March 21, 2013
(+++) CONNECTION GUIDES
How to Create Chemistry with Anyone: 75 Ways to Spark It Fast & Make It Last. By Leil Lowndes. Da Capo. $16.
The Prom Book: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need. By Lauren Metz. Zest Books. $16.95.
If a book could make life perfect, how many times would life be perfect; if a book could make relationships perfect, how many times would Leil Lowndes, all by herself, have created perfect relationships? Well, how many times has she done that? The fact that the question is unanswerable is what makes it possible for Lowndes to continue spinning her advice about instant connections, ending shyness, becoming a “people magnet” (an unappealing image, when you think about it), making “anyone” fall in love with you (also an unappealing prospect if considered too closely), and now: How to Create Chemistry with Anyone. It is hard to argue with the success with which Lowndes has “branded” herself, in the sense of creating a brand of advice and self-help with which she is identified. She assembles a variety of ideas, some of them good and some of them dicey, relating to communications strategies, and then parcels them out – supposedly in refined and purified form – to show readers how to manipulate other people into doing what they, the readers, want. Of course, Lowndes does not put it that way, but in fact what she does is tell people how they can take command of relationships and other situations, arranging things to their liking and pulling the other person along, presumably against his or her will (at least initially).
If you put things this way, Lowndes’ guides scarcely sound benign, but of course she does not put things this way. How to Create Chemistry with Anyone includes such unexceptionable advice as understanding that the heady feelings of initial love and strong sexual attraction last two years or less, so you must build a firmer foundation for a long-term relationship; being sure that you and your partner share similar values and beliefs; connecting with someone who will be reliable in case of trouble – and being such a person yourself; encouraging each other’s growth, personal and professional; reserving time to have fun with each other, no matter what the pressures of everyday life may be; and so on. Very nice; very straightforward; and very much not the “sizzle” for which people will come to this book. What people will want are the 75 “chemistry sparkers,” delivered in small boxes scattered around the pages. Number 5: “Give your quarry ‘family eyes.’” Number 31: “Nudge your quarry’s neurons with a double name whammy.” Number 63: “Show you share or respect your quarry’s values.” Oh yes, this is a hunt – not every “sparker” includes the word “quarry,” but many do. And there is plenty of explanatory material to expand on the short “sparker” entries. In a chapter called “How to Spark Cyber Chemistry,” for example, Lowndes writes, “Girl, let’s say a Hunter writes you a cool message. You write an even cooler one back. You text a bit and then plan to talk. So far, so good. Visions of romance and maybe happily-ever-after dance through your head. But stop. None of these pleasures will be part of your future if he doesn’t like your image.” This is the expansion and elucidation of “sparker” number 13: “Photo Tips—Show character in your face and have an appealing background.” Coolness and a with-it style simply ooze from Lowndes’ writing, which she directs sometimes at men and sometimes at women. In fact, she emphasizes gender differences: “Huntresses, you are more romantically intuitive than males are, and you’re natural pleasers.” As for men: “Women don’t come with pull-down menus and online help,” as one chapter subsection says. How to Create Chemistry with Anyone is very entertaining and written in an expertly breezy style that makes the book sound superficial even when dealing with serious and well-thought-out subject matter. Typical advice, from “sparker” number 61, “Don’t talk when he’s fuming,” goes like this: “Huntresses, between his limbic system being wired to the physical rather than the linguistic, plus evolution, plus his upbringing, plus ten times more testosterone, what do you expect? Ignore and forgive your Quarry’s outbursts.” The whole “Spark your Quarry” thing (and “Spark the Chemistry” and similar phrases) goes beyond simplistic into silly, and the frantic level of communicative amusement with which Lowndes delivers her prose swings wildly from funny to rather sad. Readers taken in by the style of How to Create Chemistry with Anyone probably won’t notice that, though, or won’t care. What they will want to know is: does this stuff work? The answer is that it surely works some of the time and surely fails some of the time, just like every other one-size-fits-all approach to relationships, psychology, and life in general.
Speaking of which: how about making romantic connections starting in high school – say, at prom? Or how about using prom as a way to build on an existing romance? Lauren Metz’ The Prom Book is all about having the world’s most fabulous time in, like, forever, by doing everything right from prom planning to after-prom memories. Oddly enough in a book aimed at teenage girls, Metz offers more-sober writing than does Lowndes, offering – for example – a “perfect prom workout” in which you can “sculpt your biceps for strapless or one-shoulder dresses,” and/or “get sexy legs for short dresses,” and/or “work your glutes and abs for body-hugging dresses.” These are actually sensible exercise programs, and they come with sensible notions in other areas, too: “Three ways to eat out for less” suggests skipping or splitting appetizers, choosing a restaurant with large portions so you can share, and drinking water rather than overpriced soft drinks. The assumption here is that prom is rather sweet – Metz tells girls how to “brush off pressure to have sex” – and that the prom itself should ideally be just one part of a remember-forever experience: “Ready for the next round? The fun won’t fade when you host a fab after-party! (Warning: With these tips, you may even one-up the dance!)” The practical stuff here is mixed with that sort of over-the-top enthusiasm, as Metz explains how to put together a budget and plan your look (for which her flow chart is both amusing and practical); decide whom to go with; figure out makeup and hairstyles; and deal with potential seeming-disasters such as a ripped dress or broken zipper. This is a short book – its apparent 160 pages are much reduced by many blanks for notes: “Navigating the Dating Situation” has four pages of advice and six blanks, for instance, and the last 17 pages of the book are offered as places for looking back and writing down details, such as “favorite moments” and “most embarrassing moments.” And eight of those final pages are reserved, very oddly in an age of digital photography, for photos. Well, The Prom Book will not be all things to all people, or even to all star-struck (or prom-struck) teenage girls, but it does do a good job of combining a veneer of knowing sophistication with an undercurrent of anticipatory excitement – all of which is right in line with prom itself.