Monday, 27 June 2011


I think it's about time that I did a little juggle of my books and my shelves. I've reached a point where I'm just stagnating, and not enjoying reading at all, which is like being without air for a gal like me.

I'm revisiting an old book that I loved this week, so I hope that will help get me back on the right track and boost my reading again.

I think that part of the reason for this trouble has been the work I've been doing on the side of my other job at various publishing companies etc. I've been so fucking far into that stuff, and working myself into a frenzy, that I can't even stand the thought of looking at another book when I'm done for the day. Which is weird for me, because when I was working for Waterstone's, I couldn't get enough! I was reading before work, reading on my lunch break, and then reading some more at home. I know, I know; sounds wild.

I want to get back into it, because I've only read 40 books so far this year, and the year is half over! I need to get at least my original number done, even if I don't read all the books I originally set out to.

Holy shit, it's going to be tough.

40/111 – The Game by Neil Strauss

I borrowed this book from a friend recently, after having watched several episodes of a hilarious and slightly disturbing show called The Pick-Up Artist from a few years ago. I’d heard of the book before, and I knew it was a book giving advice to guys on how to pick up women, but I had no idea of the huge subculture of pick-up artists, also called PUAs.

I had thought that I would find the show reprehensible and awful, because I consider myself to be a pretty hardline feminist in a lot of ways. There are certainly parts of the book and the show that I do find distasteful, such as women being described as little girls who need to be told what to do, or a guy using the same opening line over and over again, casting his net so wide that some girl somewhere is bound to agree to shag him. I was also offended by some of the attitudes of the guys in the book and the show, who see sleeping with a woman as a kind of video game – you get higher points for nailing a perfect ten. 

One of the things that really made my skin crawl was the practice of ‘negging’ a girl. The idea behind this is that with ‘hot’ girls, compliments just wash over them because they hear them so often. If you ‘neg’ them (basically it’s a mild criticism, or a backhanded compliment) then they respond by trying to prove themselves to you, and seeking your approval. It’s a way of subtly grinding down a woman’s self-esteem, and I find the whole idea really creepy.

The show itself is hilarious. The format is a group of mutant guys who have never seen a naked woman before, learning to transform themselves and behave in ways which will make them irresistible to women. Some of the failures are heartbreaking, but most of them are hilarious. The show is hosted by a PUA/magician called Mystery, who’s obviously very charismatic and I can totally understand why he attracts a lot of women. Each episode, he sets the guys challenges, usually relating to getting a woman’s phone number or a kiss. Each episode, someone is eliminated, and then the last guy gets a $50,000 prize and the title ‘The Pick-Up Artist’.

So there’s some horrible stuff out there, and I’m sure it attracts a lot of horrible guys, too. Guys who can’t get a woman to talk to them because they’re just not very nice people, and there are certainly lots of guys like that in the book. But I was surprised by how much I warmed to Neil, the narrator of the book. He’s a small, shy, balding writer who has had no luck with women. He’s a journalist who intends to investigate the world of PUAs, but then ends up getting sucked into the subculture and becoming one of the best known PUAs out there. His success rate with women skyrockets, and he befriends Mystery and they begin working together, teaching other guys how to perform the routines that will help them pick up women.

There are also some pretty interesting ideas in the book regarding picking up women, and I’m sure that I’ve experienced a lot of them, though I’m not sure whether the guys have been doing it consciously or not. It’s definitely eye-opening. Some of the stuff that’s in there is also just common sense. Opening up a conversation with a woman, rather than using a pick-up line, is always the best way to go. And small cues like touching a woman on the shoulder are always pretty obvious, too. But creepy. I hate to think that courtship and mating are so… formulaic? I’ve never approached a man with a game plan or a tactic, or a way to trick him into liking/sleeping with me. That idea is so dehumanising and alien to me. And surely it must take al the spontaneity out of getting to know someone for the first time. If you already know where it’s going to lead, then it isn’t any fun, is it?

Anyway, the book is interesting, and sort of enjoyable. Neil seems sincere and nice, and after getting caught up in that world, he seems to eventually find a good balance.

On a sidenote: I’ve wondered if these same ‘techniques’ would work on men, but I’m not sure that men and women have the same dynamic between them in the pick-up game. Most women tend to be waaaay more picky, and are expecting to get hit on, unlike guys. I also have a sneaking suspicion that a woman’s success rate would be ridiculously high compared to a man’s. Before you know it, you could have ten different guys on the go, but I’m not sure how good my juggling skills are.

I guess there's only one way to find out.

Next time: I’m going to give myself a real treat and re-read an old book before I lend it to someone, so it should be fairly quick and enjoyable. Double points! The book will be World War Z by Max Brooks.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

39/111 – The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Okay, so I’ve been sidetracked recently. Not only by personal life issues, but also by jobs. I have obviously eaten on way more than I can chew, and therefore it’s been a while since I have even wanted to look at another book, let alone read one. However last week I finished a book, and this week I’ve almost finished ANOTHER one, so it’s going much better than it has been.

I bought The Psychopath Test after reading an excerpt from it in the Guardian, and after also having enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats (the film, not the book). Since I’m quite interested in mental health issues, I thought this would be a good one to get my teeth back into. I was beginning to suspect for a little while that what I needed was not necessarily a break from reading, but maybe a break from fiction. I’ve spent the first five months of this year reading pretty much exclusively fiction, and I think that maybe I’ve been getting a bit sick of it. I look at the hundreds of books still left on my shelves, and I don’t really feel in the mood to read any of them, though my bookworm juices are beginning to flow again now that the stress of work has ebbed somewhat.

Holy shit, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I read a book! My brain truly must be rotting.

So, the book: I enjoyed it. There were times when it seemed to go off on some strange tangents and I wasn’t always sure what it was getting at. But I think that’s just Ronson’s style, which is fine. Even though the book seems to be about psychopaths, it also talks a lot about puzzles and mysteries, particularly focused around a cryptic book. Ronson seems to fall upon the subject of psychopaths by pure chance, and once the book mystery has been solved, he turns his attention to the frightening world of psychopaths.

What follows is part case study and part history of mental health treatment for this untreatable condition. Some of the results are hilarious (including an experiment with a roomful of naked psychopaths on acid) and others are chilling and frightening. He even takes a course from Bob Hare, a world-renowned expert in psychopathy in order to learn how to spot these people. He also briefly explores the way Scientologists approach psychiatry and mental health (they think it’s all bullshit, basically).

Interestingly, Ronson discovers that many of the world’s most dangerous psychopaths are not the murderers in asylums like Broadmoor, but the ones who head up huge companies, or military coups. He concludes that even a relatively small number of ruthless psychopaths can have a devastating effect on society. These are people who operate only for their own purposes, and have a lot of trouble keeping their impulses in check, but who can also be highly skilled at mimicking ‘normal’ people. Psychopaths do not really feel emotion, empathy or fear.

Makes me sort of wish I was one, sometimes.

I really enjoyed this. I was a little unsatisfied at the end, and maybe I was hoping for more of a conclusion, or another more gruesome revelation, but it was very entertaining. 

Next time, it won't be such a gap. And the book will be: The Game by Neil Strauss