Cheeky without minimizing the seriousness: social history at its poppiest.

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A WORLD HISTORY OF PROSTITUTION

A survey of the world’s oldest profession, which becomes, in effect, a sexual history of the world.

Not terribly interested in gender-crusading, but still more intellectually rigorous than Camille Paglia, Norwegian academic Ringdal offers a heady romp through the ages and under the covers. His approach begins inauspiciously by rambling through Babylon, ancient Israel, and Egypt, tossing generalizations about these societies, their usage of temple prostitutes and what it said about gender roles. Once he extends his sources beyond the Bible, however, the author builds some steam, and an improved sense of humor; on the famous Chinese courtesan Yü Hsüan-chi, Ringdal says: “By now, Yü had become the foremost sex symbol of her day. What then did this imply? In this case not a very good sex life.” His main focus, unsurprisingly, is on Western societies, and when discussing other regions like Africa or the South Seas, seems primarily interested in how their mores of sold sex were perceived and reacted to by Westerners. Although this approach gives grist to the overarching subtitle, by hewing closer to the author’s area of interest, it results in a much more enlightening and entertaining piece of work. Ringdal’s narrative dances from the escapades of Paris’s legendary Nana, to the short, brutal lives of the Wild West prostitute, Ottoman Empire harems, and preppie call girls of 1980s Manhattan without missing a beat. If, by its conclusion, this all seems nostalgic for a time when sex for sale seemed less seedy, it makes a good argument for that being so because of the Sexual Revolution: once men could get free, no-strings-sex, prostitution started to specialize in grotty fetishes and lost what little glamour it had once had.

Cheeky without minimizing the seriousness: social history at its poppiest.

Pub Date: March 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8021-1745-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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