Tag Archives: Adult

Escape the Ordinary – Brilliant Debut Authors: Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

ETO Adult Summer Reading Club_For Your LeisureSMALLER

modern romanceFive minutes after opening Aziz Ansari’s debut book I felt compelled to tweet:

“I started @azizansari’s book expecting to be thoroughly charmed. Then he started talking research methods & data and now I am in love, ok?”

This book didn’t just meet every expectation I had going in, it went so far beyond anything I had imagined that I was blown away.

And that rarely happens.

If you hadn’t already gathered, I am a fan of Aziz Ansari. I was endlessly fascinated by his performance as Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation, a character who doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities, but whose charm Ansari nevertheless managed to bring through.

Tom, you slimy charmer, you.

Tom, you slimy charmer, you.

His stand-up is sharp, smart, and truly contemporary in a way that I have not seen anyone else pull off – Ansari speaks for the social media generation, those of us for whom the internet has simply been a fact of life. He has a distinct voice, one that I really appreciate and find pretty consistently funny. So of course I wanted to read his book.

The good news part one: my expectations were met! Ansari’s authorial voice is clear and present throughout Modern Romance. Although he admits in the introduction that he had been reluctant to write a book, because stand-up is really his medium, his personality and especially his humour have translated seamlessly into the written form – I honestly found myself reading the book in his voice, knowing just the tone he would have delivered many of the lines in. And if the book had only been that, I would have been more than satisfied.

But it was so much more than that.

Modern Romance is a book about the contemporary dating scene, where more and more people are meeting online, and even when we do meet in person, we do most of our communicating through the internet or our phones, by writing instead on talking. This is a major topic of Ansari’s stand-up, also, and so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for.

But the book is not just an extension or a translation of Ansari’s stand-up material. It is actually the culmination of a multi-year sociological study that Ansari undertook with Eric Klinenberg, examining modern dating behaviours, comparing them to the way dating worked for older generations, and taking in quantitative and qualitative data, all coming together into some very real perspectives and advice on navigating the world of modern romance.

Ansari takes you with him through the research process and findings, speaking always in layperson terms, and injecting his personal brand of humour into the discussions in natural and relatable ways.

It’s a great book, an engaging and enjoyable read, and one that just might make you learn something!

If you’ve read the book, I’d like to know:

  • What did you find most surprising about the study’s findings and advice?
  • What are your thoughts on Ansari’s combination of humour and social science? Did the comedy add to or take away from the book’s overall content? Were you annoyed by all that data getting in the way of Ansari’s wit? Or did work for you?
  • Do you have experience with online dating? Do you feel like the book reflected your experiences?

The Re-Readables: What books do you keep going back to?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a book re-readable. I am a huge reader, and most of the time, I am looking forward to digging into my ever-growing need-to-read pile, but still there are some books that I find myself wanting to revisit, again and again. Here’s my list:

sandmanNeil Gaiman’s The Sandman series

This is an extremely epic series, centred around seven siblings representing the inescapable aspects of the universe: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. The story touches the lives of a huge number of side characters from throughout history, and its immensity is certainly part of why I find it so rereadable. There are always characters I’ve forgotten and new things to notice in the incredible art of these graphic novels.

The whole collection is available through VPL in print or digital versions. Continue reading

Escape the Ordinary – Summer Reads

ETO Adult Summer Reading Club_For Your LeisureSMALLER

In a sleepy English village in 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives to do the unprecedented: to teach Latin to the village’s students. Freethinking, attractive, and studious, her arrival uproots the villagers’ quaint notions of what a Latin teacher should be. Meanwhile, Hugh Grange is preparing to marry a surgeon’s daughter and inherit a lucrative practice. But when he is sent to pick up Beatrice from the train station, his plans suddenly don’t seem so concrete. While the town wars between notions of progress and tradition, a greater war is brewing in Europe, threatening the summer idyll of the town.

511FjMo8C9L. SX326 BO1,204,203,200  photoHelen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War brings readers to the charming Sussex town of Rye. On the surface, it’s your quintessential Edwardian English village: all sunshine, gardens, and bicycle rides into town, charming in its pre-war naivety. The novel takes its time, the pace as leisurely as life in Rye. But Simonson isn’t a nostalgic writer, and beneath the pretty surface she exposes the ugly truth of bigotry and small-town pettiness. And as the realities of World War I encroach on town life, these truths are thrown into sharper and sharper relief.

The Summer Before the War is reminiscent of many things. Beatrice Nash might call to mind Elizabeth Bennet in her independence, progressiveness, and ability to craft a covert insult. The plot and setting will be familiar to Downton Abbey fans, which also dealt with themes of grand families, social progress, and World War I. While Jane Austen and Downton both take shots at high society’s thin veneer of gentility, Simonson’s novel digs further into the cracks. There are suffragettes and bohemians in Rye. A woman is a victim of a war crime. An aspiring poet and an earl’s son might be more than friends. These people threaten the status quo of Rye’s social core, and so they’re all but shunned—with the utmost decorum. Simonson does an excellent job portraying the frustrations and quiet outrage of Beatrice Nash as she tries to stand ground both for herself and her friends. Simonson presents more than one war: one physical, fought on the battlefield, and one ideological, fought at home.

There’s also the timely issue of refugees, as Rye becomes home to a large number of displaced Belgians (in fact, England took in 250,000 Belgian refugees over the course of WWI). The townspeople open their doors to the Belgians, but not without comment (“It is quite impossible to ask our ladies to take absolute peasants into their own houses, however charming their wooden clogs.”) or without patting themselves on the back. It’s hard to read about the plight of the Belgians without thinking of today’s refugee crisis. Are we any less judgmental? Are we any less self-congratulatory?

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Have any thoughts about this book? Leave a comment below! Some questions to consider are:

1. Women didn’t fight on the fields in WWI, but they had their own fight at home. What sort of injustices do Beatrice and her peers face? How did life at home change after the First World War?

2. Society in 1914 England is divided by men and women, but also by social class. For example, Snout is denied an equal education because he is Romani. In what ways did society restrict both men and women before the war? What freedoms do we have now? What freedoms are we still fighting for?

3. The Summer Before the War takes place in a time when war was still thought to be glorious, but the events of WWI start to change this notion. Do you agree with Agatha’s attempts to keep Daniel home? Or is dying for your country always honourable?