I’ve always had a soft spot for comedian and actor, Aziz Ansari. A fan of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” I could have easily found Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, an annoying hipster blockhead. But Ansari’s natural humor and charm, made young Mr. Haverford a bit palatable. Plus, Tom, along with Donna Meagle (played by the incomparable Retta) gave us “Treat Yo Self,” which is wise advice indeed.
Now with “Parks and Recreation” being a fond televised memory and “Treat Yo Self” being a notable Internet meme, Mr. Ansari has published his first book, Modern Romance.
When I first found out about Modern Romance, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh, no. Not another comedian writing about romance, love, sex and the like.” I wondered if Modern Romance would be a memoir of sorts featuring muses on Ansari’s romantic history. Or would it be a tired trope of endless jokes like, “What’s up with women and shoes?” Yes, the tired women and shoes joke, the airplane food joke of relationships.
Or goodness, even worse—a millennial’s version of Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady.
Fortunately, Modern Romance is none of those things. And it is a delightful and eye-opening read on the current state of dating, sex, relationships in the 21st century, giving us the good, the bad and the ugly.
Now, Ansari does not do this alone. He joins forces with notable sociologist Eric Klineberg in dissecting our dating culture in an age of on-line dating, texting and sexting, speed dating, hooking up and other assorted romantic encounters and unknown to our parents and grandparents when they were young.
Speaking of our parents and grandparents, in Modern Romance, Ansari begins by asking older folks how they met their spouses. Most of them met their spouses simply due to their proximity—in other words—location, location, location. These people lived in the same neighborhood, on the same block or sometime even in the same building. Many of the couples met at their houses of worship or while in high school or college. My mom met my dad through her older brother. And Ansari’s mother and father met through a marriage arranged by their families.
For the most part, the older interviewees met their spouses this way because they didn’t have the options we have today. Many of the couple got married very young, especially the women. Those whose marriages survived described their marriages as happy and strong. Maybe they didn’t initially feel the bolt of instant attraction, but they grew fond of each other as time went on.
However, many of the women interviewed were a bit wistful, wishing they could have spent their younger years getting an education, traveling, working, dating and just working on themselves before they got settled into their lives as wives and mothers. And they were thrilled their daughters and granddaughters got to experience these very things they wished they could have had when they were in their twenties.
Today we meet our potential betrothed old school, but we also meet them in ways our elders couldn’t even imagine—online dating sites, speed dating, dating apps, swiping left and right on Tinder and various hook-ups. But are these almost infinite options of finding l’amour allowing us to look over our shoulders (literally and figuratively) for someone “better?”
Also leading to romantic confusion in this modern age is our various ways of communicating, especially when it comes to those gosh darn smart phones. Sure we talk to each other face to face and have actual conversations on the phone. We text and we Skype. We send selfies and sexts. As for me, well, I have a confession to make. I have never taken a selfie. As for sending sexts of my yoni? Out of the question.
As for sending texts? Well, I don’t have a problem with sending texts regarding minor things. But I miss the actual art of conversation, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Not to brag…okay, I’m going to brag. But men have told me I’m a delightful conversationalist and I’ve been told I have a beautiful speaking voice, no vocal fry here, my friends. So you can imagine my frustration when guys only want to converse in texts, and not have actual conversations.
But enough about me…back to the book.
Ansari also leaves the confines of the USA and travels to Japan, where everyone seems to have their genitals on ice, to Argentina, where icing up the genitals a wee bit might be a good idea. In Japan, people don’t have sex, but they sure like to cuddle up. And in Argentina, the sexual energy vibrates from every corner. Ansari also travels to France where people just expect their spouses to cheat and for the most part are “c’est la vie” about the whole thing.
Throughout the dating detective work Ansari puts into Modern Romance (with a lot of analysis and data most likely due to Klineberg’s help and expertise), provides us a glimpse into his own issue with dating and relationships, and admits at times, he truly screwed up. But being a self-aware kind of gent has learned from his mistakes and is now in a lovely relationship that is going quite well.
Now I’m sure some people reading Modern Romance will have justifiable complaints. Ansari and Klineberg mostly focus on heterosexual, college-educated, middle class professional-types, which leaves out quite a few demographics, those in the LGBT community, non-college educated, working class, etc. Perhaps someone out there can write a book on romance for certain varying demographics.
In the end, I found Modern Romance to be at turns funny, wise and filled with empathy and charm, and one quite comforting in a time when our Facebook relationship status is might be, “It’s complicated.”
Music. It’s a life force for so many people. Music forms our ideas, passions and opinions. A song on the radio makes us recall a distinct moment in our lives. A song can inspire us to change ourselves or change the world. A song is there when we fall in love or when our hearts our broken. Music is so much more than “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”
But when music is discussed in these terms, it’s usually done by the boys. Nick Hornby and Chuck Klosterman can obsess over bands, discuss guitar solos and argue over the importance of lyrics. Girls gossip over the cuteness of the band members or service roadies in hope to meet their favorite musicians. They shake their barely-clad butts in videos. If they are lucky, they might inspire a song. When it comes to music, girls have to fit very narrow stereotypes-groupie, muse or slut.
But British poet Lavinia Greenlaw knows girls and music add up to a lot more, and she tries to explain this in her memoir The Importance of Music to Girls.
In The Importance of Music to Girls, Greenlaw captures what music meant to her as a young girl in 56 brief essays. Greenlaw, who came of age in 1970s Britain, uses the soundtrack of pop, disco and punk to describe the sometimes mortifying and often thrilling act of growing from girl to woman.
The Importance of Music to Girls starts with the vague memories of early childhood. Music comes in bits and pieces-her mom singing folk songs, learning how to play piano and classical music filling the family home. But Greenlaw ached for a different type of music.
This music came to her once she got older. Like lots a young girls, she squealed and got crushes on baby-faced pop idols like Donny Osmond, hanging posters of Donny and his toothy grin on her bedroom walls. Any young woman who felt the same way over other teen idols whether they be David Cassidy, Duran Duran, New Kids on the Block or (someday) One Direction will nod their heads in recognition.
When she wasn’t pinning posters of pop stars on her walls, Greenlaw was attending local youth discos, watching the iconic music show Top of the Pops on TV and trying to maneuver the tricky world of the opposite sex. Despite the fun of dancing and dressing up in her finest, Greenlaw felt awkward, like she didn’t fit in.
Fortunately, she discovered punk. Punk’s promise of rebellion liberated Greenlaw. She wore garbage bags in a declaration of anti-fashion and dyed many of her clothes pitch black. She spiked her hair and put on bondage pants. Suddenly, Greenlaw felt free from the shackles of acceptable femininity. She writes, “Punk had nothing to do with being a girl. It neutralized, rejected and released me. I made myself strange because I felt strange and now I had something to belong to, for which my isolation and oddness were credentials.”
Punk was more than just a pose; it was the music that truly spoke to Greenlaw. And the songs of the Sex Pistols and Joy Division became a part of her DNA. Punk was more than music; it completely altered her life and her sense of aesthetics. Greenlaw found herself dissecting lyrics and taking passionate positions on different bands.
However, punk didn’t mean girls had become truly liberated. Greenlaw wanted her ideas on music to be taken seriously. She wanted to discuss music on the same level as the boys. But the boys just wanted to make out and take off her clothes. And often her obsession with punk was off-putting to her peers who just considered music a good time and nothing more. Still, it was punk that gave her life meaning.
Despite Greenlaw’s teenage allegiance to the brashness of punk, her writing is muted. It takes a while for The Importance of Music to Girls to gain steam. The early chapters seem to be barely- focused, perhaps this is due to Greenlaw’s young age at the time. Who has exact clarity as a three-year-old? However, once the book arrives at Greenlaw’s early adolescence, it becomes more gripping. Greenlaw’s descriptions of smoky, sweaty discos, the acidic pink and yellow cover of the Sex Pistol’s album Never Mind the Bollocks and the roving hands of pimply teen boys are written with poetic explicitness. And youthful diary entries and school reports give the reader a sympathetic look at a teenage Greenlaw. Who can’t relate to embarrassing scribblings in a diary or less than flattering comments from a teacher?
If I have one problem with the book, it’s the title. The Importance of Music to Girls is too broad of a title for one young women’s experience in the trenches of pop, disco and punk. A book about the importance of music to girls of all generations, races, experiences and favorite musical styles still needs to be written. But fortunately, we have Lavinia Greenlaw to show us that music to one girl was very important indeed.
It’s no secret to anyone familiar with my little place on the Internet that I am a liberal, progressive feminist, and I don’t apologize for it. But in a presidential year that is both historical and hysterical, I can’t help but be intrigued by conservative, right-winged, anti-feminist types. So, I’ve decided to take one the team, and read books written by these anti-me creatures and post my reviews for a new series I call Taking One For the Team. You’re very welcome. Here is my first effort.
Oh those irksome feminists with their abortion parties, man hating conventions and false accusations of rape. Feminists focus so much on frivolous things like equal pay for equal work, voting rights, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Feminists, who are so hell-bent on power, they control the media, the workplace, families, government, education, Hollywood, sports, and religion. Feminists want to destroy! Destroy, I say!
Well, I don’t think feminists want to destroy much of anything other than strict patriarchy. But Phyllis Schlafly and her niece Suzanne Venker are quite certain feminists are a destructive bunch. And both of them try to convince us with their book Bitches Ain’t Shit. Oops, I mean, The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know and Men Can’t Say.
Many of you know Phyllis Schlafly. During feminism’s second wave, Phyllis spoke out publicly against the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and pesky women libbers. Phyllis claimed to be simple housewife who treated politics as a hobby. But Phyllis wasn’t content to work the election polls in between loads of laundry. Married to a wealthy man, Phyllis had domestic help, is a Harvard educated lawyer, and a prolific writer and lecturer. She ran for Congress when her eldest child was a toddler and campaigned against feminism and the ERA when her youngest was in junior high and high school. Does that sound like a simple housewife to you? Nope, that sounds like a woman who benefited from feminism.
And who is Suzanne Venker? Not quite as well-known as her aunt, Suzanne has also authored several books and is a contributor to Fox News. She’s also just as smug as Phyllis. In the opening of The Flipside of Feminism, Suzanne assumes the reason why she’s a conservative, and therefore superior to liberal feminazis, is because she was raised by members of the Greatest Generation, not the Baby Boom generation. Yes, the reason why you feminists smoked the pot, had premarital sex, and now vote for Democrats is because you were raised by Steve and Elise Keaton, not Archie and Edith Bunker.
Suzanne wastes no time mentioning that her mother, Auntie Phyllis, and other assorted anti-feminists didn’t need feminism to obtain an education or a career. Well, that may be true for them, but plenty of women were denied education and careers simply because they were women. My own maternal grandmother was denied a high school education because she had to go to work at 14 to help support her family and an education was considered a waste on a girl. However, Suzanne would disregard my grandmother’s experience and others just like her. In fact, Suzanne and Phyllis arrogantly ignore their own privilege throughout this entire book and assume other women are simply not as smart, hard-working, or talented as them.
Suzanne and Phyllis also assume women turned to feminism because a handful of them, notably Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, experienced dysfunctional childhoods or rocky marriages, and society should not pay the price for their maladjustment. Gee, nice show of compassion ladies. As if conservatives never experienced crappy childhoods or bad marriages.
Speaking of marriage, feminists love divorce according to Suzanne and Phyllis. We love divorce so much we want to marry it! However, there is no examination why some feminists concerned themselves with divorce. Nor is does this book mention conservatives who are divorced like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.
Feminists may love divorce but we hate marriage and motherhood. We want to replace being supported by our husbands with being supported by taxpayers. And as for feminists demeaning motherhood, I just think feminism was brave enough admit motherhood wasn’t all sunshine and daisies for some women. You know who I think demeans motherhood? Michelle Duggar, who seems to see her children as accessories, not full human beings (though one is disgusting sister-molesting pervert and a cheating man whore). And we all know Michelle would never wear “This is What Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt.
What else? Well, feminists demand Title IX, which opened up athletic opportunities for girls, because guys who play sports are usually conservative (yea, right). We hate men but somehow are responsible for irresponsible sexual hook-ups. We lie about rape and sexual harassment. And companies are struggling because we want to earn the same pay as men for doing the same exact job. The nerve!
And who are these horrible feminists? Well, according the authors, feminists fit into two camps, radical feminists (Andrea Dworkin) and media feminists (Katie Couric, Oprah). Feminists are can be found in large urban areas like Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. Feminist want nothing more than to rip off a Montana born and bred housewife’s apron and replace it with a hard hat. Phyllis and Suzanne can’t imagine feminists who live in fly over country, bake cookies, work regular jobs, cherish their families, and include women, men, and children.
At the end of The Flipside of Feminism, Phyllis and Suzanne offer tips on how to combat the evil effects of feminism. One of my favorites? Educate your son how feminism has harmed society and encourage them to seek out conservative women. So if that cool chick your son meets in his French Literature class has a playlist filled with Ani DiFranco downloads he should run far away and date that simpering lass who owns a tattered copy of Fascinating Womanhood.
I must give Phyllis and Suzanne some credit. They write with total conviction; they don’t hem and haw. And I can imagine some people reading this book thinking feminism is the other “F-word.” However, people with critical thinking skills will be able to read between the lines and realize Suzanne and Phyllis are just a couple of snotty and selfish Queen Bees. They are all three “Heathers,” and the rest of just a bunch of “Martha Dumptrucks”.
Thanks, Brandon Stanton! Suck it, E.L. James-these ladies knew how to write about SEX!!!!
Funny lady, Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, slated for an August, 2016 release. Go Amy!!!
I’m not a mom, but I am a loving auntie to two amazing kids who love to read. Here are 10 books that teach kids about life. Thanks, Meredith Hale!
What is the one book that changed your life? Maria Rodale, Chair and CEO of Rodale, Inc. would love to know!!
Just how are American women changing the workplace? New release Broad Influence has some ideas.
Who run the world? Girls! Meet nine-year-old Muskaan Ahiriwar who provides books for poor children in Bhopal, India.
What do your fictional crushes say about you? I’d have to say Atticus Finch (original recipe) is pretty spot-on in my case. I really do have a thing for bespectacled well-dressed smart, thoughtful nerds as my fellow Criminal Minds can attest.
New York writer and comedian, Sara Barron, grew with a hypochondriac mother and gay acting straight dad (he sings Broadway showtunes). So it’s only fitting Barron would grow up to write the very funny People are Unappealing-Even Me: True Stories of Our Collective Capacity to Irritate and Annoy.
People are Unappealing covers the first thirty years of young Barron’s life in self-deprecating, mortifying, embarrassing and somewhat crude essays. Barron talks about her youth in suburban Chicago where she first made her way into acting, pursuing her bachelor’s degree at NYU to her post-college struggles as a mostly out of work actress toiling at bad service jobs.
Barron is not shy about revealing some of the not-so-cool aspects of her young life. During a school break, Barron comes across a spiral notebook filled with porn-inspired stories she titled simply “The Porn.” “The Porn” may not be most sexy erotica ever written, but it is certainly the most hilarious. A pubescent Barron mistakenly thought having an erection meant a guy couldn’t have sex, and she spelled penis as “pienus.” Her attempts at writing porn also gives whole new meaning to the phrase, “Virginia is for Lovers.”
Barron also tells us about her brother discovering their grandmother’s vibrator and about the shame she feels about her FUPA. What’s a FUPA you ask? Well, you have to read the book to find out. And Barron doesn’t feel any shame about sharing with her readers about an injury she incurred from too much masturbation.
Don’t worry. People are Unappealing isn’t totally sex-drenched. Barron parlays her fine arts degree not to fame and fortune on the Broadway stage or on a Hollywood set, but to folding sweaters at Banana Republic and serving bread sticks at Olive Garden. She suffers a mercifully short stint at the Coyote Ugly bar (yep, the one from the movie). She also encounters one of her favorite rock stars at a high-class eatery. Sadly, he proves to be a total jerk, and Barron bestows a less-than-flattering nickname on him. She never names him, but rumor has it the rock star in question is Michael Stipe.
Barron’s personal life is also a continual embarrassment. Dealing with the opposite sex often doesn’t seem worth it, but Barron gives it her best, even trying Internet dating. On one blind date, she leaves her date in a lurch. Why? Well, probably because he’s a little person. One of her ex-boyfriends ends up as a clown. Yes, he’s actually working as a clown. When it comes to hanging out the girls, Barron starts to kiss up to a thinly-veiled Paris Hilton after a brief meeting when Paris actually acknowledges her presence. Yes, some of us are desperate for the glitter dust of fame to rub off on us even if it comes from a total slag.
People are Unappealing is sharply-written and rife with hilarity. If you read this book in public don’t be surprised if you startle on-lookers from your stifled laughter. Unfortunately, the book ends much to soon, leaving you wanting more. Sara Barron is definitely a writer to keep one’s eye on. I hope she keeps meeting unappealing people.
My friend Kristine is a wonderful food, drink and travel writer who often tries her talents at other subjects like book reviews. Here is her review of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
More books about women’s equality.
Best women authors of all time (no-EL James is not on this list).
Thank goodness for journalistic trailblazer. I am nothing without this brave soul!
On International Women’s Day, let’s take some time out to motivate and celebrate fledgling girl writers.
One women’s top ten list of her favorite films about women writers.
Could Meryl Streep rock anymore? Thanks for supporting writers, Ms. Streep!
But what about men writing about women? The Hairpin explains the good, the bad and the ugly.