Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance

Modern RomanceI don’t usually find things funny that normal people do. For example, I like Tina Fey well enough but well before the point of obsessive. Will Ferrell has made maybe two movies I’ll chuckle along to, and I can’t stand Chelsea Handler. Somehow though, Aziz Ansari cracked through my humorless shell and legitimately cracks me up.

In Modern Romance, comedian Ansari and NYC sociologist Eric Klinenberg team up to conduct a massive research study across the United States and spreading to Paris, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires, about the ups and downs of dating nowadays. They analyzed Reddit surveys, interviewed the world’s leading social scientists, and conducted thousands of conversations with men and women of all ages, races, and relationship statuses. With the rise of online dating and the perks/pitfalls of technology, Ansari humorously uncovers how finding a mate has evolved through the years along with providing solid advice on how not to find your soul mate.

I do admire Mindy Kaling, but was utterly unimpressed by her book Why Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which also takes a comedic view of romantic relationships. It felt like a drunken pixie’s verbal vomit – each chapter, even within chapters, leaped hyper-actively from topic to topic. Comparatively, what I love most about Modern Romance is that it’s the exact opposite. It’s generally cohesive and each chapter sticks to a theme to gets its point across. Yes, there are frequent random interjections and footnotes, but they add to the overall picture that Ansari is trying to present.

He effectively uses both data and anecdotes throughout the book, throwing in (easily understandable) graphs and charts alongside stories from his shows and focus groups. Every so often a fact just staggered me, though some of his information is obvious and/or repetitive to anyone involved in the online dating world. Still, it is comforting/hilarious to hear about Ansari and others experiencing the same issues and also fascinating to hear from non-Americans about the different romantic problems their countries face.

I would highly recommend it (and in fact already have!) to any millennial struggling with modern romance. It’s not perfect, but is by far the wittiest, most insightful book I’ve heard of on the topic, and will lend you much needed perspective. Perhaps a bit science-y for some, but it will surprise you into laughing out loud.

4 Stars

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Brock Clarke’s The Happiest People in the World

The Happiest People in the World: A NovelBrock Clarke’s The Happiest People in the World has been on my to-read list for awhile, so I was thrilled when (for once) our book club picked something that I meant to get around to.

Denmark, home of the happiest people in the world – and to second-rate cartoonist Jens, who takes on the task of drawing a cartoon depicting the controversy over the recently-published caricature of Mohammed. After he is attacked by angsty teenage wannabe-extremists, the CIA fakes his death and moves him to Broomeville, a small town in upstate New York, where he is to serve as the new high school guidance counselor. With no experience in that field, he blunders into a love affair with the principal’s ex-wife and a minefield of new enemies even as the people from his past track him down to destroy his future.

The pop art cover pretty adequately reflects the story being told. It’s as cartoonish as the subject that catalyzes the action, and all the characters come across as caricatures. A few characters were tolerable, like Jens himself and principal’s kid Kurt, but CIA agent Locks and principal Matty were frankly irritating. In addition, the majority of the rest of the town are also CIA operatives, who are incredibly incompetent at their jobs in a twist that proves more ridiculous than humorous. When you hate half the characters, you know the book isn’t quite for you.

The writing style jumps to and from these various characters’ points of view, so brace yourself for the sections with characters who you dislike. Despite being in each of their heads, they all have the same voices and think in lengthy and repititive run-on sentences. It makes for confusing reading at times, resulting in our half-serious conclusion that the mounted moose head at the bar serves as the primary narrator for the story. Like the sentence structures, the plot flow also meanders without ever building to an exciting climax – rather, it falters and ends with a whimper instead of a bang, despite the (spoiler alert) multiple deaths by shootout.

Ironically, our discussion proved to be funnier than the actual content of the book as we vented our varied frustrations. It’s not a book that stirs any of your emotions, even humor, as it always seems to be circling around a moral point carefully while failing to exploit either satiric or tragic potential to expose that point. Incidentally, no one in the book seemed particularly happy nor was I reading it.

2.5 Stars

The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard

The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal, #4)I thought I had reviewed Jonathan L. Howard’s The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal #4) already and was horrified to realize that I’d neglected to for nearly 4 months! For although it was a random pick off the shelves because of it’s ridiculously amazing cover, it definitely deserves more attention than I think it’s gotten, given that I’d never heard of the series before. And while I hate reviewing a series in improper order (this is the 4th!), I simply can’t wait until I start from the beginning. Plus, it wasn’t too confusing to start with this book – if anything, it made me even more eager to go back and read about the Cabal brothers’ prior alluded-to adventures!

Horst Cabal has arose from the dead. Again, and against his intentions. A occult conspiracy needs a general to lead their monstrous army and Horst, despite being a generally affable and gentlemanly vampire, is the one they picked for the job. When Horst realizes the extent of their ambitions to create a supernatural homeland, he escapes their clutches and searches for his brother, the amoral but effective necromancer Johannes. Despite parting on uncertain terms, they must now band together to save the world.

The book is jam-packed with action and adventure, not to mention comedy courtesy of the adorably hilarious Horst and his interactions with the cynical Johannes. Peppered with snarky footnotes to the readers, I honestly laughed out loud multiple times, and the rest of the time I was on the edge of my seat. It’s tough to describe the plot because it weaves around a fair bit and the first half is told almost entirely in flashback, but it includes a nomadic band of female aviators, moldering castles, too many explosives to count, and even a werebadger! If you think honey badgers don’t give a shit, werebadgers give even less.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before, though the dark humor calls to mind The Reformed Vampire Support Group while the supernatural steampunkery falls in line with Gail Carringer’s works. The writing style veers towards the 19th century Gothic, adding to the delightful atmosphere, while the plot wasn’t perfect with its decidedly anti-climactic ending. Overall, the charms of The Brothers Cabal far outweigh its flaws.

4 Stars

The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks

The Girl's Guide to Hunting and FishingMelissa Banks’ The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing had been on my to-read list for awhile, another one of those added from “Best Books for Your Twenties” and “Best Books for Female Ice-Fishers” and other such lists. I didn’t quite know what to expect from it, but whatever my expectation, it wasn’t what I got.

The book was framed as a series of short vignettes, mostly from the life of Jane, from her teenage years through late twenty-something yuppie days in New York City. Jarringly, one chapter from the point-of-view of Jane’s neighbor was also thrown in – I liked it for offering a different perspective from and on Jane, but it felt isolated from the rest of the book.While Bank’s prose often is gorgeous and her witty one-lines fall pointedly from Jane’s mouth, the writing fails to excavate something original amongst the trite issues she digs at.

Plot-wise, to be honest, I loved the beginning and then it went downhill from there. As a teenager, her protagonist Jane’s voice feels simultaneously fresh and jaded, divulging surprisingly insightful impressions of familial relationships and burgeoning romances. But as she grows and becomes entangled with Archie, a much older man whom she is dependent on personally and professionally, I cease to relate to or respect her choices. The woman is man-fishing and husband-hunting in utterly wrong ways, largely trying to conform to what she imagines males want her to bring to their relationship. It’s dated and, worse, strikingly anti-feminist. Banks should’ve stuck to the non-romantic loves, because it’s when Jane discusses her cancer-struck father or her adored big brother that her story is most moving despite the cliche.

In a sea of worthwhile books, TV shows, and films about being a young woman grappling with adulthood and singledom, this is nothing special. Jane can be an everywoman but, in the end, she doesn’t give us any wisdom or hope that we don’t already know and have. Completely forgettable.

2.5 Stars

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty QueensEn route to the Miss Teen Dream pageant hosted by The Corporation, the plane carrying all 50 aspiring beauty queens goes down. The thirteen survivors are stranded on a deserted island, where they struggle to survive until they can be rescued. As their hopes and supplies dwindle, they uncover a nefarious plot involving arms dealing with Kim Jung Il-like dictator MoMo and realize they must become allies instead of competitors in order to save themselves.

Libby Bray’s Beauty Queens is as if the bizarre lovechild of Miss Congeniality and Lord of the Flies starred in the newly infamous The Interview, with pirates, evil corporations, and product placement thrown in for good measure. Don’t let that steer you clear though – this was simultaneously one of the funniest and most feminist books I’ve read.

I don’t want to spoil it too much but Miss New Hampshire is an undercover pageant hater out for an expose, Miss Texas is neurotically focused on the crown, plus there is at least one lesbian, two minorities, and a dumb blonde. While they all come across as one-note and shallow in the beginning, Bray’s point is to expose these characters beyond the stereotypes and liberate them from the confines of beauty and perfection that society imposes on women. At first, it’s difficult to keep track of the girls between the interchangeable usage of their names and states, but they do become unique individuals and it is very empowering once they begin to see themselves and their competitors as such.

The book’s formatting as a televised pageant broadcast is genius, complete with the commercial breaks that promote The Corporation’s other ventures and products while criticizing the media and materialism. One of my favorite parts was the footnotes scattered throughout the text, which often contained cheeky background info or asides from the corporation. I also enjoyed the thinly-veiled allusions to real people, like J.T. Woodland as Justin Timberlake and Ladybird as Sarah Palin. I’ve never read such a humorous take on America’s domineering and unethical relationship with developing nations as Bray’s discussion of arms dealing with evil dictator MoMo, a situation that resembles our former relationship with the likes of Muammar al-Qaddafi and even the early Taliban movement.

The middle section of the story was a little weak since the girl’s mostly continue to develop and are sidetracked by the romantic pirate interlude, which admittedly had it’s own point about teen relationships. The amazing climactic action (pagentry! explosions! man-eating snake!) did make up for it at least. However, I wish the book had ended with the girls had sailing off into the sunset victorious. Instead, we were treated to a weak ending of the girls’ future reunion, but seeing as the whole story could’ve been a made-for-TV movie, it seemed like a conscious decision to have such a cheesy epilogue.

As a satire of modern society, this books hits all the right notes if heavy-handedly. The seemingly-ridiculous premise shockingly works well to expose deep, sensitive issues, such as transgender transitions, racism, misogyny, and the mean girl culture. Quite different from Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy or The Diviners, this is nevertheless an excellent humorous beach read that will also give teens something to think about.

4 Stars

Weekend Update: Maya and Mindy

I just wanted to give y’all a quick idea of what I’m reading this weekend. Honestly, neither of these felt like they could be a full review so I’m lumping them together in case anyone’s interested in either:

The MayaThe Maya by Michael D. Coe

Guys, there’s like no books about the Maya. Literally this is basically the only one I could find to give me a comprehensive overview of the civilization and all the dirt about the archaeological finds at the most important ruins; however, it reads like a textbook, albeit one from like eighth grade that still has pictures. If you’re at all interested in the topic, Coe may be dry but he is your guy.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

This is a question I’ve asked myself before, and I do like Mindy, who is one of the few Indian-American actors out there. Her book is very colloquial as if you’re gossiping with your friend Mindy over wine and cheese. But unfortunately that’s actually a detriment because it’s all over the place – sometimes funny, other times wtf.

 

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Evil LibrarianI joke a lot with my friends about needing to find a hot librarian to date, so I was amused to find it to be the plot of this book.

Cynthia Rothschild is constantly teased by her friends about her obvious, but thusfar unrequited, crush on popular Ryan, so when her best friend Annie falls head over heels for the new sexy librarian Mr. Gabriel, Cyn’s looking forward to returning the favor. Then she realizes that there’s something weird about Annie’s infatuation and the object of her affections, and not just that he’s too old for her. Namely, after walking in on him flexing his wings in the middle of a creepy ritual in the library, she realizes that he is in fact a demon. Now in addition to winning Ryan’s heart and making sure that the school musical Sweeney Todd runs smoothly, she has to figure out how to vanquish Mr. Gabriel before he kills the entire school.

Once you pick up this book, you pretty much just have to go with it. The premise is definitely creative and fun. The demon culture is actually fairly fleshed-out, from their love of musical theater to the showdown for the demon throne.  Mr. Gabriel didn’t seem very appealing though I guess that’s because we get him through the page and Cyn’s perspective. There’s a sassy demonness who is one of Mr. Gabriel’s rivals and the more attractive character by far. I agreed with the demons that the depiction of the  Sweeney Todd production was the highlight, more so than even the demon rumble.

Cyn was definitely someone I could see myself being friends with, and such a loyal friend as she fought to save her bestie from becoming a demon’s bride. Her love interest Ryan was a jock as well as the star of the musical, an unlikely combination but a winning one. The romance between Cyn and Ryan was cute, but unmemorable. The message was much more about the strength of Cyn’s and Annie’s relationship in the face of men, demons, and adversity of the average teenage and mythical varieties.

Overall, this book was ridiculous but I don’t have that much else to say. Even embracing that doesn’t make it great, though I think fans of Buffy will enjoy it. I personally found it mildly entertaining but nothing exciting, and I would recommend it for a laugh.

3 Stars