Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Game - The PUA (pickup artist) community through the eyes of a woman

A pick-up artist must be the exception to the rule. You must not do what everyone else does. Ever.

When I first met him I was strangely attracted to him because he was acting a bit like an asshole. I liked his smile and the sense of fresh air when you meet someone different that doesn't instantly interrogate you: where you work, how old you are, where you live and what you grandma's middle name is.

Negging (neg:an ambiguous statement or seemingly accidental insult delivered to a beautiful woman a pickup artist has just met, with the intent of actively demonstrating to her (or her friends) a lack of interest in her)

When I told him I was an investment banker, he said I was selling for money. He insulted my job over the whole night (going a bit too far, I must say). To the extent I understand negging, you must insult a woman in a gentleman way (?!?) in order to lower her self-esteem. However, you must be careful not to go too far and actually drive her away. He was lucky I am generally attracted to rude men, so his negging didn't push me away. By the end of the night I was telling my friend he was awesome and she was telling me he was a superficial wannabe asshole and I was immature. Yeah, like I EVER listen to her advice.

Demonstrate value (i.e the cube or how to hit on Paris Hilton)

Then he told me the cube routine. Imagine you are riding through the desert and you see a cube. Is the cube big or small? Can you see through it? Now imagine a ladder. And then a horse. A sort of psychological exercise that interests the woman and demonstrates the man's value, distinguishing himself from all of those boring primates of his sex. Given my inherent love for psychology, I fell into the trap instantly.

I didn't meet a pickup artist as per Neil Strauss's bestselling novel The Game. I just met someone who has read the book and applied some of the routines to me. Of course, I realized that later, when I read the book and started recognizing patterns and stories. To be honest he wasn't an expert but I appreciate he tried and I am glad he tried on me. And whatever means he used, well he got me at the end so good for him (and me).

The first time I heard about the PUA (pickup artist) community and Neil Strauss was when one of my best friends told me she was sort of dating a guy who sort of read the book and sort of was playing techniques on her. I was mesmerized by the idea that men take courses and read books to hit on women.

Neil Strauss was an average looking man and writer, who had been insecure in approaching and seducing women all of his life. He had a few unsuccessful relationships and he almost committed himself to being a nerdy and socially awkward guy. When his editor at the New York Times asks him to write an article about the growing popularity of the PUA, Neil finds himself immersely attracted to the routines and lifestyle of these men. His introduction to the seduction community is Mystery, a legendary PUA with whom Neil travels around the world giving seminars and lectures. In less then two years he transforms himself from a shy and boring man into Style - a successful, confident, and cocky PUA, whom everyone starts to immitate and follow. The book explores his interactions with famous PUA such as Mystery, Rasputin, Steve P. and Ross Jeffries as well as with celebrities including Courtney Love, Britney Spears and Tom Cruise.

The religion of the PUA is simple. They have routines, steps, memorised phrases and even language of their own with the sole purpose of attracting a woman (and eventually sleeping with her). Looks don't matter as long as you dress to get attention and talk and act as if you are the prize.Do not get the wrong expression. These men say they don't hate women or see them as inferior objects to be conquered and I actually believe that. They are scared of rejection when approaching. They are scared of ridicule and pain. They want to learn what comes to many men naturally - being confident and self-aware when hitting on a hot girl. When finally they reach the Holly Graal of feaml approval, they feel omnipotent.

The success of the seduction community is spreading like a virus. Everyone, from college students to average IT guys and successful businessmen is looking for that magic pill and routine that will transform them into seduction Gods. Mystery, Style and the other "gurus" are intoxicated by the success and decide to launch Project Hollywood. They all move into a promiscuous house dedicated to seduction seminars and sexual adventures.

The lifestyle is great. The confidence that steams from being able to walk in a bar and knowing that every woman can be yours within 30 minutes is what these men have been waiting for all their life. Unfortunaly, every success is a double-edged sword. Many of the PUAs-to-be give up their jobs, their hobbies, their families and their friends and submerge into the community to master the game. Neil starts to see the dehumanizing of his pupils, turning themselves from well-rounded individuals into PUAs. Only PUAs. The community becomes more about sharing with fellow PUAs your success stories, your failures and your sexual experiences than about meeting women and enjoying them. The ultimate satisfaction is not going out with a HB10 (hot babe 10) but actually braggin about it to the less fortunate ones. As with any other religion or cult, imitations spread like bacteria and suddently Neil and some of the others find themselves living a life they didn't really sign up for.

I am far from feminist and I tend not to judge people as long as they are doing something good for themselves. And to my belief, that is what the PUA community, Neil Strauss and other fellow artists are trying to teach. They are helping insecure men with low self-esteem become more confident and successful. Not only with approaching women in bars but with life in general. Reading about all the examples Neil Strauss gives I see the benefits of taking a course like that. Most of the "students" were uncomfortable in almost any kind of social interaction. Feeling confident around women gave them that much needed confidence to succeed in life. Unfortunately, there is a time and place to stop everything, even sarging. Hitting on women is like a drug and when you overdose you need to take a step back.

For Neil, this step turns out to be someone who can beat him at his own game. I was just hoping that I will be spared the cheesy romantic ending another one of my best friends dreams of - the PUA meets the woman that changes him. I wasn't, but the tone of the book is such that even a trivial love story as this cannot be taken as cheesy. It seems quite natural, in fact. It made be think about something else - am I becoming too cynical to bear? The tales of true love that books, movies and TV seem to bomb us with, never managed to get to me. I don't trust that sugar-coated stories of the perfect love at the perfect time. Come save me, oh white knight! Yeah sure! I am starting to doubt myself (or I want to). If it has flooded mass literature and cinema so much, there must be some truth to it. There must have been that one lucky guy (girl) that was actually kissed under the rain and then decided to tell everyone about it

I actually liked The Game. For a book on the rather shallow topic of picking up women, it actually made me evaluate a lot of things. And I can proudly say I was actually a victim of a proclaimed PUA and honestly, it did feel good. Maybe more men should start reading that. I am tired of the good old: What do you do?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

100,000+ views

It took this blog 2 years and 6 months to reach more than 100,000 views. For some this might seem a modest accomplishment, but for me it is a great source of pride. Some of the views most probably are worthless (i.e people randomly stumbling upon the blog and leaving it quickly) but on a Tuesday morning, when this dreamt of Friday seems so far away, I intend to be positive. Even if 1/2 ot these 100,000 views were worth something to someone, I feel I haven't lost my time.

A lot of things have changed since the last time I reviewed the development of Read with Style. I, for a start, have changed tremendously. Unfortunately for all of us I don't have as much time to read as before. I am sad to announce that I entered the depressing, "I wanna kill myself every Monday morning", suicidal world of working full-time. I am in a long-term relationship with my bed and I must tell you it is a difficult one as we don't spend as much time together as I would like to. The result is obvious, both from the amount of posts I write every month and from the monthly views development. Nevertheless, I believe I have become a bit more wise as I no longer walk and read. On the positive side, I no longer break my chin. On the negative, I lose even more time when I could be reading.

Looking back at the books I have read, I notice a few trends. Yes, I continue to read diverse books, jumping easily from George Martin to Milan Kundera. However, I have given a chance to books I never thought I would: World War Z and Dracula

Let's see what has changed from the 10,000 Pageviews and Counting:

Top 5 most viewed reviews (before):
1. The Bronte Paradox - Wuthering Heights VS Jane Eyre - 2,260 views
2. L'Homme Qui Rit by Victor Hugo - 673 views
3. Charles Bukowski's Alter Ego in Post Office - 345 views
4. Life of PI by Yann Martel - 297 views
5. Stephen King - The Dead Zone - 122 views

Top 5 most viewed reviews (now):

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - 7,467 views
2. The Bronte Paradox - Wuthering Heights VS jane Eyre - 7,175 views
3. 13 Reasons Why You Should NOT Read Thirteen Reasons Why - 2,428 views
4. The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac - 2,132 views
5. Laurent Gounelle Teaches us How to be Happy - 2,069 views.

Quite a substantial turnaround with the ultimate winner before (The Bronte Paradox) pushed down to second place by the sweet story of an autistic child. The controversial 13 Reasons Why with 42 comments (making it the most commented review without competition) takes third place. I believe I was quite harsh in my review of Hannah's 13 reasons to kill herself and I provoked quite a few outbreaks by passionate teenagers. I stand by my point though - one of the worst books I had the displeasure of reading. Fourth place makes me extremely happy, as it goes to one of my favorite books. Fifth place is not surprising - yes, we are constantly looking for ways to feel happy. The only book that doesn't make it to top 5 and makes me sad is Life of Pi (movie to be released next week) because it truly is a different and provoking novel.

Top 5 visitors from countries (before):
1. USA - 2,800 views
2. UK - 1,459 views
3. Bulgaria - 1,422 views
4. Canada - 387 views
5. India - 224 views

Top 5 visitors (now):
1. USA - 30,693 views
2. UK - 13,281 views
3. France - 7,134 views
4. Bulgaria - 6,986 views
5. Canada - 4,474 views

The only apparent difference is France's debut in third place, which of course is quite understandable and expected as in 2011 I started my Master's degree in France (where obviously my fan base is growing:)).

In 10,000 Pageviews and Counting I was extremely proud of the graph showing the progression of monthly views. Today I am not so proud (I am actually a bit disappointed) but I will share it anyways, of course giving my usual excuse: I WORK 70 HOURS A WEEK!

I won't set any goals for next year (except working less, sleeping more and basically being a totally unproductive gal, which of course is not going to happen). As for books, I know I will be reading and reviewing (someone has to tell apart the good books from the mediocre ones) and what you should do is...well read!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Zafon's Barcelona tetralogy continues with The Prisoner of Heaven

The first one was The Shadow of the Wind., the good daughter, who always comes home on time and brings joy to her parents.

The second one was The Angel's Game, the bad daughter, the naughty, dark, suspicious and always causing trouble one.

The third one is The Prisoner of Heaven, the one I will call the honest and revealing sister, the one that tells you truths that prompt revenge.

The Prisoner of Heaven brings us back to the mysterious streets of Barcelona and once again back to the world of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop. Like The Shadow of the Wind., The Prisoner of Heaven is also narrated by Daniel Sempere. Now a grown man, married to his beloved Beatrice and raising a boy named Julian (after the mysterious author Julian Carax), for Daniel life seems to be settling into place. The marriage of his best friend Fermin to Bernarda and the arrival of a strange man connected to Fermin's past, however, set to reveal secrets deeply connected to Daniel's childhood. The figure of the strange writer David Martin, the narrator of The Angel's Game, also emerges in Fermin's terrible past. Daniel's life is much more connected to Martin's than he expects as a special bond between Daniel's mother Isabella and the writer is revealed. While Fermin takes a journey down memory lane, Daniel discovers a mother he didn't know, a villain he wants to kill, and a writer, whose books he must read. Set in the light of imprisonment, betrayal and evil the Prisoner of Heaven reveals secrets that will provoke Daniel to seek revenge.

It is extremely difficult to write a review about Zafon's books as any little hint might destroy the immense pleasure of flipping through the pages, of following trails and people, of wondering what will happen next. Zafon is the same enchanting author i remember from the first two books. His prose sticks you to the chair, keeps you awake in the middle of night, submerges you into a beautiful but dangerous Barcelona in the 1960s. The story unravels quite naturally and remains connected to its prequels. Or should I say sequels? In an interview, Zafon shared that his Barcelona tetralogy shouldn't be regarded as a tetralogy. The books can be read in any order and still make perfect sense. Without ruining the surprise, I would just say that The Prisoner of Heaven reveals facts about David Martin's life that make me want to read The Angel's Game seeing it in a different light. Towards the end of the novel Daniel once again returns to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, now with Fermin, to discover David Martin's last book, The Angel's Game.

The only negative aspect of The Prisoner of Heaven is its ending. The last sentence opens the door for the next novel but leaves the reader in a terrible (even painful) anticipation.

The Barcelona tetralogy is a set of books about...well about books. Books that hide secrets, books that reveal the past, books that must be protected because they are among the biggest treasures. Rare books and evil books, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is where they are buried only to be rediscovered at the right time. God knows what Zafon has prepared in his next novel.


Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

The first lines of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita immediately transfer the reader to a different world - the perverse, conflicted, tormented, and socially unnacceptable world of Humbert Humbert. Far from pornography, as some little souls may claim, Lolita explores the demons and temptations a 30 something man has to fight to restrain his passion. His passion for young girls (12-14). Not all of them, oh no. Just the nymphet ones. According to most dictionaries, a nymphet is "an attractive and sexually mature young girl". Humbert's passion, started as an innocent childish love, transforms into a driving force. Sexual desire (and especially unsatisfied one) shapes one's life no matter how we might try to ignore it. I am suddenly reminded of Michael Fassbender's disturbing performance in "Shame". For those of you who haven't seen it, well Fassbender's character is a sexual maniac. His desire to have sex anywhere and all the time affects his personal relationships, his work performance and every every other part of his life. Just like Humbert Humbert, though, he is extremely good at hiding it.

Oh, isn't Humbert Humbert quite the charmerer and the deceiver? In order to get closer to his beloved Lolita he marries her mother. The old, fat widow Charlotte Haze doesn't even suspect Humbert's hidden agenda. And then one day, when she is usefully eliminated by mere chance, Humbert's way towards Lolita (and her pants) is set clear.

Is Lolita innocent? Can we blame her? That question tormented me as I followed Humbert and Lolita's road trip across the USA. I guess no definite answer can be given. Yes, she was tempting him. Yes, she was being playful and presumptious. Yes, she was sitting on his knees, kissing him, showing parts of her body here and there. But and there is a big but, she was a child. She was supposed to be protected and taken care of. She doesn't bear responsibility for her actions. On the other hand, Humber Humbert does. His passion towards Lolita, however wrong socially it may be, has a far more negative effect in the long-term. It destroys her life irrevocably. Can we blame the girl? I can't. On the same note, can we blame Humbert? I can't either.

For many (and for me including) the novel is a bit disturbing. The parts describing Humbert's infatuation with little girls (and various parts of their body) made me flush read and look both sides, as if someone could actually see what I was reading. Humbert's sexual arousal and dreams are portrayed with such vividness that I felt I was walking through his mind. More than that, I even felt I was the one infatuated with little girls (oh, such is Nabokov's power). However, Lolita, I repeat, is not a pornography. Nor it is based on Nabokov's life (I read that bulshit somewhere). It is a mere recollection of a man's life, ruined by his sexuality. Humbert Humbert was not a pedophile. He was a man in love, just the wrong type of love. His sufferings, together with Lolita's destroyed life, make the novel a powerful insight into our devils and our angels, into what drives us to fall and into desires that ruin lifes.