EDITOR’S NOTE: Kim Larsen is a night editor at The Vidette. . A senior at ISU from Chicago, Illinois, Larsen is publication major in the Department of English Her blog will concentrate on book reviews.
This past year, I have developed a new-found love for audiobooks, particularly celebrity memoirs. I never thought this genre would be one that would appeal to me. In my head, I had always associated them with lonely, underpaid ghostwriters as opposed to the actual celebrity “author” they were supposed to be chronicling. But audiobooks made this genre compelling for me. There’s something about listening to Amy Poehler tell you about her life that is intimate. It lets you believe for a minute that you could actually be her friend, going out for a bite to eat and listening to her spill everything new going on in her life over coffee and sandwiches. Some of them certainly still harbor that lonely ghostwriter between the pages, perhaps even most of them, but it doesn’t mean they’re not at least a little bit true, and they’re certainly entertaining. When I saw that Aziz Ansari had his own book out, I thought this would be no exception.
Ansari’s book is a bit different, though. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since “Parks and Recreation.” Then, an even bigger fan of his Netflix series, “Master of None.” For me, Ansari has been a fresh voice in comedy that promoted diversity and was respectful to all people while still managing to be hilarious. I love his standup. I love how he communicates important and underrepresented issues in his work. I assumed this book would be a sort of continuation of those things and I was . . . kind of right.
Modern Romance is essentially an extended essay. It isn’t a juicy tell-all or a nostalgic recollection of his life and career. In this book, Ansari sets out to further analyze the questions he often brings up in his standup and his show. If you are familiar with some of his material, you know that Aziz Ansari is fascinated with social media and dating, and how this hinders us in some ways and lets us thrive in others. Dating culture, hookup culture, and romance are often central themes in Ansari’s comedy, and that being said, I found this book a little redundant. As someone who has been following all of his work from the beginning, this book didn’t bring anything new to the table for me. Many things were just reiterations of material I have already heard him use. However, I do realize that the book was published in 2015, and most likely was the precursor for his ideas for the show, and not the other way around. I do think that regardless, the content is good. I would just argue that if you were previously familiar with his other work like I am, this might not be anything you find new or exciting.
Putting that aside, I also found the contents of the book itself to get a little bit repetitive. Sure, I learned some interesting things I didn’t know about the world and romance. Ansari conducted his research well. Together with Eric Klinenberg, some of the top researchers and authorities in the field are consulted, and there is no expense spared and no destination too far to explore. We are given an insight into dating culture in Japan, Paris, and South America, as well as the generational differences present in American dating culture. Ansari consults focus groups on Reddit, as well as in person, to get honest and unbiased answers. Most of those answers just aren’t surprising. Sometimes honesty doesn’t make for the most compelling reads.
In addition to the contents of the book itself, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Aziz Ansari in a more recent context, as it was definitely something that weighed heavily on my mind the entire time I listened. It seems ironic now that the man who wrote the book on “Modern Romance” has been added to a long list of allegations against women. Or maybe it isn’t ironic at all, and that’s the problem. Either way, I think that the issues regarding Ansari in particular are more complex and gray than most of the other men on this list. Initially, I was devastated when I heard the news. This was a man I looked up to — one of the “good ones.” But unfortunately, we live in a world much more complicated than that. The parts of one individual’s actions, no matter how positive they may be, do not outweigh the sum. Ansari should be held accountable. However, he isn’t quite being accused of the same things many men in Hollywood are. The controversy surrounding Ansari is incredibly important because it’s one of consent, and how explicit it needs to be. It illustrates just how taken for granted it is by men, even men with the best of intentions. This is the culture we’ve created. This is Modern Romance.