Sunday 21 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 14: "Modern Romance" by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Page count: 277 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 14 mins
Rating: 4 stars

My experience with Aziz Ansari prior to getting this audiobook was as follows. Playing exuberant, outgoing and quite exasperating pop culture and fashion obsessive Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, then more recently in Master of None as struggling New York actor Dev, who while quite different from Tom, frequently exasperated me nonetheless with his constant whining and inability to accept how good he had it, being really very privileged even as a minority actor. As a result, I wasn't really all that interested in Modern Romance, believing it to be yet another celebrity autobiography for a comedian I wasn't all that sure I liked that much or wanted to find out more about. After some very favourable reviews by fellow Cannonballers, I realised that this wasn't actually the book I believed it to be and wondered if I should give it a try. It was the recommendation of my book twin and kindred spirit Narfna, which really changed my mind (as it so often it nowadays) and made me rush to Audible to get my own copy.

Modern Romance, while it also contains a lot of humour and some insight into Aziz Ansari's own life is actually more of a sociological study into the ways in which our ideas of romance, courtship, dating, relationships and marriage has changed in the last couple of generations. The material in this book is based on a fairly large study, conducted in different countries all over the world, conducted in 2013-2014. To get a wide sampling of answers, Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg asked focus groups in the USA, Japan, France and Argentina a lot of questions relating to dating, relationships, sex and communication. They chose Japan, France and Argentina to really get a feel for different cultures. Ansari himself explains in the introduction that this book mainly concerns cis-gendered, heterosexual middle-class experiences and that the study by no means is comprehensive, so a lot of the material presented won't delve too deeply. It's still a very interesting look on the way in which relationships and dating have changed in the last 100 years or so, especially after the explosion of social media.

Several of the reviewers recommended the audio book, which is narrated by Ansari himself. Mostly he does a really good job and unlike the two comedy characters I've seen him play, he stays professional and presents the material in an entertaining and easy to comprehend way. Every so often, he will make fun of the reader for being too lazy to actually read a book, choosing to have it read to them instead. As someone who was incapable of reading anything printed for more than three weeks this past autumn due to a concussion, I felt that was needlessly simplistic. I'm sure it can feel annoying to those who turn to audio books due to reduced sight or actual blindness as well. There are any number of reasons why someone might choose an audio book instead reading it themselves. I'm sure Ansari knows this and just chose an easy target for some jokes, but that bit really didn't work for me.

I loved hearing the interviews with the pensioners that Ansari and Klinenberg talked to about how they met their significant others, and what advice they gave their own children and grandchildren. The sections on Japan, France and Argentina were also absolutely fascinating and as someone who hasn't actually dated all that much (got together with the first man I fell in love with when he was 19 and I was 21, lived together for years, then got married, which we still are), some of the mechanics of modern dating was interesting too, if confirming to me that I'm quite happy that I'm not having to do any of it myself anymore. I'm really glad I changed my mind and gave the book a try. It's one of the few books I've listened to all the way through in less than a day, because I wanted to keep going and hear what came next (it helps that it's not super long, either). So I now join the ranks of people recommending this book and have a new-found admiration and respect for Ansari.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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