This book was absolutely unexpected, in a wonderful way, much like my experience with the comedian, Aziz Ansari. I’d only heard a small amount, bits and pieces, of Ansari’s standup. My impression of Ansari initially was that he was loud and raucous, a comedian who designed his comedy around eliciting laughter based purely on his delivery, not his wit or personality.
It wasn’t until I began to watch Parks and Recreation that I realized that Ansari was much more, and that my first reaction was absolutely wrong. Tom Haverford, in the show Parks and Recreation, begins the story as a seemingly shallow and materialistic man who, over the course of the series, reveals a sweet, endearing, and ultimately vulnerable side to an otherwise banal character. There is something truthful and sympathetic about Ansari’s portrayal of the character.
This was also the case for my first impressions with this book. I thought it would be the predictable book that most stand up comedians publish after their careers reach maximum visibility. Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, though fantastic and funny, are all stories about the comedian’s beginnings, their career, and their take on life. I thought this would be the case with Ansari’s Modern Romance. I was, once again, completely wrong.
Yes, Ansari’s comedic voice is present in the book. But instead of a book about comedy, the comedian, and his co-writer Klinenberg, compiles research data and findings, creating a large picture of trends and challenges of dating in the modern age. The method of research is impressive. The team uses a wide range of data, from a study of marriage licenses in the 1930s, through focus studies conducted in retirement homes, and with parents and their adult children. Ansari recounts stand-up done in 2013 in which he asked participants in the audience for permission to log into their online dating accounts with a projector onstage and discuss their experiences. The team traveled to Japan, Buenos Aires and France to examine the dating and romance trends in 3 very different countries. Some participants even consented to a data gathering app to be installed on their phones.
The result is an examination of what Ansari defines as “Modern Romance”, including the psychology of texting and delayed gratification, the influence of danger on attraction, the difference between perceived qualities of attraction vs real qualities of attraction, the history of apps like Tinder, and phenomenon of Japan’s herbivore man. Along the way, Ansari sprinkles his own personal experiences with dating and his current relationship, providing a grounded and very real view of the man himself. The journey is a hilarious, fascinating, shocking and sometimes sad view of the state of modern dating. What is impressive is that Ansari was a business and marketing major at NYU, and this is his very first book, a far departure from other comedian’s freshman literary projects. Even more impressive is Ansari seems to be the first to write on this large subject, gathering together research on different aspects of dating and marriage and bringing them under a single book.
This book is a great nonfiction book for adults looking for a fun and easy read. Single, committed and married readers would all love and identify with themes in the book and the experiences recounted within. Other books similar to this would be those named above, in addition to books by Nick Offerman Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers and Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, which can be read in conjunction with Yes Please by Amy Poehler to round out the Parks and Recreation books in order to alleviate the withdrawal you inevitably feel now that the show is over.