Part travelogue, part commentary on the art of massage.
Cook (The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China, 2014, etc.) says from the start: “Massage is always already erotic.” From there, he takes readers on a pleasure cruise: a massage school in Chicago (“What an antidote to the cerebral mortification of the University of Chicago!”); a subgenre of Japanese pornography relating to (allegedly) secretly recorded massage sessions (“I do not know how the average enthusiast of Japanese porn responds to this particular genre”); and a wide range of locations in China and Southeast Asia: “A hot woman in Hanoi came up on a motorcycle. ‘Marijuana? Massage?’ she asked, inviting me to jump on.” Throughout it all, Cook offers blunt commentary and matter-of-fact testimonials. There’s the disappointment of a “chocolate” massage in Thailand: “She shows me a small bowl filled with oil and a clump of congealed chocolate at the bottom. If it weren’t for her accomplished stroking which quickly brings me off, I’d be pretty upset.” And a pleasant surprise in Taiwan: “The woman’s rare combination of expert technique and open-mindedness makes for one of the most intense massages I have ever had.” As good as it might feel, the book isn’t for the squeamish or the prudish: an essay on semen likens it to “the toxic venom ejected from an alien,” and a commentary on randy masseuses explains how many are horny and ready for extra fun, at no extra cost. Comparisons of international hand jobs can become dull, and readers are likely to disagree with his assertion that “every act of sexual intercourse should be paid for,” but Cook’s affection for the massage never wavers. His book offers a fascinating portrait of a man who has ventured into the titillating establishments the world has to offer.
Readers interested in parting the curtains at the Turkish bathhouse and the Chinese baojian anmo will find this an excellent place to begin.