Q&A: Mindy Kaling on her new essay collection ‘Why Not Me?’, David Foster Wallace and life with books

Mindy Kaling of "The Mindy Project" photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio on June 10, 2014.

Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project” photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio on June 10, 2014.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

It’s been four years since Mindy Kaling released her bestselling comic memoir, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” And in that time it’s become apparent that most people would happily give Kaling top billing in a group text chain if any hanging out were to take place.

No longer “that girl from ‘The Office,’” Kaling has amassed a following that has journeyed with her as she launched her own series, “The Mindy Project,” which began streaming its new season last week on Hulu.

Her new book, “Why Not Me?” (Crown Archetype: 240 pp., $25), is a collection of essays that picks up where her memoir left off .


With essays such as “A Starlet’s Confessions,” which tackles Hollywood’s idea of beauty, and “How to Get Your Own Show (And Nearly Die of Anxiety),” addressing the troubled course of her sitcom, Kaling once again applies humor and pop-culture savvy to topics like body image, career and finding love. The 36-year-old spoke by phone about all things bookish.

What books had a profound influence on you?

I think when I was younger, because I spent so much time indoors — like, I didn’t do a lot of extracurricular activities or was into sports — I read a lot. I wasn’t snotty about it. I just read everything ... the serialized “Baby-Sitters Club” books, those were everything. I wanted to be one of them. And I remember I visited my cousins in India and the books that were really big were English boarding school books — so, like, Enid Blyton books. I kind of got into those even though they were hard to find in the States.

What kind of reader are you?

The way I like to read is the way I like to watch TV, which is I can’t sort of put down a book if I really like it. It just consumes my whole day. I’ll sometimes read until like 4 a.m. and not get enough sleep that night. Sometimes I have to wait until we have a long break from the show because otherwise I have no sense of moderation when it comes to reading.

Is there a classic book that you haven’t read but plan to soon or just an author you’d like to read more from?


I guess especially with this new movie, I’m really beginning to feel the embarrassment of not having read enough David Foster Wallace.... There was a profile he did of Roger Federer that I really liked but have never really read any of his novels. So probably that’s the reading I’m most interested in getting to.

If it were possible, which book character would you like to see guest star on your show?

Oh, my gosh, I love this. Let’s see. In all of fiction? I would love to have Bridget Jones. I think she’d be really fun. And she’d be a bad influence on Mindy. Like, can you imagine the sad shenanigans they’d get into? I think Ole’ Golly [from “Harriet the Spy”] would be a great nanny for Mindy and Danny’s baby. I never could have prepared for a question like this! It would be funny to see Mindy fight with the March girls [of “Little Women”]. I feel like she would fight with them all the time and be like, ‘This is so boring. Get me out of here!” And ... Mindy would probably hit on Odysseus from “The Odyssey.”

Talk about what prompted your second book.

It felt like more happened to me between the first and the second book than I had ever imagined. It was all stuff that I wanted to write about but knew it wouldn’t fit into the world of the show. And it was also good because I play a character named Mindy who is so different than who I actually am.... I do want people to know that I am different than Mindy Lahiri and hear about my story of getting the show and all the roller coasters of where the show took me.

There’s one essay in this book that is fiction — about a blossoming relationship between teachers — and the format you write it in is emails.

I loved having it be through email form. I love that as their form of communication, and, as everyone knows at this point, I love telling romantic stories, So that was really fun.... That was the one I was thinking, if any could have a bigger life beyond this book, that was the one I’d want to make into something bigger.

Which book would you like to see get the big-screen or small-screen adaptation next?

Like everyone else, I think “Kavalier and Klay” [by Michael Chabon] is such an amazing book. You always hear rumors of them making it into a movie.... I was sad that Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the Jonathan Franzen book “The Corrections” got dropped by HBO, so I never got to see that. Those are probably the two that I would be the most excited about. I also love “The Girl on the Train,” I think that would be another one I would love to see.

Which book world would you like to live in?

I love the book “House of Mirth,” and I think that — wait. It’s not a very happy book. Wait. You know what book world I would love to live in? “White Teeth.” I would love to be in one of Zadie Smith’s books that take place in England. I think that they are so — the cultures that she writes about and the families and people that she writes about are so fascinating, and I would love to live in that world.... Also, ever since “Go Set a Watchman” came out, I noticed people went out and bought “To Kill a Mockingbird” as well. I loved that book. I wish I could live on the same street as the Finches. Oh. Wait! The other book world I would like to live in is “Anne of Green Gables.” Living on Prince Edward Island would be so badass.

What’s the status of the book you are writing with B.J. Novak?

Now that the show is back in full swing, obviously B.J. is a great writer and I love spending time with him, but I have not actually seen him recently. He’s been super-busy on a bunch of projects. I think I’m going to see him at the premiere of the show, so maybe we’ll talk for a couple of minutes about it. But I think it could be cool once we start cracking on it.

When it comes to book reading: tablet or real thing?

It’s probably irritating to my assistant, but I still need the hard copies of things to read. I’m not in the generation where it’s fully normal to read a book on your phone. For me, I do like the feeling of book. And as an author, knowing how much work goes into, like, designing a cover, and the back page and things like that, I actually now enjoy it in books even more than before I had written a book.