by Aziz Ansari
Modern Romance, as a concept, seems like something I could really get behind. I mean, a comedian tackling a subject such as the culture of discovering love in the modern age on his own would lead me to think that the strength of the book would rest solely on the author’s ability to write comedy, but Ansari teams up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to help add some meat to the book. The pair parses a Reddit message board, consults experts, and puts on focus groups all across the globe to investigate how various contemporary factors, like technology and changing mentalities, affect things like finding a significant other, dating, and cheating.
The most consistent issue I arrived at throughout Ansari’s book was the lack of substance. Despite all the commendable attempts to have an informed opinion and provide something useful for readers, the author often doesn’t give topics enough attention to make the book as informative as I’m told it is. This usually involves broaching a topic just long enough to let us know that it’s something that happens without letting it evolve into a compelling exploration, but it occasionally also is a matter of Ansari quickly passing judgment before moving on, as he does regarding the culture of infidelity in France.
And the comedy is hit or miss. I think Ansari is a funny guy, but, for me, the humour in his book fell flat at least as much as it worked. When he builds a joke off of a strange observation that came up during a focus group or one of his stand-up sets, he has a great, natural, almost effortless quality to the passages, one that fits in and flows with the general discussion. And then I hit on a jarring line or a joke that feels forced. Over time I began to wonder if he fell into the trappings of writing a comedy book, where the quest for substance felt dry on subsequent reads through, and the author felt compelled to make things funnier, even though doing so would compromise the overall readability. (Of course, comedy writing is also hard, so a much simpler explanation would be that I just didn’t appreciate a good chunk of it. With my dislike of humour in other books that were generally lauded for being quite funny, such as Mogworld and The Martian, this theory seems to gain at least some credibility.)
The thing to keep in mind when I talk about a book like Modern Romance is my perspective. Despite my complaints, I’ve been married six years now, and I never found myself dealing with single life in any way even resembling the issues described throughout. I can easily imagine that a young single growing frustrated with online dating and the bar scene in their search for a soul mate could greatly benefit from the wide range of experiences and opinions that Ansari and Klinenberg work through and describe. (The book’s overall popularity can probably attest to this.) And, even with my admitted dissociation from the subject, I still found it interesting––and funny––enough.