The best books about prostitution 📚

Browse the best books on prostitution as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

By Yasunari Kawabata

Why this book?

Novellas are a perfect place to start for poets who are interested in writing longer, more narrative work. They’re slim, lyrical, and less daunting. I read this novella in college & haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It takes place in what I can only refer to as a “Sleeping Brothel” where elderly men pay to sleep beside young women. The story is haunting, but it doesn’t take cheap horror shots. Instead, it delves into the complexity of loneliness, the shared vulnerability of sleep, and the human need for comfort.

From the list:

The best books for poets who want to write fiction

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Book cover of Northern Girls

Northern Girls

By Keyi Sheng

Why this book?

A post-70s generation Chinese authoress who capitalized on the big international book deals cleared for her by the commercial success of Shanghai Baby and Beijing Doll, and who likewise has developed an unsavory reputation among Communist authorities, Sheng Keyi has published many heralded (and banned) books. But her crowning achievement is 2012’s Northern Girls, about young female migrant workers who leave the countryside for the big city but fall into the trappings of prostitution. Unlike the memoirs penned by her counterparts, this is an obviously fictional story that falls under the sub-genre of “magical realism”. I’d suggest reading…

From the list:

The best books about Chinese prostitution and vice

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Book cover of Whispers and Moans: Interviews with the Men and Women of Hong Kong's Sex Industry

Whispers and Moans: Interviews with the Men and Women of Hong Kong's Sex Industry

By Yeeshan Yang

Why this book?

The definitive sociological examination of prostitution in contemporary Hong Kong, Yeeshan Yang spent one year – out of plain curiosity – alongside the city’s sex workers, listening to their stories of how they arrived there, how they spend their days/nights, and what becomes of them when they leave the trade. These humanizing case studies provide separate yet occasionally intersecting profiles of female streetwalkers and club hostesses, as well as male prossies and pimps, and their sometimes sad, sometimes funny, tales of the world’s oldest profession in the Orient. Whispers and Moans was also adapted (by Yang) into a 2007 film…

From the list:

The best books about Chinese prostitution and vice

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Book cover of The Underworld Sewer: A Prostitute Reflects on Life in the Trade, 1871-1909

The Underworld Sewer: A Prostitute Reflects on Life in the Trade, 1871-1909

By Josie Washburn

Why this book?

After not being able to find a publisher in the early 1900s, Josie Washburn self-published her memoir. In The Underworld Sewer, Josie not only describes her life as a prostitute and madam, but she also debunks the notion at the time that women became prostitutes to “satisfy their own unnatural lusts.” Josie wanted to educate the public about the true horrors and plight of the unfortunate women who had to resort to prostitution to survive and, ultimately, to motivate the public to effect change. Her memoir is as much a scathing commentary on society’s double standards as it is an…

From the list:

The best books about 19th century prostitutes

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Book cover of Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90

Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90

By Anne M. Butler

Why this book?

This is a scholarly work that provides an unvarnished look into the world of the frontier prostitute. This is an often-overlooked facet of frontier life and the constricted choices women had available to them, should they not pursue a more traditional life for one reason or another. Hint – the life of a prostitute and Miss Kitty of Gun Smoke fame diverge rapidly at this point.

From the list:

The best books on the dark side of the Wild West – prostitution, bad whiskey and drugs

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Book cover of The Tale of Kieu: Truyen Kieu

The Tale of Kieu: Truyen Kieu

By Nguyen Du

Why this book?

The Tale of Kieu is an early 19th Century epic poem and the cornerstone of Vietnamese literature. Adapted from a 17th Century Chinese novel, it is the story of a beautiful, well-to-do young woman forced into prostitution to save her family from destitution in a time of great government corruption and civil unrest. The poem is so revered in Vietnam that there is a popular branch of fortune-telling that uses it for predictions, and Kieu’s sacrifice is seen as mirroring the sacrifices Vietnamese have made in times of war and hardship, even across the centuries before the poem…

From the list:

The best books about prostitution and prostitutes

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