"Autobiography sounds very grand but I don't think grand folks are the ones to write it. I think no one should write one unless he's called by the Lord to do so."—Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being.
O'Connor is one of many touchstones in Carlene Bauer's Not That Kind of Girl, a book that, though billed as a memoir, would be better served by the more formal designation of "autobiography." There's something old-timey about Not That Kind of Girl, and it's not simply that many of the themes of Bauer's early life—celibacy, sobriety—seem like values from a bygone era. Bauer investigates her life with the bookish tenacity of the overachieving A-student she admits herself to be. Raised in an evangelical church and later converting to Catholicism, Bauer spends her teens and early 20s searching for a religion she can call her own, trying to reconcile her unwavering belief in capital-G God with her lefty politics, love of literature and music, and discomfort with the child-molesting, Nazi-sympathizing aspects of organized religion. In the meantime, she goes to college, meets men, moves to New York, meets more men, and frames all of her experiences through the books she's reading and the music she's listening to at the time: the Beatles, L.M. Montgomery, Hole, Sylvia Plath, Pixies, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, Kierkegaard, and so on.
Not That Kind of Girl is more thoughtful, far reaching, and insightful than a reader has any reason to expect in a memoir about a girl who moves to New York to work in publishing. "Young woman moves to Big Apple, works in publishing, finds fabulous self" has become a cliché on the order of throbbing members and supernatural high schoolers, but there's nothing clichéd about Bauer's memoir. Bauer pursues literary work because literature has informed her life for as long as she can remember: "The plan had been to turn those hours in the library from secretive pleasure to vocation—to avoid becoming an adult who would look back fondly on those hours as nothing more than a childhood idyll."
Bauer's experience is specific in its details: She holds onto her virginity well into her 20s, and her sobriety for nearly as long. In its generalities, though, as Bauer turns to religion and art to find her place in the world, it's eminently relatable.