A romance can pull me through even a long classic which isn’t holding my attention otherwise. This is what got me through Vanity Fair.
And of all the chunksters on my shelves, I might stall in some, but I sailed through Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale (even though the romance is largely confined to the first quarter of the novel).
So Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance immediately appealed. It wasn’t so much the cover, although it’s striking, isn’t it? Simply the idea of the book. (And, okay, I liked Tom on “Parks&Rec” and a peek at “Master of None” didn’t hurt either.)
And because I don’t read very many funny books, I have made the mistake of binge-reading a few, so I planned from the start to make this one last. Otherwise all-the-funny can blur.
Because even if you think Aziz Ansari is a funny guy, you need to take breaks from laughing. (Jonathan Saffron Foer actually complains in a blurb on the back that this volume provokes laughter too often.)
However, Modern Romance is a joint effort, and sociologist Eric Klinenberg contributes substantially. If you are only into Aziz Ansari, this book might disappoint you; a lot of research went into the work, so unless you’re drawn to the content itself, the statistics and reporting might overwhelm the humour.
At times, I felt like I had slipped back in time, to my last year in high school, with my FamilyStudies teacher lecturing on proquinity and mate selection. I don’t think the word ‘propinquity’ even washed across my mind between then and my reading of Modern Romance. But there it was.)
But it’s interesting, comparing how couples met 20 years ago and 50 years ago (earlier statistics are excluded, as this isn’t an academic study but a book designed to appeal to readers who still remember meeting their partners) and how and where couples meet today.
And of course it’s not just about romance, but modern romance, which means digital romance.
“Twenty years ago, if you met a guy who said he’d met seventy women who’d expressed interest in him in the past month, you’d assume he was quite a stud. Today he can be any guy with a smartphone and a thumb to swipe right.”
My FamilyStudies teacher probably couldn’t have conceived of sexting, but it comprises a significant part of this volume.
Nonetheless, there is a certain timelessness to some aspects of the work. As Helen Fisher remarks (she’s the biological anthropologist who advises Match.com): “The brain is the best algorithm…. There’s not a dating service on this planet that can do what the human brain can do in terms of finding the right person.”
There are large swaths of the narrative which are presented in a more neutral tone, but Aziz Ansari’s cleverness peppers Modern Romance. There are some substantial anecdotes, and two of these frame the narrative.
Inspired by “a lot of burning questions about modern romance”, he begins by describing a series of texts, he exchanged with a woman, in an attempt to connect – a largely unsuccessful attempt. (The first episode of “Master of None”, which he wrote and directed and starred in, covers some of the same material.)
The volume rounds out with his attendance at a wedding. “The vows in this wedding were powerful. They were saying the most remarkable, loving things about each other. Things like ‘You are a prism that takes the light of life and turns it into a rainbow’ or ‘You are a lotion that moisturizes my heart. Without you, my soul has eczema.’ It was the noncheesy, heartfelt version of stuff like that.”
In between, there are plenty of moments which showcase his sharp and incisive wit. I especially like the parenthetical remarks and the footnotes.
At one point, a stock photo of a happy couple appears. Beneath is this caption: “Open relationships? Is that where you f*ck other people? Yeah, we do that sometimes.” A footnote explains that this is actually a stock photo image, so this couple might not actually respond this way. But, “For real, though: they’re cyborgs.” This is immediatley followed by another footnote, which explains that the legal department has further advised that they cannot be identified as cyborgs either. (It’s funnier when he does it. But also longer. Too long to quote. And, yes, the language is as modern as the technology.)
From a presentation perspective, the volume contains some engaging images. The chapter headings are in bold type and a contrasting colour and the pie charts and grids, the reproductions of texts and the screenshots and photographs, do suit the ‘modern’ aspect of the work. (And, yet, paradoxically will also make the book less appealing in another decade’s time.) These boost the playful note, contrasting with the eight pages of endnotes and two pages of resources.
Readers sitting with all their weight on either end of the teeter-totter risk disppointment: the fun-loving, casual types might be bored with the stats and the scholarly investigative pen-protector types might find the interpretation of the data to be superficial. But the bulk of the readers are likely sitting somewhere between, content with – if not passionate about – their relationship with Modern Romance.
Is it on your TBR? Are you a fan of Aziz Ansari?