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Massage and the Writer: Essays on Asian Massage Paperback – August 13, 2014
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"[A] fascinating portrait of a man who has ventured into the titillating establishments the world has to offer."--Kirkus Reviews
"Massage and the Writer's salacious narrative, suffuse with dangerously honest erotic musings, is certain to garner Cook a cult following among libertine expats."--City Weekend
"Fascinating, enlightening and insightful."--Bookish Asia
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I always respect raw truth no matter what it consists of because it takes a person with soul to profess raw truths and Isham Cook did that on each page you turn. For sure we all need to be touched regularly because touch calms the beast in us all. I believe this author knows our world hungers for it and probably if each of us would surrender to this reality and find a way to make it happen as many of us do in massaging be it erotic or therapeutic, this would be a better world. This is a very unique work of art that gets to the core if you don't run.
Backhouse's Oriental escapades remained unpublished until a century after his death, but Isham Cook is living in his scandal. Following his sinister second book, The Exact Unknown, Cook effectively blacklisted himself from the Victorian-leaning local literary scene. The Los Angeles Review of Books' China Blog publicly called Cook "a creepy white man with yellow fever," and Shanghai City Weekend magazine quipped that Cook is "less China hand and more Chynecologist."
Massage and the Writer, Cook's latest offering, continues to test his and the readers' sexual boundaries by sticking his metaphorical finger into the raw puckered folds of all things prurient. Massage focuses on Cook's pursuit of "transactional sex" in bawdyhouses and massage parlors across China and greater Asia, and like the venues he visits, his book is a pink-lit portal to the underworld, busy inside with intimate squalor.
Straight-laced book reviewers beholden to the chaste mass-market seem determined to keep Cook in permanent obscurity. But Massage's salacious narrative, suffuse with dangerously honest erotic musings ("Once sex is monetized and money eroticized, they can never be sundered. Money doesn't debase sex, it transfigures it."), is certain to garner Cook a cult following among libertine expats.
Massage and the Writer is another collection of non-fictional essays but this time focused on the author’s experiences with massage in a variety of countries and situations. The essays take us on a journey through China, America, Japan, Southeast Asia and beyond. Isham is very “open borders” on where he’ll stick his dick, and it’s not confined to women either – there’s a memorable paragraph about sucking off a young man in a Turkish sauna and a whole chapter on men massaging men.
Like the metaphor of the fake Black Forest cake as a window onto Chinese society in his other collection of essays At The Teahouse Cafe, here Isham takes one theme – massage – and uses it as a lens to view a number of different cultures. The author believes that massage is one of the truest windows onto a nation’s soul. We learn about the constant threat of litigation and false rape threats when attending a massage school in the US, the open-planned massage rooms of Myanmar where nobody is ever alone; and how Islam in Malaysia results in massage services being “outsourced” to non-Malays.
Personally, I found the whole book fascinating, enlightening and insightful. With this particular topic though, it really depends on the reader’s own leanings whether they will enjoy it or not. One man’s five star review will be an expat magazine’s one star review – and for the exact same reasons. Isham may have called his other book The Exact Unknown, but the reason why you won’t see Massage and the Writer reviewed in, say, TimeOut Beijing is a very “exact known”: fear.
Isham is a university professor by trade, and his books reveal the very best of what a good university professor should be. Before the mind-narrowing curse of political correctness took complete control of Western campuses, it was the responsibility of a good professor to broaden his students’ minds with challenging, if sometimes uncomfortable, reading material. This book is a great example of such material. Certain writers on expat and literary magazines and blogs would do well to step out of their self-imposed “safe space” and see what Isham has to say.