“Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Aziz Ansari, probably best known for his role as Tom Haverford on the fantastic “Parks and Recreation,” declined to write a traditional comedian-celebrity’s memoir with hilarious tales from his life told with his own signature brand of comedic flair. Instead, he embarked on an ambitious research project with Eric Klinenberg, a Sociologist from NYU, to explore how dating has changed in the past few decades. By surveying and interviewing scores of people, Ansari and Klinenberg sought to uncover how technology and changing lifestyles have impacted the way we find love.
Their overall point is that technology has added an overwhelming amount of choice to the dating process, and thus people have become more selective. Everyone today looks for their soul mate, rather than someone with whom they think they can merely live companionably. And while dating is more difficult, time-consuming, and perhaps more stressful than before, it can also result in deeper connections when successful.
Even after finishing, I still wonder why Ansari wrote this book, instead of just Klinenberg. Full disclosure: Ansari’s sense of humor isn’t really mine, and Tom Haverford was easily my least favorite of the Parks & Rec crew. He brings his own brand of corny jokes to the book, and to the audio narration, but I found them more distracting than entertaining. Others who enjoy Ansari’s humor might find his asides more enjoyable.
Verdict: Jury’s Out – if you like Ansari’s humor or find the subject matter interesting, this is a quick, compelling read. People who dislike Ansari might find it a bit frustrating. For a more straightforward take on a similar subject, check out ”Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)” by OKCupid founder Christian Rudder, cited by this book.
“The Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll
Ani FaNelli has it all – a glamorous job at a thinly-veiled version of Cosmopolitan magazine; a handsome, rich fiancé; and a body and wardrobe other women would kill for. But Ani has a dark past, and she re-invented herself to escape it. Back in high school, Ani was Tiffani. As the new girl desperate to fit in at a prestigious prep school, Tiffani made friends who would irreversibly change her life.
Ani is a divisive narrator. She’s confident bordering on cocky, and utterly obsessed with her image. She’s driven, ambitious, and sees climbing the social ladder as every bit as important as climbing the professional. But I find her refreshing, because she is honest about her motivations. This superficial narrator provides a welcome escape from the intellectual demands of law school. Some readers might find her infuriating, but as long as she remains confined to print, and not someone I would have to deal with in real life, I find her fascinating.
For readers who stick with her story, Ani’s background reveal does not disappoint. It’s truly shocking, harrowing, and lays a groundwork for Ani’s transformation that is unexpectedly heartbreaking. Though publicized as the next “Gone Girl” or “Girl on the Train,” I’m not convinced it has quite that level of crossover appeal. But it is a solid bit of escapism and thrill for a casual read in between class readings.
Verdict: Jury’s Out – I could see some people being turned off by Ani, but I’m a fan. Although this doesn’t live up to the recent blockbusters like “The Girl on the Train”, it is nevertheless an enjoyable thriller.
“In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume
In the early 1950’s, three planes crashed over the course of three months in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The residents of the city were haunted by these tragedies and demanded Newark Airport be closed. It is amid this uncertainty and fear that Judy Blume set her most recent novel, “In the Unlikely Event.”
Unlike many American girls, I did not grow up reading Blume’s young adult novels – I was too absorbed in fantasy worlds to make time for contemporary fiction until high school. Yet many of my friends, even those who weren’t big readers, swore by “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” I greatly respect Blume for founding the young adult genre in many ways, and providing young women with relatable characters who didn’t shy away from puberty and sex.
I’m excited to report that everything Judy Blume does well in her young adult novels is on full display and brilliantly translated to an adult audience in her latest adult novel. She frankly discusses sex, relationships, fear, hope, and myriad other everyday stresses. The sprawling cast of characters is centered around Miri, a 9th-grader living with her single mom. She has a group of close friends, a supportive grandmother and uncle, and perhaps a new boyfriend. In typical Blume fashion, Miri’s life is upended by the quotidian tragedies of growing up just as much as the shocking plane crashes that re-shape her entire town.
Switching viewpoints from character to character, we see victims of the plane crashes, survivors, Miri’s family and friends, and Miri herself. We see how these crashes permeate all parts of Elizabeth, and how everyday struggles continue, even in the face of something much larger.
Verdict: Affirmed. I was enthralled with this book, and it’s made me want to revisit Blume’s young adult titles I missed while growing up.
“Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins
In the near-future, California’s drought has reached epic proportions. The former Californians, now known as Mojavs, are restricted in their travel and limited in their options for eking out a living as other states have closed their borders to those looking to resettle away from the drought. Luz and Ray, a young couple living among the abandoned homes of California, are shaken to their core when they encounter a young child in need of responsible adults. Their decision to take her in re-shapes their lives and challenges their ways of coping with everyday reality.
“Gold Fame Citrus” is really Luz’s novel. Almost immediately after she was born, she became the poster child for environmental responsibility. This movement ultimately failed. Luz’s life has been shaped by the men around her. Until she found baby Ing, Luz had no reason to find her own way and forge her own identity. Now that someone else depends on her, she must figure out who she is, what she stands for, and how to make her way through a life for which her upbringing left her unprepared.
There’s a cautionary environmental story within this novel to be sure, but it’s also a story of a young woman’s journey toward personal empowerment. Watkins explores the relationships that shape our lives and the importance of deciding who we want to be, rather than letting others decide for us.
Verdict: Affirmed. This book’s depth and resonance snuck up on me, but I’m still thinking about it a week later.