Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser, by Clarisse Thorn

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.

Quick Reactions To Books That Probably Deserve Long Reactions

Okay, so sometimes I feel like I am neglecting this blog. That is not really true, I guess, but I built up quite a lot of posting in March and February, and I am getting slightly more traffic than I used to get, so I kind of feel like I owe it to you folks to post something once in awhile. Still, the heart wants what it wants, and right now what it wants is to unsystematically ramble about the books I’ve read so far in April.

The Game: Penetrating The Secret Society Of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss – I am so embarrassed to have read this book. I mean it. I was seriously considering never telling anyone that I had ever read it. It is basically about nerds who form little clubs where they try to scientifically figure out how to pick up women. And I felt compelled to mention it because this book is the most entertaining book ever. It supplants my old most entertaining book ever, which was Carolyn Jessop’s Escape (a memoir growing up in a polygamous Mormon splinter sect). Yes, I guess there is something about creepy sexual subcultures that just really appeals to me, nonfiction-wise. I am going to do my best not to explore what that means.

The Game is so amazingly ridiculous that it is hard to believe it could be real. I am convinced that everyone in this book is gay. They are so homosocial. They’re all about just bro’ing out together and forming little cliques and having all this drama with each other. All the heat and sizzle in the book comes from relationships between men. Women are barely a presence at all.

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga – When I originally read this book, around a week ago, I had so much more to say about it. In fact, I realize now that I never wrote about The White Tiger, which I read two months ago and really loved too. Basically, both these books are supreme poverty porn. There is something deliriously intoxicating about how miserable it is possible to be in India. The beauty of Aravind Adiga is that he writes poor characters as if they were rich people transplanted into the lives of poor people. He makes the lot of a Delhi-based driver, who is richer than 75% of Indians, seem like the most miserable thing imaginable. It’s not psychologically accurate, but it is emotionally compelling.

Parallel Lives, Volume III by Plutarch – Classically educated people are huge fakers. You know how, when you read old writers, like Emerson (especially Emerson), they’re always mentioning little anecdotes from the lives of Romans and Greeks that you’ve never heard of. And these anecdotes usually illustrate some sort of moral point? Well those guys had just read Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, which is a collection of little anecdotes about famous Romans and Greeks that he uses to illustrate moral points.

You know, the novella length is really ideal for biography. I don’t really want to spend 100,000 words learning about some guy, even if he is an awesome guy. But sometimes I do want to know more about a person than I can find in their Wikipedia entry. The length of each of Plutarch’s lives is about perfect (15-20k words). Also, at least in the Project Gutenberg version, each volume focuses on a different part of Greek/Roman history. Volume III was about Alexander’s conquests and about Rome’s Civil Wars. It had a lot of big guys in it: Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Crassus, Pompey, Cato. I liked it. I know that the right way to learn history is systematically, and not by studying the biographies of great men, but sometimes it’s fun to say ‘Screw that’ and skip straight to the exciting stories and colorful personalities.

Waiting For The Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee – There are some authors whose work I really like, but who I never look forward to reading. I really enjoyed Coetzee’s Disgrace when I read it last year. I stayed up and finished it at like 3 AM. But I never even felt tempted to pick up anything else by him. Waiting for the Barbarians is a fantasy novel though! Well, kind of. It’s fantasy without any magic. Or worldbuilding. It’s basically like Kalpa Imperial. It’s about an unnamed magistrate at the edge of an unnamed empire that is at war with some pretty generic barbarians. It’s really hard to pin down the appeal of this book. But it is totally captivating.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – I’ve been reading through a number of Wilde’s essays lately, and I was like, “Hmm, I am totally unfamiliar with his artistic work. If it kind of sucks, then it would be somewhat foolish to take seriously these essays about producing art and the nature of art and the awesomeness of being an artist.” So I read some of his plays. This one is amazing. You know how when you read the comedic portions of Shakespeare, you end up being kind of amazed at how quick and clever everything is, but you’re not actually amused because it’s too much work to figure out what is going on and anyway the jokes are in old-timey language so your brain cannot really interpret them as jokes and anyway a lot of the jokes are puns, which don’t really do it for modern audiences anyway? Well, reading this play is what it must have been like for one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to read one of his comedies. It is that good.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – Ever since reading Emma, two years ago, I have steadily read through every single one of Austen’s books (except Pride and Prejudice) without ever being really satisfied with any of them. All of them have bits and pieces of what I liked about Emma (in this case, I found the slow, fitful plotting and some of the dialogue to be to my taste), but none of them have quite done it. I really wanted to like this one just because most people do not like it. But in the end I could not, for exactly the same reason most people can’t. Fanny Price is totally insufferable. What is her deal, seriously? What makes her so much better than everyone else? Also, the novel is severely confused about some things. If Fanny is good because she wasn’t spoiled, then why are her brothers and sisters (who grew up with much less nice stuff than she did) not good as well? Does being rich make you good? Or does being poor make you good? This book is confused. All it can say for certain is that if you put on an amateur theatrical in your house then you are totally beyond-the-pale in terms of your evilness. Oh well, I guess I will finally go read Pride and Prejudice.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre – I’ve been reading JLC, but somehow don’t really have anything to say. What book of his should I read next? I’ve only read this one and Call For The Dead (which I almost kind of liked better?)

Methland by Nick Reading – This is a very entertaining book. It’s about meth in small town America. I am fascinated by small towns and the way that they’ve gone, in the national consciousness, from idyllic places to hellish dystopias. But I just need to say one thing. The drug problem is over. Drug use peaked in 1980. Since then we’ve had 30 years of drug use at roughly current levels (went up a little in the 2000’s, but not nearly to 80s levels). What we have now is systemic. And we have learned to live with it. It’s not going to get worse. It’s probably not going to get better. Why do we keep pretending like drugs are something new? They are not. They are not new. They are nothing to get worried about. Oh, another problem that is totally over (briefly touched on in this book) is illegal immigration. Seriously, look at the number of illegal immigrants entering this country. That number has dropped precipitously. And you know why? There are no jobs for them here anymore. There aren’t even any jobs for us. We solved illegal immigration by becoming poor. Also, amphetamines were basically legal in the 40’s and 50’s (in the form of things like Benzedrine inhalers). Cocaine and heroin were legal in the 20s. If the drug problem is merely one of supply and demand, then why were these eras not a hellish, swirling vortex of drug abuse? I think there is a good chance that drug use actually was really high back then*, but since it doesn’t fit into our cultural narratives, we have forgotten about it.

*I mean, Thomas De Quincy’s Confessions of An English Opium Eater was about getting narcotized to all hell way back in 1804. And yet, somehow, we never think of Regency England as high-tide for druggies (The reason Mr. Darcy was a jerk was probably because he was in withdrawal)