About ten days ago, I read Mandolin’s* review of Clarisse Thorn’s ebook Confessions of a Pick-up Artist Chaser** and I did something that I almost never do after reading a review: I bought the book. Of course, it helped that the book was only 2.99 for the Kindle. But still, even the idea of a feminist writing about pick-up artists resonated strongly with me.
Some blog readers might remember that at about this time last year, I read Neil Strauss’s The Game, and completely loved it. Pickup artists are just so silly and adorable. Reading about them is like reading about people who turn couches into snowmobiles. There’s just a cuteness factor to the whole endeavor–nerds deconstructing and systematizing flirtation–that is hard to ignore.
But I can also sense something very threatening about pickup artistry. After all, picking up women is kind of what all of mainstream culture is about. It’s kind of weird to think: wow, these guys have pretty much won the game. By the standards of pop songs and movies and television shows and middle school playgrounds, there is no one in the world who is more successful than these guys. Even if we’ve rejected those mainstream standards of value (and, actually, in our pursuit of sexual accomplishment, many gay males aren’t actually too different from the the stereotypical straight male), I think that most men still have that mainstream imprinted on us somewhere deep inside. It’s like how I think catching balls really silly, but I still love the glitz and drama of sports movies.
Anyways, the union of those things (the adorableness and the threateningness) makes pickup artistry really fascinating for me.
But Clarisse Thorn’s book is not about me. It’s about a woman–a feminist sex educator–who spends several years interfacing with the culture, interviewing pickup artists and observing them in action. Since The Game has pretty much no female characters (except Courtney Love) to provide perspective on the whole endeavor, Thorn’s book really filled a gap for me. I was definitely fascinated to see what it might be like for the women who end up spending time with these pickup artists, since pickup artistry is both completely dependent on acquiring females but also curiously lacking in any place for them.
Thorn provides an outsider’s description of pickup circles and the requisite feminist critique of their misogyny and sleaziness, but I think that the story really shines in her first-person descriptions of the various guys that she meets and spends time with. In its approach and style, the book reads like a participant-observer study. Thorn carefully selects anecdotes to use in developing her own theories on flirtation and on the appeal of pickup artistry. Personally, I thought some of her pickup artist theory was also kind of interesting–particularly on the role of ambiguity in developing romantic attachments–and at times the book almost veers towards becoming another pickup guidebook (Thorn even flirts with the idea of running her own classes and seminars for pickup artists).
Oh, I also love the style of explication in this book. Thorn explains everything. She explains who everyone is. She explains all the feminist concepts she uses. She really just starts at square one and says, “This is what pickup artistry is. This is why people think it’s problematic. This is why I like it” and so on and so on, building in more and more concepts, until, with the last chapter, she puts the last few bricks into the edifice. I really like this kind of “smart dummy” approach to non-fiction (i.e. you’re smart enough to understand this, but I’m assuming that you’re a dummy who doesn’t already know it). Of course, this might just be because I actually am a dummy about most of what she’s talking about (especially feminism and S&M [oh yeah, there’s a lot of S&M in the book too, which, sometimes come off as seeming a bit random]).
Yennnyways, the book is now $9, but you should consider reading it. Actually, you should probably read The Game first, and then (especially if The Game made you kind of angry), you should read this book.
*For all of you SF writers, this is one of the pen names of Rachel Swirsky.
**Here is a link to the Smashwords page, if you want to buy a non-Kindle version of the book.