> I really love Abebooks. Ever since I bought The Plump Pig for my mom last summer, they’re onto me. They’ve got my number. They know how to directly and shamelessly appeal to the Odd Shelfer in me. There’s all that marvelous old treasure. I’m hopelessly dazzled; I just want to live and wander on their website forever. Give me a pup tent, some tins of mustard-flavored sardines, saltine crackers, ginger ale and a photo of Hugh Laurie. I could be happy.
Here’s a recent email they sent that features their latest idea for ‘theme reading’ which sent me running for my pen and wishlist.
The introduction and the book descriptions are the work of abebooks
. After each book description, I have a brief comment about whether I’d pick up the book if I met it on a street corner somewhere.
Street Reading: World’s Oldest Profession in FictionThe members of the world’s oldest profession have been portrayed in many ways through fictional literature over the centuries, including the temptress, the fallen woman, the hooker with a heart of gold and the tragic victim.
The Greeks, the Romans, the Elizabethans and the Victorians were particularly fascinated by prostitutes although modern novelists keep returning to prostitution themes again and again. Our selection has tried to steer clear of erotica (although John Cleland’s Fanny Hill can be considered an early example of pornography in English prose) and the countless pulp paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s that feature hookers. This list includes the likes of Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Mario Llosa Vargas, William T. Vollmann and Paulo Coelho.
Working girls often appear as supporting characters – such as Lorena Wood in Lonesome Dove, Bianca in Othello, Sandy and Candy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind – but many writers have used a prostitute as their central character and attempted to provide an insight into sex and life on the Game.
Courtesans, streetwalkers, call-girls, escorts, hookers, madams, fallen women, scarlet women and ladies of the night – call them what you will, but prostitutes are continue to be a recurring theme in literature.
25 Prostitute-Themed Novels
The Bitter Orange Tree
– Istrati Panait.A hard-to-find novel from 1931, this love triangle features two men and a prostitute.
Oh, abebooks! You tempters…you drive me mad with stuff like ‘1931’ and ‘hard-to-find’. I like that title, too. Never heard of this author.
Fanny Hill – John Cleland.
This infamous novel about an 18th century prostitute is also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.
The last time I saw this book was in one of those miniature editions. I almost bought it because I was in a short-lived 18th-century mood, but I ultimately resisted it. The size would make it uncomfortable to read and something so dainty would surely get dogged up in a hurry.Man and Wife
– Beth BrownA risqué thriller (the mob, detectives etc) from 1933 later reprinted as The Profession of Marie Simon.
Oooh, more early 1930s reading! Sounds a little noir-ish. The later title change seems an improvement.
Last Nights of Paris
– Philippe SoupaultPublished in English in 1929, a prostitute struggles to save Paris. Soupault was an early surrealist.
More early 20th century and French to boot. And surrealism. I am so there!
Nana – Emile Zola.
From 1880, Nana goes from street girl to high-class hooker. Things go badly for the men who pursue her.
I read this at a time when Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears were all front-page news for their misbehavior. Nana reminded me of them — the good looks but dearth of talent and the way Nana would move into a mansion and trash it so badly that she had to move out only months later. This book and the character it was based on make a brief appearance in the 1938 movie Paul Muni movie about Zola’s life. She’s quite sanitized there..
To Beg I Am Ashamed
– Sheila CousinsSupposed co-written by Graham Greene, this is a fictitious ‘autobiography’ of a London prostitute.
Hmm…Graham Greene. Isn’t that title odd, with the awkward infinitive form tacked on the front?
George C. FosterThis Jazz Age novel from 1930 illustrates how thoughts on sexuality were changing.
I’m beguiled by this one, too. I like the cover. You could park an airplane on that expanse of white shoulder.Last Exit to Brooklyn
Hubert Selby JrThis controversial novel from 1964 features two prostitutes – Georgette, a transvestite, and Tralala.
My hazy recollection is that this book was made into a movie? Is that right? Also, why does Rosie O’Donnell come to mind?Oliver Twist
Charles DickensNancy, Sikes’ girlfriend, is a key character in his unromantic portrayal of Victorian crime and poverty.
Now that I’ve finally learned to love Charles Dickens (Great Expectations
was my gateway drug), maybe I should give Oliver Twist a go.Tristessa
Jack KerouacA novella from 1960, set in Mexico, about a drug addicted impoverished prostitute.
I’m a little meh about Kerouac. I want to like him better, though. Maybe a novella? Something in which Dean Moriarty is not a character? Seems promising.
My Little Sister
– Elizabeth Robins.Published in 1913, this scarce novel addresses prostitution and white slavery in London.
I’m interested in reading the older stuff because I want to know how far they could go at the time to push the boundries of what was acceptable in print.
Gracia – a Social Tragedy
Frank Everett PlummerPublished in 1900 by radical publisher Charles H. Kerr, this is a tale of fallen women, told entirely in verse.
In verse? Oh, dear. I don’t know.Boule de suif
– Guy de Maupassant.The inspiration for John Ford’s Stagecoach movie – prostitute Boule de Suif and others flee to Le Havre.
I would never have connected de Maupassant and John Wayne! Dang! Cool!Yama: The Pit A Novel in Three Parts
– Alexandre Kuprin.A Russian novel translated into English in 1929 – a powerful epic about prostitution in Russia.
Grittiness knows no borders. And it’s cold in Russia –gotta do something to stay warm.In the Company of the Courtesan
– Sarah Dunant.Set in 1527, a famed courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini takes her business from Rome to Venice.
BOOKLEAVES read this one. I enjoyed those descriptions of Venice and the narration of the dwarf.The Blue Note Book
– James A. Levine.Levine’s debut novel from 2000. An Indian girl is sold into the sex trade at the age of nine.
I’m squeamish about reading about children and sex, so I don’t know. I don’t think so.The Green House
Mario Vargas Llosa.The Peruvian author’s second novel, translated in 1968, about a brothel on the edge of town.
I’ve never read any Mario Vargas Llosa. This looks like a good place to start.Whores for Gloria
William T. Vollmann.Published in 1991, a Vietnam vet searches for a beautiful street prostitute who may or may not exist.
Vollmann’s name seems familiar…have I read anything else by him? I love the assonance of this title. The Vietnam vet aspect puts me off a little.Eleven Minutes
Paulo Coelho.A young Brazilian girl travels to Switzerland and joins a brothel, and then meets a painter.
I think my friend Veronica has read this book. Although Paulo Coelho is decidedly not one of my favorites, I meant to ask her how she liked it. I’m worried that it would be typical Coelho, chock-full of parables and cardboard characters.My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time
– Liz Jensen.A time-travelling whore? A 19th century Copenhagen prostitute goes to 21st century London.
Another great title! Time travel! Yay!
Hundred Dollar Baby
– Robert B. Parker.A Spenser mystery from 2006 – the Boston private eye is asked to help a call girl.
I don’t care for mysteries, but I’ve heard that the Spenser series is really good.The Dress Lodger
– Sheri Holman.A novel set in 1831 Sunderland in a cholera epidemic – Gustine turns to the Game in desperation.
I’d like to read this one and pair it with a nonfiction book on my wishlist called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is about the siege of cholera in London during the 19th century and how public health officials finally figured out how to fix the problem.
I’ve been shying away from this novel since 2004, mostly because of its size. I shouldn’t be so ridiculous; I’m sure I’d like it.Let the Great World Spin
– Colum McCann.McCann’s novel from 2009 features the trial of a New York City prostitute.
This goes on that subcategory of my wishlist, known as the Mos Def wishlist.Streetwalker
– Anonymous (Jonathan Gash).Supposed be a memoir from a London prostitute but it is really Gash’s debut novel.
I can’t believe it…I read this! It was filed in the “deviant behavior” section of our library. I went through a brief stage at about 19 or 20 when I was strongly attracted to books of that kind. At the time, I thought it read pretty tidily for a memoir. The first part, which describes a typical day in the life is the best part, then it slides too rapidly into a cautionary tale.
I definitely have round heels when it comes to this sort of thing. I can’t help but wonder what abebooks
will do next time to tempt me towards building an Odd Shelf.