The most recommended books about prostitutes

Who picked these books? Meet our 33 experts.

33 authors created a book list connected to prostitutes, and here are their favorite prostitute books.
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Book cover of Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk

Kay Stephens Author Of The Porn Star's Daughter

From my list on sex-positive reads you may have missed.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent nearly two decades as a highly successful corporate attorney. Or, perhaps I should say, a successful attorney with a crude mouth and a love for all things spandex. And my unabashed personality was a differentiator in my career—it allowed me to cut through the corporate nonsense and personally connect with my opposition. But my career imploded when I became the subject of overt sexual harassment in my workplace and my employer worked harder at a coverup than resolution. Rather than sell back my story through litigation, I decided to write openly about sexual empowerment in the face of systemic slut-shaming.

Kay's book list on sex-positive reads you may have missed

Kay Stephens Why did Kay love this book?

I agree, a non-fiction recommendation is a bit of a curve ball from a romance author! But Sex Workers Unite is well worth the mention because it has been such an overwhelming inspiration for my own writing.

This book is a gut-wrenching description of both the dehumanization of sex workers and the social ills we all suffer as a result. It is not just a call for social justice—it is a warning message for those willing to turn a blind eye to the marginalization of a disenfranchised group.

By Melinda Chateauvert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sex Workers Unite as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom
 
Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, call girls, strippers, and porn stars in the center of America’s major civil rights struggles. Although their presence has largely been ignored and obscured, in this provocative history Melinda Chateauvert recasts sex workers as savvy political organizers—not as helpless victims in need of…


Book cover of The Pervert

Mady G. Author Of A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

From my list on graphic novels about self-discovery.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a queer author and illustrator who has always had a passion for unique and boundary-pushing comics and graphic novels. It's a genre that has spoken to me throughout my life and this list converges my love for the format as well as the subject matter that's impacted the most vulnerable and pivotal times of my own life. So much of my experience being alive has been about figuring out who I am, and that's what my own graphic novel deals with. It seems fitting that I'd recommend a list of books that details others doing the same as I have, but in their own way.

Mady's book list on graphic novels about self-discovery

Mady G. Why did Mady love this book?

A truly singular book that details a semi-fictionalized account of a transgender sex worker surviving in Seattle. Depicted as a cute anthropomorphic dog-like creature, the story follows her as she meets with various clients and navigates her own identity struggles and in-progress transition (not to mention her own safety in her dangerous line of work). A deeply emotional and raw story that still manages to retain its own dark sense of humor throughout.

(Deals with themes of drugs, sex, and violence. 18+ only.)

By Michelle Perez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pervert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Vulture/NY Magazine's Best Comics of 2018

A surprisingly honest and touching account of a trans girl surviving through sex work in Seattle. With excerpts published in Eisner nominated anthology ISLAND, the full colour volume, drawn and painted by Remy Boydell is an unflinching debut graphic novel. Written by Michelle Perez


Book cover of The World of Suzie Wong

Tom Carter Author Of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

From my list on Chinese prostitution and vice.

Why am I passionate about this?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for what would become a two-year backpacking sojourn across all 33 Chinese provinces, the first foreigner on record to do so. Since then, I have published three books about China; my anthology Unsavory Elements was intended as a well-meaning tribute to the expatriate experience, however my own essay – a bawdy account of a visit to a rural brothel – was understandably demonized. The following five books expand on that illicit theme.

Tom's book list on Chinese prostitution and vice

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

This story is so sweet and funny, I must have read it a dozen times since first arriving in China. That a Western male writer conceived a female Chinese character as charming and relatable as Suzie without ever straying into offensive farce really says something about the author, Richard Mason’s, craft. His prose is old-school eloquent, and deftly includes the smallest details that bring Suzie, a naughty yet affectionate hooker with a big heart, and her 1950s Hong Kong brothel settings, to vivid life. If I had only five desert-island books, The World of Suzie Wong would be one of them.

By Richard Mason,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The World of Suzie Wong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penguin Books reintroduces the timeless story of the love affair between a British artist and a Chinese prostitute.

Robert is t he only resident of the Nam Kok hotel not renting his room by the hour when he meets Suzie at the bar. She becomes his muse and they fall in love. But even in Hong Kong, where many white expatriates have Chinese mistresses, their romance could jeopardize the things they each hold dear. Set in the mid-1950s, The World of Suzie Wong is a beautifully written time capsule of a novel. First published more than fifty years ago, it…


Book cover of Nell Kimball: Her Life as an American Madam, by Herself

Jody Hadlock Author Of The Lives of Diamond Bessie

From my list on 19th century prostitutes.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a young teenager, I lived in a small Texas town and loved touring the Victorian “gingerbread” homes full of antiques. I had an overwhelming desire to time travel back to the mid-1800s. When I learned of Diamond Bessie’s story, I was immediately intrigued because of the period, and also by the circumstances of her life. Why does a woman enter the world’s oldest profession? I discovered that I absolutely love research and “time traveled” back to that era by devouring everything I could get my hands on about life in the 19th century, especially for a marginalized woman like Bessie. 

Jody's book list on 19th century prostitutes

Jody Hadlock Why did Jody love this book?

Nell Kimball was the least educated of the prostitute authors I read but also the most colorful. And the only one who didn’t feel trapped in the profession. Like Josie Washburn, Nell couldn’t find a publisher for her memoir when she looked for one in 1932. She was 78 years old and reportedly in dire straits financially. Nell had started in the “trade” in St. Louis at the age of fifteen in 1867 and worked as a prostitute and then as a madam, lastly in New Orleans’s famed Storyville red-light district, until it was shut down in 1917. Nell died in 1934. Her book was finally published by Macmillan in 1970.

I’m grateful that Madeleine, Josie, and Nell were fortuitous enough to pen their stories, to record a first-hand account of an era that we otherwise would not be privy to in such a personal way.

By Nell Kimball,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nell Kimball as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A witty, wild-spirited, purely American autobiography by a prostitute-turned-madam who lived and operated at the turn of the twentieth century.

“Looking back on my life, and it’s the only way I can look at it now, nothing in it came out the way most people would want their life to be lived. And while I began at fifteen in a good house with no plans, just wanting as a young whore to hunker on to something to eat and something good to wear, I ended up as a business woman, becoming a sporting house madam, recruiting, disciplining whores, running high-class…


Book cover of Smonk: Or Widow Town

Alden Bell Author Of The Reapers Are the Angels

From my list on in the tradition of William Faulkner.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer, I’ve been deeply influenced by Southern literature—especially the work of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Even though I’m not from the South myself, I am drawn to Southern writers’ immodesty. I believe much of contemporary literature is too timid. It is about the mundane, the everyday.  It does not elevate; instead, it diminishes.  Much of the literature of the South is biblical in its sensibilities.  It is unafraid to deal with the big universal issues with language that is equally big and universal.  It does not pander to modesty or postmodern selfconsciousness. It is audacious. It’s the kind of writing that made me want to write.

Alden's book list on in the tradition of William Faulkner

Alden Bell Why did Alden love this book?

Franklin’s book is one of the key inspirations for my book, The Reapers Are the Angels. Combining a frontier western sensibility with Faulkner’s wicked gothic brutality, Franklin tells an engrossing tale of a young prostitute who finds herself mired in a world of outlaws, perverts, dandies, and murderers. Frantically running back and forth between high comedy and guttered grotesquerie, this story feels like it’s just barely clinging to its own rails—and that sense of dangerous tipping is what feels so thrilling about it. What Franklin inherits from Faulkner is a wide-eyed beguilement with degeneracy—or what Conrad would call a “fascination of the abomination.”

By Tom Franklin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Smonk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's 1911 and the townsfolk of Old Texas, Alabama, have had enough. Every Saturday night for a year, E. O. Smonk has been destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men, all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over-and-under rifle. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty, and goitered—an expert with explosives and knives—Smonk hates horses, goats, and the Irish, and it's high time he was stopped. But capturing old Smonk won't be easy—and putting him on trial could have shocking and disastrous consequences, considering the terrible secret the citizens of Old Texas are hiding.


Book cover of Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban

Tace Hedrick Author Of Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century

From my list on the writing and marketing of chica lit.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a university professor, I often teach popular women’s writing, and I realized that I needed to teach Latinx popular fiction as well. Women’s popular writing in the United States reflects but also shapes the way women see themselves in a global neoliberal world. After I had written an article on class and Chicanx and Latinx fiction, I also realized that class and race are key to thinking about how Latinas/Chicanas both create and follow market trends in an effort to “better” themselves in addition to showing how various Latinas/Chicanas see each other in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.  

Tace's book list on the writing and marketing of chica lit

Tace Hedrick Why did Tace love this book?

I also write about this book in my work. I again have problems with it, but it gives a kind of slice-of-life snapshot of Cuban life at that moment (around 2005), and especially about jineteras, or “jockeys,” women who supplement their income by going out with wealthy foreigners. Doing research on that book gave me a look at Cuba that was invaluable. And it is sometimes funny. It serves as a kind of coda to my book in that it reproduces many of the rhetorical moves of other chica lit but in a completely different setting. 

By Lisa Wixon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on the wildly popular, semi-autobiographical "Havana Honey" series published by Salon.com, Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban is a gritty portrait of one woman's determination to infiltrate modern Cuba and find the father she has never known.

While on her search, privileged American Alysia Briggs ends up broke and alone in Havana. She's then forced to adopt the life of the jineteras -- educated Cuban women who supplement a desperate income by accommodating sex tourists.

With an eye for detail and a razor wit, Lisa Wixon relates Alysia's journey and creates a love song to Cuba, a heartfelt tribute to a…


Book cover of The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Ninetenth-Century New York

Rebecca Frost Author Of Words of a Monster: Analyzing the Writings of H.H. Holmes, America's First Serial Killer

From my list on crimes you've never heard of.

Why am I passionate about this?

I picked up my first book about Jack the Ripper the summer after college and never looked back. Since then my collection of true crime has grown to overflow my office bookshelves and I’ve written a PhD dissertation and multiple books about true crime, focusing on serial killers. The genre is so much more than Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer and I love talking with people about the less mainstream cases that interest them, and the newer victim-centered approaches that—fingers crossed—mark a change in how we talk about criminals and victims.

Rebecca's book list on crimes you've never heard of

Rebecca Frost Why did Rebecca love this book?

Helen Jewett was a sex worker living in New York in the 1830s. She worked in a brothel under a matron, which should have been a safe enough situation—she wasn’t out on the street, at least, and others knew when she had clients. Early one morning, however, others in the house wake up to realize there’s a fire in Helen’s room, and that she’s dead. Was it a murder committed by her last client, a man quickly identified as Richard Robinson, or was it a suicide? If she hadn’t died so brutally, we wouldn’t know Helen Jewett’s name, so she’s become another victim only known for her murder. Cohen reminds us that she’s more than just her death.

By Patricia Cline Cohen,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Murder of Helen Jewett as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1836, the murder of a young prostitute made headlines in New York City and around the country, inaugurating a sex-and-death sensationalism in news reporting that haunts us today. Patricia Cline Cohen goes behind these first lurid accounts to reconstruct the story of the mysterious victim, Helen Jewett.

From her beginnings as a servant girl in Maine, Helen Jewett refashioned herself, using four successive aliases, into a highly paid courtesan. She invented life stories for herself that helped her build a sympathetic clientele among New York City's elite, and she further captivated her customers through her seductive letters, which mixed…


Book cover of Woman at Point Zero

Katharine Quarmby Author Of The Low Road

From my list on female characters who rise from the ashes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer who loves reading novels, encompassing everything from romance to historical and crime. I've always loved resilient female characters in the books I've read, from children’s fiction onward. When I started writing The Low Road I didn’t know that a couple of years later we as a family would experience multiple bereavement in just a few months, and that grief is imbued in every page of the novel. In The Low Road, I hope I've also paid homage to the power of women, that dogged and patient holding on and enduring of pain, that is at the heart of so many of the lives we live as girls and women.

Katharine's book list on female characters who rise from the ashes

Katharine Quarmby Why did Katharine love this book?

I read this years ago and then devoured all of Nawal el Sadawi’s books, fiction and non-fiction.

I have Iranian heritage on my birth father’s side and have always been fascinated in the life I could have lived as an Iranian girl, if I had been raised there instead of the UK.

So reading Nawal ed Sadawi’s books, set in Egypt where she was born, educated, and worked as a doctor and writer, gave me an insight I really wanted into Islamic societies and how women can live in them.

Woman at Point Zero is harrowing, brilliant, immersive, and painful, taking as its theme the story of Firdaus, who tells the story of why she has killed a man before she is executed. She explains why and her courage and eloquence have stayed with me ever since.

We need these stories of women on the edge who still, somehow, resist…

By Nawal El Saadawi, Sherif Hetata (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Woman at Point Zero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An unforgettable, unmissable book for the new global feminist.'
The Times

'All the men I did get to know filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face.'

So begins Firdaus's remarkable story of rebellion against a society founded on lies, hypocrisy, brutality and oppression. Born to a peasant family in the Egyptian countryside, Firdaus struggles through childhood, seeking compassion and knowledge in a world which gives her little of either. As she grows up and escapes the fetters of her childhood, each new relationship teaches her a bitter but liberating…


Book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Patti McCracken Author Of The Angel Makers: Arsenic, a Midwife, and Modern History's Most Astonishing Murder Ring

From my list on true crime books that are literary keepers.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a practicing journalist, I preferred getting my stories from the back road—“off the beaten path,” as is said. What I’m drawn to is the way a story is told, and since my game is journalism, I like the true ones. My father was a pretty good storyteller. My brother-in-law is wicked good. I hang with my jaw open, waiting on his next word. It’s like being able to tell a good joke. Few can do it. When it comes to True Crime, forget the blood and body count. Anyone can lay out the facts. It takes master storytelling to deliver us to the army of small truths that brought forth the crime—and the humanity that dissolved along the way.

Patti's book list on true crime books that are literary keepers

Patti McCracken Why did Patti love this book?

Larger-than-life characters can be a bear to write. They give so much, but you really have to rein them in, or they’ll look like clowns. And I know about characters. I’m from the South. I had a mother who used to wear a shower cap in the rain because, you know, she’d just had her hair done.

Reading Midnight in the Garden was like flipping through a family album. The guy with the one-winged housefly attached to a string? My family could match that. The guy who fake-walked a dog for years? Maybe that, too. This book is one of my favorites because author John Berendt, as if he were himself a Southern gentleman, graciously gives the characters a stage, allowing them to tell their own stories. Except for the elusive killer. Berendt keeps him wrapped in mystery. All deliciously Southern. All so familiar to me. 

By John Berendt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Genteel society ladies who compare notes on their husbands' suicides. A hilariously foul-mouthed black drag queen. A voodoo priestess who works her roots in the graveyard at midnight. A morose inventor who owns a bottle of poison powerful enough to kill everyone in town. A prominent antiques dealer who hangs a Nazi flag from his window to disrupt the shooting of a movie. And a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a 'walking streak of sex'.

These are some of the real residents of Savannah, Georgia, a city whose eccentric mores are unerringly observed - and whose dirty linen…


Book cover of Daughters of Night

Eric Van Lustbader Author Of The Quantum Solution

From Eric's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sociologist Futurist Humanist

Eric's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Eric Van Lustbader Why did Eric love this book?

There are, at the moment, a glut of authors writing about England in the 1800’s, but none of them can hold a candle to Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

Her prose is so immersive you are almost instantly transported back in time and place. Settle in for a fantastic experience, exploring the squalid and eye-opening underbelly of London’s ladies of the night.

One of this author’s trademarks is creating full-blown characters who you come to know and love within a few pages of their being introduced. Chief among them, and why I love this book above her other two, is her main character, Caroline Corsham, easily one of my favorite characters.

Caro is everything you want in a hero – smart, tough-minded, persistent in running down the perpetrator of the murders that keep the plot of this book racing along mud-splattered roads. I think about Caro all the time and sincerely hope the…

By Laura Shepherd-Robinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daughters of Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The best historical crime novel I will read this year' - The Times

From the pleasure palaces and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson's Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget . . .

'This is right up there with the best of C. J. Sansom and Andrew Taylor' - Amanda Craig, author of The Golden Rule

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline 'Caro' Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she…