I just finished reading "How to Be a Woman," by Caitlin Moran, a bestseller that a lot of people I like loved, and I am feeling a little angry. I find Ms. Moran's persona and writing style quite delightful, enjoyed and agreed with many of her points, but something about her overall message just doesn't jibe with my core beliefs. Maybe it's that she defines feminism as being in charge of your own vagina, then tells me I should grow a pubic bush and give up my heels? Maybe it's all the should-ing, even when it is in opposition to her own life experience (e.g., More women should remain childless for the good of society and the feminist movement, even though Moran has two children). Or maybe it's the patronizing and insulting tone she takes toward women who work as strippers, porn stars or nude models. So much good feminism is ruined for me by jibes at sex workers. Some of my best friends are hookers!
I do want to reiterate again that Moran is very smart and a good writer. So are a lot of these ladies who have written books in one of my favorite genres, the sex work memoir.
1. "I Am Jennie" by Jennie Ketcham
I'm a big "Sex Rehab" fan, and since the show I've followed former porn star Jennie Ketcham's raw, vulnerable writing on her blog, Becoming Jennie. So when I spied her book during a cheesecake stopover at Barnes and Noble (vanilla bean! holla!), I immediately snatched it up even though I probably could have requested a review copy for free. I told myself I did this because I want to support authors, not because I am too lazy to send an email. Anyway, it's really good -- honest, unflinching and beautifully written. You should spend your money on it, too.
2. "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale" by Jenna Jameson
I have really hated the expression "a cautionary tale" ever since the Dr. Phil producers used it to describe my rape story during my appearance. (What's the caution? Don't get raped?) But this book, co-written by Neil "The Dirt" Strauss, is fucking perfection. (When referring to this book, people always say "heavily ghostwritten" by Neil Strauss? Which I guess is so we know that Jenna Jameson is a dumb dummy who couldn't have written a good book? I remember all the headlines at the time, too, were like "Porn Star, Best-Selling Author?" in the same construction as you'd be see like, "German Shepard, Four-Star Chef?")
3. "Rent Girl" by Michelle Tea
This graphic novel, by our own Michelle Tea, details in words and pictures the queer feminist indie author/poet/icon's time as a prostitute in Boston and San Francisco. I l fell in love with this book the first time I read it, and pretty much almost died the time I go to meet Michelle at a party! at her house! If you haven't read this book, I wish I was you so I could go back and read it for the first time. Except that then I wouldn't have hung out with Michelle Tea.
4. "The Washingtonniene" by Jessica Cutler
I don't know if the author, a young Senate staffer who launched a massive media scandal when her anonymous blog detailing her sexual exploits on the hill went viral, would consider herself, in the form of "fictional" protagonist, to be a sex worker, but she has some pretty straightforward sugar daddy setups with various over-the-hill political types. Cutler's book got totally trashed when it came out, which I found surprising, since I couldn't put it down.
5. "Whipsmart" by Melissa Febos
I love it when a sex work memoir is a secret addiction memoir! It's like peanut butter and chocolate! This one has heroin and professional dominatrixing. And if you give me some heroin, maybe I will tell you about the time I tried to be a professional dominatrix. Until then, read this book.
6. "Candy Girl" by Diablo Cody
I know there was some kind of big Diablo Cody backlash and we're not supposed to like her anymore. Or maybe that's over? Either way, she has one of those voices, perfectly represented in this stripping memoir, that makes me think, "I'll never be able to write that good." That well? See, I suck.
7. "Ordeal" by Linda Lovelace
Lest you accuse me of being blinded by happy hookers, here is a super depressing book about sex work, written by Linda "Deepthroat" Lovelace. I'm not kidding -- this book is not for the faint of heart. It includes rape, coercion and unspeakable abuse at the hands of Lovelace's manger/husband Chuck Traynor. A lot of people don't believe the allegations she makes in this book, but either way, it is a powerful and upsetting memoir of one woman's experience in the sex industry.
8. "The Last of the Live Nude Girls" by Sheila McClear
In this book, which I've written about for xoJane before, McClear describes her experience working in the gritty, weird, dirty world of NYC peep shows in their dying days.
9. "Some Girls: My Life in a Harem" by Jillian Lauren
I love this book because it just takes shit to the next level, you know? Like, anybody can work in a strip club, but have you served in the harem of the Sultan of Brunei's youngest brother? No? Then go home, Jillian Lauren wins. At 19, the then-callgirl and stripper took advantage of a lucrative opportunity to travel to Borneo, attend extravagant parties, and entertain the temperamental Prince Jefri. Exotic!
10. "The Price" By Natalia McLennan
This isn't the best written of the bunch, but I enjoyed reading about a high-class escort who made (and blew) a serious shit-ton of money, as well as the coinciding addiction story. At least part of my affection for this book probably also comes from overhearing my very nervous former co-worker at a men's magazine interviewing McLennan over the phone in the next cubicle. He stuttered so much!
I know I left some out -- fill in the blanks, bitches.