for Sleater-Kinney to play a show somewhere near me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Narshkite
Yes, I am a Sleater-Kinney fangirl and have been for years. Would I have loved this as much if I were not a fan of the band, probably not, but its still a very interesting look at a moment in time in a particular place that is smart, well-written, and which has a point. So much memoir is about what
Show More
happened and where, but Brownstein thinks about things, connects them, understands the trajectory of her growth. Its impressive. Absolutely recommend this for fans of the band.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bookczuk
Not exactly to my taste, but interesting. I know very little about Indie rock, and unfortunately since I'm so totally unfamiliar, I felt a bit at sea. I know Brownstein mostly from her comedy.
LibraryThing member dele2451
An uncommonly honest and articulate account of a young Pacific Northwest band's formation, creative process, and rise to fame.
LibraryThing member TheLoisLevel
Well written but it ultimately didn't grab me.
LibraryThing member ijustgetbored
Brevity may be a blessing in this case: as Sleater-Kinney ended its relatively brief career on a high note, so too does this volume feature only the best pieces, and it ends at a point where there could potentially be more-- but it does not attempt to extend into that next engagement. Where this
Show More
comparison does fall short is that the writing is polished, sometimes even nearly academic, and rarely has the raw urgency that characterized the band's lyrics: it's a very different voice. I'm not sure, though, that it's fair to demand that Brownstein "speak" in the memoir as she does/did in her song lyrics; the memoirist is not necessarily the songwriter. As she reflects on her career as a musician and SK's trajectory, she can certainly use a different critical voice.

She modulates this voice well: it's gently self-mocking as she looks at her awkward childhood antics, but it takes a harder tone as she assumes more of the blame for her own anxiety breaking down her body (and subsequently, the band).

In between these two points in the memoir, she details the not-so-glamorous details of recording, promoting, and traveling on the road. It's not a misery memoir: she has the ability to say that something was difficult without speaking as if she is retroactively posing herself as a martyr for XYZ. She also posits SK very clearly on the late edge of Riot Grrl, which is a clear way of referencing the movement without going into heavy-handed explanation that might bog down a book that isn't being billed as rock history. There are plenty of reference points-- musicians, bands, producers, and more-- for those who wish to follow up further, however; it's not an insular book in that way.

The crisp chronology is welcome, and the brevity of explanation is also a relief. She has an excellent talent for distilling lengthy processes and experiences into snapshot-chapters, highlighting the parts that will be most relevant for the reader. It's not the complete history of SK, chapter and verse, and it doesn't purport to be. These are the moments she has chosen to highlight and display, and she is an excellent tour guide. She gives details about music and composition when necessary (people hoping for more detail about music, composition, etc. might be advised that this may fall short of their expectations), but there is probably more text-percentage about personal interactions while on the road. Her gift for detailed description of the mundane is particularly notable.

If I was troubled by anything, it was by the treatment (characterization?) of the rest of the cast of the characters in this book. I honestly felt that I had the closest connection to the four pets she talks about near the end of the book; everyone else seemed somewhat distant and inaccessible. I respect what may have been a conscious decision to protect the privacy of everyone involved as much as possible, but what happened is that even bandmates seem colorless. For example, SK had a rotating cast of drummers before settling on Janet Weiss. Their departures are discussed in the book, but the circumstances are so vague that I'm not entirely sure I could relate what happened or who (if anyone) was at fault. Again, I respect that no one is getting thrown under a bus, but the level of circumspection here has tipped into murky confusion.

The other issue I might address is the title of the book, and I'm afraid I'm going to make it sound like I'm playing some sort of "mommy issues" card-- please bear with me; I'm not. I do recognize the word "hunger" is multifaceted, but the resentment of her mother is the most clear grudge (there's really no other word for it) in the book. In a memoir that is otherwise quite self-aware, Brownstein somehow does not seem to recognize (or acknowledge) that her mother's own withdrawal from her family (struggles with anorexia) is parallel to her own withdrawal from touring life, which manifested in various sicknesses: "Being sick had become my remedy for tour" (p. 211), ". . . my body felt like a bag my brain was carrying with me: heavy, the weight unevenly distributed, the contents mashed and scrambled" (p. 212-3). The "hunger" of the title seems like a bit of a sideswipe in this context: can only we who have freed ourselves from lashing out at our bodies reach a triumphant end and not be infantilized (the way she constantly characterizes her mother and, finally, herself)? In a memoir that otherwise treads carefully, this is a blind spot, and it's jarring. Whatever her feelings are about her mother, they're valid; however, what has happened is that she has either deliberately or purposefully cloaked some of her own experience in a way that negates parallel experiences of some readers.

Yet she does conclude that "I was in my body, joyous and unafraid. I was home" (p. 241), but that is in the epilogue, which is three pages long. This is not a users' manual and does not purport to be, but it does fall into a trap that memoirs often do: they build up an intense struggle and then present a resolution where "and then everything was fine!" in a matter of pages. Narratively, for the reader, this is unsatisfying, because it feels like a trick or sleight-of-hand; there may be no need for further chapters of explication, but there is still something missing: the how. I am very glad that the memoir is confined to SK and does not cover any other material, but it's puzzling why this articulate and insightful writer jumped this ravine so completely. I suspect the chapter about volunteering at the humane society was the attempt to write that bridge, but it's ultimately somewhat despairing rather than something that provides clarity. No, the book does not need notes from therapy (or whatever the case may be). Brownstein has a keen sense of how to find the transcendent in the mundane-- and speak about it in a down-to-earth-way-- and a snapshot of this is missing from the album (excuse the pun).

All this said: I enjoyed the book a great deal, but, having had a few days to think about it, what has continued to bother me is the feeling that there is some sort of self-censorship hidden by the the writing and the crisp style. It feels unfinished, not in that it stops at a particular year; it's that there is something held back for reasons that are not made clear in the narrative.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Othemts
I know Carrie Brownstein as a sometimes music critic on NPR's All Songs Considered (as well as her work on Portlandia - a show I find only moderately funny) so I knew that her memoir of her life and work with the band Sleater-Kinney would be an interesting work. Brownstein explores the effect of
Show More
her childhood in which her mother suffered anorexia, her father repressed homosexuality, and Brownstein herself seeks to entertain as way of transforming the sadness around her. A lot of this books is about identity and the Brownstein analyzes her own search for identity in raw detail. The music of Sleater-Kinney is similar in its naked emotion and self-expression and Brownstein details the autobiographical detail that went into that songs. Sleater-Kinney also had to deal with the typecasting and prejudice of being an all-woman band, when Brownstein wants people to recognize them as simply a great rock band. Brownstein also relates her own struggles touring with the band that resulted in anxiety and physical illness. This a very honest and introspective addition to the rock memoir oeuvre.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BeccaNaylor
I will re-read this over and over for the rest of my life.
LibraryThing member bookishtexpat
I enjoyed this memoir quite a bit. I love Carrie Brownstein in Portlandia so I was excited to read her story. The writing was passionate and gritty, and I think Brownstein's voice really comes through. I have not listened to any Sleater-Kinney, but I think I would have liked this even more if I was
Show More
familiar with the music. This book was definitely time well spent!
Show Less
LibraryThing member GabbyF
Have you ever been stable and successful, but still wondered why you didn't feel satisfied? Have you ever built a non-biological family for yourself? Have you ever been frustrated by the lack of appreciation or attention given to your technique or process, in work or craft, because you are a woman?
Show More
Have you ever dealt with an ill family member, or a parent who came out in old age? Are you interested in hearing about how some badass musicians managed to create discussion and waves with their music for over a decade? If you answered yes to any of these, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl won't disappoint.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
At the risk of sounding terrible, for all the difficult topics Brownstein covers in her memoir, this is really kind of a sweet reminiscence. While overall it didn't feel that revelatory, I reeeeally appreciated how much she calls out her own bullshit...something I can get down with especially as I
Show More
get older. And I kinda loved all the name-dropping--which I guess isn't really name-dropping because this is her real life--but it's something I don't always love in famous people's memoirs, but I loved it here. Got to binge-listen to this yesterday/this morning, which was a superb decision. Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag party starting in 3-2-1...
Show Less
LibraryThing member RealLifeReading
I've never watched Portlandia and have only heard a few Sleater-Kinney songs but I really enjoyed this memoir by Carrie Brownstein. I could relate to being a young fan of music, that teenaged devotion to bands on the fringes, wanting to stand out and be different. I loved her stories about the
Show More
struggles to make music, to find her voice, the troubles she had on the road. Far less glamorous than one would expect. This was my first audiobook and while I was occasionally frustrated by the speed of the narration (because of course we read faster than when being read aloud to) but I grew fond of listening to Brownstein as I walked each morning. Her voice in my earphones was a friendly one, like a friend talking to me, telling me all the stories of her life. I would highly recommend the audiobook!
Show Less
LibraryThing member Castlelass
“I’ve always felt unclaimed. This is a story of the ways I created a territory, something more than just an archipelago of identities, something that could steady me, somewhere that I belonged.” – Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Exceptionally well-written memoir about
Show More
Sleater-Kinney, a three-person cutting-edge indie band from Olympia, Washington, that started in the 1990s. Author Carrie Brownstein is one of the guitarists. The other guitarist is Corin Tucker. They have had a number of drummers whose stories are part of the narrative. The band has no bassist.

I was interested to read more about this band, since I own and listen to their music but was previously unaware of their roots and musical evolution. Brownstein covers her early family life, the band’s formation, songwriting, multiple albums, and tours. It will appeal to those who enjoy books about making music. Fans of Sleater-Kinney, riot grrrl, punk, or indie music will likely enjoy it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kropferama
Interesting to those who would like to know more about the band Sleater-Kinney.
LibraryThing member Andy5185
As a very big Carrie Brownstein fan my opinion of this book may be biased - but it was so good. If you know her from Sleater-Kinney you will LOVE this as it details the origins of the band all the way through to the end and subsequent reunion. If you know her from Portlandia, you will still enjoy
Show More
reading about her life. I am an even bigger fan of her now having read this book, if that is possible. It is now very evident she is a very cool person in addition to being such a talented and beautiful woman.
Show Less
LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
I really enjoyed Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I like Sleater-Kinney, but definitely not a fully knowledgeable fan of their music or career. This was a great insight into the band's dynamics and Carrie's point of view on their music. She is beautifully honest in her book, she really demystifies
Show More
their image in a interesting way. She's just a regular person and music is her work. Carrie talks about the sexism she experienced, that she didn't want the word female tagged on to describe Sleater-Kinney, she just wanted to be a band. She also calls out how rampant exclusivity was/is in the Washington music scene and how she became fed up with it. She's brutally honest about her anxieties and depression she experienced. It's a difficult to put into words the feeling you are left with, it's like you want to make sure she's okay. She seems to be okay though, I would of liked more about her life when SK went on hiatus and when they got back together in 2012. Overall a great book and interesting look into the music industry.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lisapeet
Terrific: sharp, smart, introspective, complex, funny, and sad. What you (I) want in a music memoir—a little creative process, a little zeitgeist of the times, a lot of self-awareness without too much self-indulgence. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Brownstein can really write, but it
Show More
made me happy. Real review to follow.
Show Less
LibraryThing member secondhandrose
Read this in one sitting. A great, insightful memoir.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

256 p.; 6.23 inches


1594486638 / 9781594486630
Page: 0.4589 seconds