Today we get to review a bit of an experiment for me as we review Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I’m going to start with the experiment because it  impacted my thoughts on the book. If you want just the book review, then scroll on down, homeslice.

The Experiment

Last week, I was making a trip to visit a friend out-of-state, which meant cars and planes to get there. I’d been wanting to take another stab at audiobooks after my experience with The False Prince and the non-experience with the audio version of The Raven Boys. Unfortunately, audiobooks tend to be expensive or require subscriptions that I don’t want to pay. I know there are free versions out there, but they’re usually books I don’t want to read (nope), books that are in the public domain (and are written in Olde English that I can barely follow), or illegally acquired versions (look, I like to support the authors). For this reason, I knew I would more than likely be doing a trial of Audible or Audiobooks.com, and would need one or two books that I wanted to listen to once the decision was made.

But there weren’t any books that jumped out as ideal candidates.

Then my trip was around the corner. I knew I’d have time in the car and a lot of time on planes, so I decided to let this be my trial period, and I would just make a choice and live with it.

Where things get interesting is deciding which book to listen to. The first thing I decided on was not listening to a book in a series. If I ended up really liking it, then I’d want to finish the series and would be faced with listening to the remainder without getting to keep print copies, reading the remainder but not having the first book in print, or reading the remainder and buying the original. Basically, no ideal options. I landed on the criteria of one-off books that I’d been circling for a while but wasn’t pulling the trigger on for one reason or another. I actually combed my Goodreads queue for a good 45 minutes making my decision. And then the one of my books wasn’t available on Audible.

Crap.

Luckily, one was: Modern Romance. I’d been wanting to read the book for a while, but it felt just off enough every time I considered buying it that I was skipping it. This seemed as good a time as any. The backup I landed on was The DUFF. I’d seen the movie, so that had kept me from buying the book because I’d already know the basic plot outline. Even though I liked the movie, I was leaving it on shelves in bookstores.

As I was going through the process of listening to Modern Romance (The DUFF will follow soon), I learned more about my audiobook preferences.

The first thing I figured out is timing. I can’t listen to audiobooks at any time. I already knew pure downtime didn’t work. I needed to be doing something else because listening wasn’t enough to keep me mentally engaged like looking at a page would. Driving is my favorite because I’m going to listen to something anyway, and audiobooks, like podcasts, help the drive go faster than music. Riding on the plane and sitting in the airport were ok, but they weren’t ideal. It was too easy for me to want to do something else. Walking works well too, but I don’t take long walks very often.

The second thing was a newfound device preference. For The False Prince, I used my phone. This is problematic though because I like music, so I don’t have much space for apps and 8-hour audiofiles, and because I was traveling and didn’t know when I would be able to charge my phone, I didn’t want an important device to be getting drained on my trip when I had a second option. I opted for a tablet as the medium. It had more space and the battery would last forever when I wasn’t playing games on it. Unfortunately, this change had an impact. The tablet isn’t nearly as mobile and is more unwieldy to work with. This meant I was constantly having to grab it out of my backpack while traveling and then having to stow it. I couldn’t listen to the book on a whim like I had been with The False Prince. The storage capacity is great but I didn’t like what I was giving up.

Other than that, the audiobook experience was about the same. I had to be careful to make sure I was actually listening and not letting my mind wander, which isn’t a problem when reading a print version. I also had to make sure the device was charged, which I’m not always great about.

I’ll give the next audiobook a try, but I don’t expect this to be a thing unless I just want to listen to classics that I never read in high school or college.

The Book

What originally got my interest in this book was listening to interviews from Aziz a couple of years ago. He seemed to be having this deep level of introspection after hitting massive success with his standup. He mentioned that he was doing smaller shows that were almost like focus groups that were helping inform this book he was working on. And unlike most comedians with books, this is not a comedy book. It has humor (re: Aziz), but at its heart, this is a sociology book.

Eric Klinenberg is the co-author, who is an NYU sociologist with various other books and articles that have found their way into the mainstream. Basically, Klinenberg is how the book gets legit. We’re not dealing with a simple philosophical take on dating in the current age; we get actual data collection. As a social scientist, I’m not going to say whether or not what they did was rigorous without seeing more information, but the fact that it occurred makes this a more interesting read for me. And if nothing else, the information in the book passed the sniff test. I won’t treat it as dogma, but the information made sense.

I won’t go into too much depth because there’s simply too many facets for me to talk in-depth about anything without having to talk about everything. Instead, let’s hit the high notes. I won’t give the final conclusions and recommendations because that feels like biting on their work, and I think it’s worth reading.

Of course, we have to talk about technology. Essentially, the authors argue, we have a real-world self and a phone/digital self. When we’re texting, messaging, etc., that’s not 100%, and we don’t treat the people with interact with as we would in a real-world context. This leads to more cavalier attitudes about what you can send people. Shenanigans ensue.

Then there are the differences in societal expectations for men and especially women. This has changed how we go about selecting a mate, when we’re doing so, and how we interact with each other. There are some cool anecdotes on proximity in older days for dictating who marries whom.

And then when you combine these two things, we’re dealing with a brand new level of selection. This is good and bad. It’s good because we’re not stuck with the people immediately around us, but it’s bad because people notoriously suck at making choices when they have a lot of options. Basically, we’re happier with fewer choices.

There are also some discussions of international differences, especially Argentina, Japan, and France. If you live in the U.S., these places will seem bananas to you. Depending on your perspective, you might envy them or you might pity them.

All in all, you’ve got a good book. I kind of wish I’d read it instead of listening to it, but I’d been circling it for so long that the audiobook route seemed like the way to go. Having Aziz as the narrator is a plus, especially when he goes off script (e.g., making fun of you for being too lazy to actually read the book). I’d found a reddit thread that talked about audiobooks that were better than the regular version, and this was mentioned because of Aziz’s narration. I won’t go as far as saying it’s better (because I haven’t actually read the book), but Aziz keeps it entertaining even if he’s not a professional narrator.

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