We’re giving away a copy of Modern Romancehere!
If you’ve watched Aziz Ansari’s latest Netflix special, Live at Madison Square Garden, you already know The Artist Formerly Known as Raaaaaaaandy is on a hot streak. Earlier this year, the former Parks and Rec star did what the best comics of their time do: he surprised many with a special that didn’t just summon laughs, but took meaningful looks at huge topics. Live at Madison Square Garden’s topics ranged from Ansari’s conflicted feelings about factory farming to racism in his own native South Carolina.
One of the topics that felt most complete was his look at modern love—one that was illustrated by hilariously rifling through the phone of an audience member and picking apart her back-and-forth texts with a potential love interest. The whole love approach is nothing new for Ansari in a live setting; he’s been analyzing text conversations for years, ever since he dropped into a comedy club one fateful night after being stood up by someone named Tanya. As the story goes, Ansari went to a party where he met a “very charming lady”—his words—named Tanya, who carried on weeks of back-and-forth texting with Ansari. Then, after inviting Tanya to a Beach House show by text, she dropped off the face of the Earth. That interaction sparked the question in Ansari’s brain that’d demand a book like Modern Romance:
Why, in the digital world, do we treat other potential love interests like this?
It’s logic he’s explored already in Live at Madison Square Garden. The cellphone has created an awkward barrier between two potential partners. Nowadays it’s easy—maybe too easy—to cancel plans, break up or, hell, completely vanish via technology. We can pull an Into the Wild on our texting partners. We can break up via text, cellphone and, God forbid, a FACEBOOK status update. With this dehumanizing interaction at hand, people wonder why we struggle to form concrete bonds in the face-to-face realm. And then we see texts like this in Ansari’s debut book, Modern Romance. Texts that’ll make you question any friend who never heard back from that special someone. Really, some guy actually wrote:
I wanted to say hi and sort of “texty” introduce myself. Haha. :-)
Yeesh. Puke. Blech. Horrible pickup lines aside, the intersection of technology, changing attitudes and love has been on the mind of young people since the invention of Facebook’s relationship status and MySpace’s Top 8, and it marks the main exploration of Penguin Press’ Modern Romance. Live at Madison Square Garden posed some good questions: Why are we such shitheads when communicating on cellphones? Should I text a girl “hey” 19 times in a row? Are dick pics ever cool to send? Modern Romance tries to provide answers. For that, we should thank Tanya.
The book is an obsessive exploration of what makes hearts flutter and break across the globe, but most importantly, it dissects those ideas through the lens of a right-and-left swiping society. And as a result, Ansari’s final product doesn’t only feel complete—it’s hilariously executed, even without his unmistakable high-register voice belting the punchlines. At 250 pages, Modern Romance is a lean, pithy read that’s perfect to reach the tech-obsessed generation it explores.
But Modern Romace’s backbone isn’t built on simple common-sense musings. Ansari enlisted professional help in the form of Eric Klinenberg, author of single-living book Going Solo and professor of sociology at NYU. Ansari also acquired a treasure trove of data during the research process, including nuggets from some of the most current popular dating sites like OKCupid and Match.com. The result isn’t a list of answers that’s 100 percent conclusive, or even complete, and there are blind spots that Ansari’s willing to state up front. For example, the book focuses on mostly heterosexual relationships. There’s some information on apps like Grindr, but situationally specific information pertaining to the LGBT community is largely ignored in Ansari’s book. In his words: “Eric and I realized that if we tried to write about how all the different aspects of romance we address applied to LGBT relationships, we simply wouldn’t be able to do the topic justice without writing an entirely separate book.”
But what he does cover is The Relationship, and that’s an idea that can apply to all orientations. Ansari covers the basics from start to finish: the search for a partner, the courting process, the complications of settling down. But Ansari never writes without painting a generally complete picture that considers the context of our time and place. He dives deep into Baby Boomer-rooted ideals, beginning at a retirement home where a dude named “Alfredo” scams Ansari out of free doughnuts. Ansari explores present-day Japan and its citizens’ molasses-slow reproduction rate. He unfurls the implications of a society that’s hooking up based on right-and-left swiping. But in looking back, forward, side-to-side, Ansari acts as a level-headed, still-intriguing reporter of the facts. It’s not the book you’d expect a comedian to write on the multi-faceted subject of love—one that takes in emotional, biological, scientific considerations—and those who sit down with Modern Romance as a lighthearted beach read will probably walk out with more to mull over than they anticipated.
But, pithy and smart chapters aside, it’s no surprise that it’s Ansari’s presentation that drives the book. I laughed my ass off, from Ansari bemoaning the loss of Tanya to his final reflections on settling down with someone to his conclusion: “Okay, well, I’m fucking done with my book!!! YEAH!!!” The book can be a dangerous format for some comedians, a place where voice can be stripped into a dull copy of their on-stage persona, but I dare you to read Modern Romance without hearing Tom Haverford’s emphatic whines, or Raaaaaaaandy’s boisterous swagger echo through your head.
With Modern Romance, Ansari had a goal: “I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age. I found some interesting pieces here and there, but not the kind of comprehensive, in-depth sociological investigation I was looking for. That book simply didn’t exist, so I decided to try to write it myself.” And judging by the pages that follow, Modern Romance is a success. It’s a snapshot—a fair, non-judgmental one, at that—of a specific time and place. And though the book doesn’t shove readers in any particular direction, and it doesn’t provide concrete solutions to the realm of modern dating, most millennials will walk out of Modern Romance with an increased appreciation for the beings that exist behind iPhone screens.