It was recently announced that the finalists for the NLA‘s Geoff Mains Non-fiction Book Award for 2009 are:
- Lee Harrington, Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond (lulu.com)
- david stein with David Schacter, Ask the Man Who Owns Him: The Real Lives of Gay Masters and slaves (Perfectbound Press)
- Two Knotty Boys, Two Knotty Boys Back on the Ropes (Green Candy)
I am a judge in the NLA: International writing awards this year, judging the Geoff Mains Non-fiction Book Award. And with books this good, it’s a tough decision.
All three finalists are books that I would encourage any active BDSM practitioner (even if you are active only in your fantasies) to go out and buy. Picking a single winner is difficult when there are such high quality books of depth and importance. The three finalists each are quite distinct. One is largely a hands-on how-to, one presents an incredible look at others, and one demands that we look at ourselves.
Herewith, a more detailed review of each of the three:
In their introduction to “Two Knotty Boys: Back on the Ropes,” JD and Dan write that “this is not a book about dominance and submission. It is a tool kit.” In other words, they aren’t going to tell you how to play nor judge what you do with your ropes. I appreciate this attitude a lot, because I feel so many of the self-proclaimed “BDSM experts” out there (and we are ALL self-proclaimed, make no mistake about that) tend to push their way of playing or their way of approaching relationships, attitudes, and protocols as the “one true way.” The book includes some of the best and most basic ties from their first book and then goes the next step into more cool stuff one can do with rope. The full-color photographs make for clear and concise how-to, and the assortment of ties included range from decorative and artistic to functional and innovative. The legendary Ken Marcus does the photography. This book is a great addition to any kinkster’s reference shelf.
Another book which does not push a single agenda of right way/wrong way is “Ask the Man Who Owns Him.” As the inestimable elder statesman Joseph Bean writes in his introduction, “In the nearly 40 years since the Leatherman’s Handbook [was published], no other book has accomplished what Ask the Man Who Owns Him does… [which is] showcase enough lives and living arrangements to liberate us from our preconceptions.” Author stein himself describes the book as a “reality check for [anyone] interested in this lifestyle.” I can’t tell you how invaluable I found this attitude and this book for taking that tack. The romanticized books, whether presented as fiction or instruction, that promote a single “right way” feed into the reader’s fantasies and probably sell better, but we sorely need these real tellings of our stories and the reality of living this lifestyle to balance those out.
Another thing this book isn’t is just a write-up of some couples that the authors were chummy with. Although both are longtime members of the community, they approached their research as field work, screening respondents through an online questionnaire, and then taping the interviews face to face to insure accuracy and veracity. They were merciless, too, at trying to get through the veneer of perfection any “role model” couple will naturally try to present, as well. They succeeded.
The most difficult book to “judge,” because it is the most likely to be viewed differently in the eye of the beholder, is Lee Harrington’s “Sacred Kink.” Among the people Lee thanks in the opening of the book are, “my fantastic content editors who helped me make sure this all made sense and that I did not make anything up.” For those who are skeptics about the spiritual world, the entire exercise must seem “made up.” But if there is any doorway to allow skeptics to be ambushed by inexplicable spiritual epiphanies, BDSM play is probably one of the keenest.
I, on the other hand, am a believer in spiritual pursuits, so I found this to be a delightful book. Tricky, esoteric concepts are brought to light in clear, readable language. Harrington brings together a ton of research and knowledge on traditional sacred practices that relate to (or can even be considered precursors to) modern BDSM, and on modern BDSM practices that can act as doorways into altered states and spiritual enlightenment. The book is an achievement, an incredible distillation of knowledge, a PhD thesis on Sacred Kink.
As of this moment, I have not yet cast my vote, and wish I could simply vote for all three. I can’t, however, so instead I am encouraging everyone to buy, read, engage with, and cherish these books that each represent the best of our community.
NLA: International — BDSM community organization that sponsors and administrates the annual writing awards for non-fiction book, novel, short story, article, and anthology.