Book Review: Modern Romance

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When I’ve really been in love with someone, it’s not because they looked a certain way or liked a certain TV show or a certain cuisine. It’s more because when I watched a certain TV show or ate a certain cuisine with them, it was the most fun thing ever.

Modern Romance: An Investigation, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

I never watched Parks and Recreation, so when I recently dived into Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s new show for Netflix, it was on a whim. I’m a devout believer in Netflix, and so far I haven’t really been disappointed in any of their original content (well, other than the third seasons of both Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, but that’s a different topic).

I ended up loving the show. Each episode is dedicated to an idea that Aziz (or Dev, the character he plays in the show) wants to tackle: feminism, how Indians are represented in Western media, being the child of immigrant parents, and so on. Since the episodes are so explicitly dedicated to tackling these issues, they can sometimes come off preachy or awkward. Still, I loved and identified with the show, and it led me to watching Aziz’s comedy specials (also on Netflix!) and reading this book.

I saw online that a lot of readers expected this book to be a memoir before reading it. The book does touch on some personal experiences here and there, none of which will be surprises if you’re a fan of Master of None. Aziz discusses his current relationship and his parents’ arranged marriage, reusing jokes and stories from his stand-up as well. The main focus of the book is investigating modern romance on a grander scale, which is why Aziz enlisted the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Overall though, the book is full of keen and sometimes heartfelt insight into modern relationships and the impact that technology has had on them, with enough laughs thrown in to keep it a quick read.

As someone in their almost mid-twenties and experiencing modern romance for herself, though, I didn’t find much of the book surprising. Some of the conclusions drawn are obvious. However, what I found most interesting about the book was the research into cultures outside of my experience, like investigating the dating scene in Tokyo and Buenos Aires.

Even more so than this, I found the experiences of previous generations, which Aziz and Klinenberg gathered from residents at senior homes, fascinating. Reading about how women only two generations back, who had limited or no access to higher education, considered marriage the only escape from stifling, controlling parents made me rethink and be grateful for my own freedoms. It’s strange to think that had I been born a generation earlier, the odds of me typing out this review or even holding a 9 to 5 job are slimmer. I mean, my mom got married when she was my age…but that just goes to show how quickly things can change.

YES OR NO?: YES. To be honest, I’m not sure I “learned” much from this book, since much of it felt like common sense for my generation. I also may have overindulged in Aziz’s stand-up, which made parts of the book repetitive for me. Still, though, this is a quick and fun read that’ll give both young and older readers perspective on modern romance.

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Book Review: Ready Player One

This is the OASIS. We exist as nothing but raw personality in here.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

The last science fiction title I read was Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Like Ender’s GameReady Player One features a young male protagonist, who trains and fights in a virtual battlefield against other youth, all in the hopes of being the best in his field.

Of course, the similarities end there. Ready Player One is a lighthearted, quick read, bursting with references to classic video games and 80s pop culture. Growing up with a father who often exposed me to 80s pop culture phenomenons, I immediately understood most of the 80s references, although some of the video game references were lost on me. However, if the references are necessary to understanding the plot, the narration is quick to give the reader a quick but thorough overview – although this can become irritating further into the book.

Ready Player One itself reads like a video game, as the protagonist, Wade Watts/Parzival, completes quests, gains levels, and proceeds to the next challenge. As a sci fi/dystopian book, Ready Player One flirts with some interesting themes like identity and anonymity in relation to the Internet, isolation, and censorship. However, these themes are all lightly touched upon but not seriously addressed. I didn’t have high expectations for this book other than the engaging plot, and I was right to not expect too much. The characters, including Wade, are largely cookie-cutter, with little to no character development. Other than the character of Aech, all characters are exactly what they appear to be, other than slight differences between their online personas and their real life selves.

Although I enjoyed the book immensely, I found the characters of Daito and Shoto incredibly problematic. Daito and Shoto are Japanese gunters (those who seek James Halliday’s Easter Egg) who are Parzival’s rivals and accomplices. Although they are just as one-dimensional as the other characters, I simply couldn’t get over the borderline racist portrayal of these characters. They are interchangeable. They spout words like “honour”, bow when greeting other characters despite being obviously familiar with Western culture, and refer to suicide as “seppuku” even when it does not involve ritual disembowelment. And Shoto, who is described as being equally fluent in English and Japanese, refers to Wade as “Wade-san”, in addition to exhibiting the stereotypical Japanese behavior above. I have no idea why Cline decided to even include these characters, who are superfluous at best, and why he decided to portray them in this flat, offensive manner.

YES OR NO?: YES. Realistic expectations are key. Don’t go into Ready Player One expecting a thorough, thought-provoking discussion on technology’s impact on humanity. Expect a light, simple read (racist stereotypes notwithstanding).

 

Book Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

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I felt I knew more about her than ever before, and she must have felt the same. What we needed were not words and promises but the steady accumulation of small realities.

South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Haruki Murakami

Despite my ambitious reading goals for 2016, I spent the first week of the year struggling through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Although it came highly recommended, I was simply too tired from work or busy sorting out appointments to really focus on the book. Maybe I’ve exhausted my own affinity for sci fi.

The other day, I stopped by my local public library and picked up this book. I was aimlessly looking through the shelves when suddenly it struck me that I hadn’t read any Murakami in over a year, since Sputnik Sweetheart. This was the only one I hadn’t read that the library had available, and I distinctly remembered a friend saying that this was his favourite Murakami book. And despite struggling through Ready Player One, I plowed through this in roughly a day and a half.

For me, reading Murakami is visiting an old friend. A friend who loves cats, has an affinity for jazz records, and although a lonely man is somehow an irresistible womanizer all the same. The protagonist of South of the Border, West of the Sun, Hajime, is your typical Murakami protagonist, although he has his moments of strange humor (although some I think were lost in translation). Shimamoto, the main love interest, is like most Murakami love interests: mysterious, beautiful, flawed, and with a deep, unexplainable sadness at her core.

Out of all the Murakami I’ve read, I would say that this book is closest to Sputnik Sweetheart and Norwegian Wood. Although a fan of Murakami, I tend to prefer his straightforward tales of nostalgic, star-crossed romance rather than the surrealist elements of works like Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This is a quiet, short read that still makes you reflect on yourself and your own relationships. As a young adult who’s only recently started on her post-university life, Hajime and Shimamoto’s boredom and melancholy was something I identified with more than I cared to admit.

YES OR NO?: YES. I would never not recommend Murakami to someone. I also think this book would be an ideal way to introduce someone  to Murakami’s body of work, since it is a shorter read that still embodies his style and themes.