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Whip Smart: A Memoir

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A dark, wild, powerful memoir about a young woman’s transformation from college student to professional dominatrix While a college student at The New School, Melissa Febos spent four years working as a dominatrix in a midtown dungeon. In poetic, nuanced prose she charts how unchecked risk-taking eventually gave way to a course of self-destruction. But as she recounts c A dark, wild, powerful memoir about a young woman’s transformation from college student to professional dominatrix While a college student at The New School, Melissa Febos spent four years working as a dominatrix in a midtown dungeon. In poetic, nuanced prose she charts how unchecked risk-taking eventually gave way to a course of self-destruction. But as she recounts crossing over the very boundaries that she set for her own safety, she never plays the victim. In fact, the glory of this memoir is Melissa’s ability to illuminate the strange and powerful truths that she learned as she found her way out of a hell of her own making. Rest assured; the reader will emerge from the journey more or less unscathed.


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A dark, wild, powerful memoir about a young woman’s transformation from college student to professional dominatrix While a college student at The New School, Melissa Febos spent four years working as a dominatrix in a midtown dungeon. In poetic, nuanced prose she charts how unchecked risk-taking eventually gave way to a course of self-destruction. But as she recounts c A dark, wild, powerful memoir about a young woman’s transformation from college student to professional dominatrix While a college student at The New School, Melissa Febos spent four years working as a dominatrix in a midtown dungeon. In poetic, nuanced prose she charts how unchecked risk-taking eventually gave way to a course of self-destruction. But as she recounts crossing over the very boundaries that she set for her own safety, she never plays the victim. In fact, the glory of this memoir is Melissa’s ability to illuminate the strange and powerful truths that she learned as she found her way out of a hell of her own making. Rest assured; the reader will emerge from the journey more or less unscathed.

30 review for Whip Smart: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    I was intrigued when I heard the interview on NPR; after reading her book I can say without question she is a much better interviewer than she is writer. Whip Smart is clearly the result of a pretty face, an interesting job, and an absolutely AMAZING publicist. Given her career choice I’m apprehensive to use the word boring; perhaps she was so mentally removed from her own story, her own apathetic voice was the only thing that resonated with me. I wanted to hear more about her days, and this mys I was intrigued when I heard the interview on NPR; after reading her book I can say without question she is a much better interviewer than she is writer. Whip Smart is clearly the result of a pretty face, an interesting job, and an absolutely AMAZING publicist. Given her career choice I’m apprehensive to use the word boring; perhaps she was so mentally removed from her own story, her own apathetic voice was the only thing that resonated with me. I wanted to hear more about her days, and this mysterious double-life she led, more of how she managed to stay in college (all the while getting straight A’s at The New School?!?) yet all I got was her narcissistic voice repetitively going on about how amazing she is, and how despite her job the world still thinks she is a wonderful person. She was so self-indulgent, that even during her most indecisive moments she was still convinced that not making a decision was her best move. The only appropriate word I would use to describe the content of the book is convenient; it applies to her drug use, many parts of her story and her self described “happy ending” (I thought the boyfriend was downright fake, but as it turns out, they broke up about the same time the book published...). She blatantly left most of the story out or embellished certain parts – from how BOTH of her parents were perfectly alright with her career choice once she came clean, to how she only had to hear about a neighbor who was domming, (and then poof she became one herself - amazing!). She certainly has a tale to tell – it’s just a shame this wasn’t it. Her writing was stale; some sentences were so abysmal, I felt the need to write them down: "The kind of kissing [that's:] like stepping into a sun-warmed pond at dusk." and "...I felt it already, the way you can feel autumn coming." To find out she actually teaches others how to write, exemplifies she might be able to only successfully teach the chapter on irony.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Judah

    I contemplated one star, but she does have a few insightful moments. What springs to mind first is the vanity on display in the book. Someone holds herself in very high regard. (which, despite what a commenter on another review says, is NOT the same as being proud of one's self) There were moments when I caught myself thinking that if I were to unfortunately find myself trapped in conversation with her, I'd need an icepick for my ear-drums. What comes to mind next is that it frequently felt like I contemplated one star, but she does have a few insightful moments. What springs to mind first is the vanity on display in the book. Someone holds herself in very high regard. (which, despite what a commenter on another review says, is NOT the same as being proud of one's self) There were moments when I caught myself thinking that if I were to unfortunately find myself trapped in conversation with her, I'd need an icepick for my ear-drums. What comes to mind next is that it frequently felt like I'd just paid to be someone's therapist. As though she's still working through stuff, even if she's convinced herself otherwise...and not just in regard to the career choices. Amusing, and somewhat sad, given her background/history with psychotherapy. (and for a self described cultural anthropologist, she sure seems to like making broad statements about entire classes of people) Finally, there seemed to be a whole lot of hypocritical judgement (or just judgements in general) of people on her part. It's obvious that she views sex-workers as being lower than her...a P.O.V. she seems to have for a lot of people, truth be told. Then she goes on about "the normals" while saying elsewhere that she never was really into the lifestyle, just the way it made her feel. The sad thing is, having heard her interview, she seemed nice enough...but this book reveals a much less appealing side of her.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jen Knox

    I have to appreciate any woman who tells a story like this without saying, "Look, look what happened to me," but rather "I got seduced by a world that is less glamorous than it seems." OK, so much for literary analysis, but hey, I'm not in the business of that. I'm in the business of reading memoir for pleasure, and while I can't deny the craft of the thing, I did enjoy Febos' story because it felt genuine above all else. Admittedly, this is a book I thought I might relate to long before I read I have to appreciate any woman who tells a story like this without saying, "Look, look what happened to me," but rather "I got seduced by a world that is less glamorous than it seems." OK, so much for literary analysis, but hey, I'm not in the business of that. I'm in the business of reading memoir for pleasure, and while I can't deny the craft of the thing, I did enjoy Febos' story because it felt genuine above all else. Admittedly, this is a book I thought I might relate to long before I read it because, although my background couldn't be more different than the author's, I can relate to the lure of the sex industry. What I liked most about this book seems the very same thing other reviewers didn't: Febos is smart, and, she tells the read as much. Brava! Education and intelligence have nothing to do with seduction, and this is what spoke to me. Febos tells a story that gets, yes, gritty and there are scenes I'd rather not remember, but her story is a universal one in that she was on a quest for self-realization. She isn't looking to be saved nor is she looking for sympathy, she's merely recounting a journey--and this is what a good memoir does.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jafar

    I’ve long decided to avoid any book of memoir that only intends to say, “look at how fucked up I am,” or, “look what an asshole I am.” Their misplaced and gratuitous narcissism nauseates me. I thought this book would be different. While I've never been tempted to read Belle de Jour and its likes, the memoir of a professional dominatrix sounded intriguing. I wasn’t interested in why some men pay to subject themselves to pain and humiliation, but was more trying to see what kind a woman does that I’ve long decided to avoid any book of memoir that only intends to say, “look at how fucked up I am,” or, “look what an asshole I am.” Their misplaced and gratuitous narcissism nauseates me. I thought this book would be different. While I've never been tempted to read Belle de Jour and its likes, the memoir of a professional dominatrix sounded intriguing. I wasn’t interested in why some men pay to subject themselves to pain and humiliation, but was more trying to see what kind a woman does that as a job and why. I have to admit that I liked Febos’s writing at times, and some of her self-analyzing musings were witty, though ultimately vacuous. The parts about her work and clients and coworkers were mildly entertaining – if sometimes revolting. A lot of irrelevant details and stories are narrated because apparently Febos thinks everything about her is great and should be shared. She eventually realizes that there’s nothing cool and sexy about her job; she’s filled with loathing for herself and her clients; and she quits her job, while subjecting her readers to torture. Old habits die hard, I guess. Oh, and the hypocrisy of it. She has very high regards for herself, and keeps telling herself and her friends that she’s not a prostitute. Prostitutes come from poor backgrounds or third-world countries, are abused and brutalized, and are to be pitied and condescended because they’re either forced into it or don’t know what’s good for them. But sex work for a hip American girl from a privileged background is liberating and empowering. Having sex with someone for money is vile, but getting paid for urinating and defecating on them is not. In spite of all of her pseudo-intellectual deliberations and her constant reminders that she’s a 4.0 student, Febos is just a money-grabbing whore – admittedly one with better writing skills that a typical street-walker.

  5. 4 out of 5

    R.G. Evans

    In a recent "Studio 360" interview, Mary Karr, responding to a remark about the influence her memoir "The Liar's Club" has had on the publishing world, said that there are a lot of bad memoirs out there that she just wasn't responsible for. I'm afraid "Whip Smart" might just be another of those memoirs. Who would think that a memoir about a college student moonlighting as a professional dominatrix could be . . . boring? But, to me, "Whip Smart" was just that. In fact, by comparison to the life pre In a recent "Studio 360" interview, Mary Karr, responding to a remark about the influence her memoir "The Liar's Club" has had on the publishing world, said that there are a lot of bad memoirs out there that she just wasn't responsible for. I'm afraid "Whip Smart" might just be another of those memoirs. Who would think that a memoir about a college student moonlighting as a professional dominatrix could be . . . boring? But, to me, "Whip Smart" was just that. In fact, by comparison to the life presented in this book, my own life began to look vastly more interesting. Somewhere about a third of the way into the book, Febos turns a familiar memoir corner and "Whip Smart" becomes a story of drug addiction and recovery. Apparently when I wasn't looking, twelve-step programs added a mandatory thirteenth step: Step 13--write a memoir about your recovery. Heavily steeped in jargon-friendly self-awareness (Febos's mother was a pyschoanalyst), "Whip Smart" ultimately falls under the description Febos tosses out in conversation in the book itself: "It's just so Oprah." So Febos overcomes addiction and other destructive life choices to go on to write "Whip Smart" and become a professor of college writing, abandoning her life as a dominatrix to posterity and the pages of this book. Pity: I might have enjoyed knowing her back then.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Funny that I should read two "female domination" books back-to-back, but maybe that's because I purchased them together. The other book -- a novel -- Permanent Obscurity by Richard Perez -- was everything this was not: hilarious and down-and-dirty -- and not meant to be serious "literary" like this one. I liked this book mostly, though I found the writing to be forced and self-consciousness -- like something a fan of Anais Nin would write. There are genuine moments though, and I think this autho Funny that I should read two "female domination" books back-to-back, but maybe that's because I purchased them together. The other book -- a novel -- Permanent Obscurity by Richard Perez -- was everything this was not: hilarious and down-and-dirty -- and not meant to be serious "literary" like this one. I liked this book mostly, though I found the writing to be forced and self-consciousness -- like something a fan of Anais Nin would write. There are genuine moments though, and I think this author will write a better one in the future. Some parts of this were hard to get through -- and not because of the kinky stuff ... but because the author takes herself so seriously. This book is not as much fun as it could have been.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    “My sessions stopped here. I let them go with relief, like sandbags that had kept me from floating out into sprawling blue of my own desire. My judgements loosened as well; I no longer had to cling so tightly to my superiority over the women I’d worked with, or the men. Funny, that I had spent so much time trying to shrink the world to a manageable size when that smallness so broke my heart, when the burden of it weighed so heavily. The unknowable is frightening and difficult to trust, but what “My sessions stopped here. I let them go with relief, like sandbags that had kept me from floating out into sprawling blue of my own desire. My judgements loosened as well; I no longer had to cling so tightly to my superiority over the women I’d worked with, or the men. Funny, that I had spent so much time trying to shrink the world to a manageable size when that smallness so broke my heart, when the burden of it weighed so heavily. The unknowable is frightening and difficult to trust, but what is the alternative?” in Whip Smart, Melissa Febos writes of her four years as a dominatrix in New York. stories of relationships (personal & with clients), lies, her drug addiction, therapy, attending AA & more lies, all while attending classes at The New School. this memoir was everything i wanted it to be. it was uncomfortable, inspiring & shocking. Melissa’s prose is so emotional, honest & i am looking forward to reading more from her.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Raina

    Finally got around to reading this - I bought a copy when Febos came to the Olympia library. And of course, the insight into the world of the dungeons and deeds of the professional dominatrix is fascinating. But what I was really impressed me was the honest way Febos exposed herself, deconstructed the world, and discussed the complexity of life. I especially identified with her relatively trauma-free childhood, her disdain for innocence, her intelligence. Fascinating, and it made me seriously th Finally got around to reading this - I bought a copy when Febos came to the Olympia library. And of course, the insight into the world of the dungeons and deeds of the professional dominatrix is fascinating. But what I was really impressed me was the honest way Febos exposed herself, deconstructed the world, and discussed the complexity of life. I especially identified with her relatively trauma-free childhood, her disdain for innocence, her intelligence. Fascinating, and it made me seriously think about my own life. Read it in two sick days home from work. And one of very few adult books I get to read these days.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Miera

    I heard about this memoir on NPR and from the interview, it sounded quirky and a bit more fun-spirited. The actual book was a complete downer. The author's drug addiction didn't interest me and her experiences in "the dungeon" were disgusting (and I'm NOT a prude by any means)and twisted. I guess I didn't realize quite how much sexual contact was involved in being a dominatrix or how much brutal violence and bloodshed. I'd kind of assumed that the whole S&M thing was pretty much a mind trip feat I heard about this memoir on NPR and from the interview, it sounded quirky and a bit more fun-spirited. The actual book was a complete downer. The author's drug addiction didn't interest me and her experiences in "the dungeon" were disgusting (and I'm NOT a prude by any means)and twisted. I guess I didn't realize quite how much sexual contact was involved in being a dominatrix or how much brutal violence and bloodshed. I'd kind of assumed that the whole S&M thing was pretty much a mind trip featuring power-play, and role-reversal but in actuality many of these scenarios were deeply disturbing. All I could think about was the selfishness of everyone involved - those seeking and paying for the pleasure of being tortured and subjugated and the doms who were in it for the money. The book left me feeling empty and bleak.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachelfm

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I picked this up because of the Terri Gross interview on NPR and have to say that the interview was more compelling than the book. I really don't go for a lot of self-reflection from situations that are extremely avoidable, and I also found it irritating how the author seemed to switch between the tone of the memoir and into an academic register. She talked about being an anthropologist in her own life at the time, which I found to be sort of an unnecessary device to describe how we are all aware I picked this up because of the Terri Gross interview on NPR and have to say that the interview was more compelling than the book. I really don't go for a lot of self-reflection from situations that are extremely avoidable, and I also found it irritating how the author seemed to switch between the tone of the memoir and into an academic register. She talked about being an anthropologist in her own life at the time, which I found to be sort of an unnecessary device to describe how we are all aware of our surroundings and ourselves moving within them. Deploying phrases like 'intellectualizing the fetishism of the female form' made the intention confusing; was it a case study of this tribe of sex-industry workers? Or was it the author trying to distance her new professor self from from her former dominatrix-addict self? Or was she just trying to provide justification that she was smart enough and informed enough to choose this path? I felt like while reading there was this little dominatrix in a latex corset and 7-inch stilettos bouncing up and down going, "I went to college! In New York City! With a 3.9 whatever GPA!" I guess when you've worked in the sex industry it's something you have to overcome to be taken seriously in other fields. Essentially the arc of the book goes something like this: 1. Adolescent white female from unremarkable and stable background loses her way for no apparent reason. It's just so hard to be so friggin' smart with unstoppable sex-appeal. 2. Drug habit and college coupled with extreme obsession with exploring her limits lead her to become a dominatrix. 3. She dominatrixes (yes, I conjugated that) for three years. 4. The high from dominatrixing replaces the high from drugs. 5. The realization dawns that being paid to poop on people for money is actually not the paradigm of independent, strong womanhood. 6. Good therapists and non-psycho boyfriends fix everything. 7. Oh, that ALL brushes with the informal sector led to splashy book deals. The actual personal transformation in this book...a young person moving out of drug addiction...was a pretty compelling piece of the story, but it was a small piece. And yes, as you can imagine the revelations from the chambers within the dungeon were titillating and gross. I'd really only recommend this if your bookgroup has access to alcohol and you need to get people talking.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Disapointing. The author is a better interview subject than writer. I heard part of a Terry Gross interview and was intrigued enough to buy this memoir of a dominatrix. I suppose, anyone who writes a memoir is--by default--self-absorbed, but there's precious little in here about being a dominatrix and quite a lot about being a self-deluded drug addict. BTW, if you've always thought you'd enjoy stomping about in heels and brandishing a whip...be prepared for enemas and catheters as well. Why? This Disapointing. The author is a better interview subject than writer. I heard part of a Terry Gross interview and was intrigued enough to buy this memoir of a dominatrix. I suppose, anyone who writes a memoir is--by default--self-absorbed, but there's precious little in here about being a dominatrix and quite a lot about being a self-deluded drug addict. BTW, if you've always thought you'd enjoy stomping about in heels and brandishing a whip...be prepared for enemas and catheters as well. Why? This author isn't curious about that, or why fetishes are so integral to male sexuality. If you are curious about Melissa Febos, read this book; if you are curious about being a dominatrix, read a different book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ruhegeist

    heard a tiny bit of Febos' interview on NPR and was intrigued enough to find and listen to it in full. look forward to reading her book. i'm really not sure how to rate this book, so i'm giving it 3. i could go either up or down a star. i can agree with all the points other reviewers have made. self indulgent, brutally matter of fact. am i just annoyed with the happily-ever-afterness of the end? some of the disjointedness of the sections/writing? definitely some good and enlightening passages th heard a tiny bit of Febos' interview on NPR and was intrigued enough to find and listen to it in full. look forward to reading her book. i'm really not sure how to rate this book, so i'm giving it 3. i could go either up or down a star. i can agree with all the points other reviewers have made. self indulgent, brutally matter of fact. am i just annoyed with the happily-ever-afterness of the end? some of the disjointedness of the sections/writing? definitely some good and enlightening passages that i bookmarked and will return to. perhaps i will revise this upon reflection.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    This book had me whipped, seriously. The memoir of a professional dominatrix humiliating and punishing a wide variety of paying male customers in a dark seedy cavernous basement establishment in New York City would be, you'd think, a rather interesting book. As it happened, I floundered and foundered badly with it. For me, it never achieved any kind of momentum. Febos seems to think that giving details of having tea and scones and the like is how a writer lends balance and adds atmospheric detail This book had me whipped, seriously. The memoir of a professional dominatrix humiliating and punishing a wide variety of paying male customers in a dark seedy cavernous basement establishment in New York City would be, you'd think, a rather interesting book. As it happened, I floundered and foundered badly with it. For me, it never achieved any kind of momentum. Febos seems to think that giving details of having tea and scones and the like is how a writer lends balance and adds atmospheric detail. Fuck all of that. I read this for the good parts, most of which are long in coming, or are handled like coitus interruptus when they do. When you've worked up a client and are about to give him the golden shower, don't cut away without filling out the whole scene, the reaction and the aftermath. And yet, she does this a lot, at least in the earlier half of the book. It seems to be a suspense ploy with no payoff other than to piss off the reader. For the sake of context, let's tell you that Melissa Febos was a college gal trying to make ends meet in NYC early in the decade. Her apartment neighbor was a dominatrix. Steeling up courage, she knocked on her neighbor's door and over coffee the two discussed the business. Febos was fascinated, looked into the industry and got a job in a place called The Dungeon, quickly learning the ropes, so to speak. Along the way, she cultivates a nascent drug habit, has a fairly sociopathic dating life, agonizes over the meaning of control and sexuality and the like, and dribbles bits of life in the S&M parlor. It's one of those books that takes so long to get to the good parts that when they finally arrive you just don't care anymore. Certainly I read this with prurient interest, and, no, S&M is of no interest to me personally. Life is degrading and humilating enough without having to pay to be subjected to more of it. Like many books on sex work, and the authors who've experienced it, this one vacillates between defending the rights of workers and clients to pursue their bliss and the moralistic arc that always has the worker looking for a clean and better life at the end of the tunnel, which oddly lends a moralistic tone to the whole thing. I can never quite parse this line of reasoning out, yet I see it in book after book on sex work. I struggled to get through this, and I get a sense in reading it that Febos struggled mightily in writing it. I learned some things, but the narrative didn't make it easy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    This beautifully composed book stands out not just because of the subject, and the author's sensitive, inquisitive, analytical, and sympathetic review of her life, but also because Febos is careful not to skip the stories beneath the story. She talks about truth/lying, doesn't gloss over or over-dramatize her struggle with addiction, takes us through her family's reaction to her job (carefully, it seems; I got the feeling that Febos was trying to permit her family as much privacy as possible wit This beautifully composed book stands out not just because of the subject, and the author's sensitive, inquisitive, analytical, and sympathetic review of her life, but also because Febos is careful not to skip the stories beneath the story. She talks about truth/lying, doesn't gloss over or over-dramatize her struggle with addiction, takes us through her family's reaction to her job (carefully, it seems; I got the feeling that Febos was trying to permit her family as much privacy as possible without excluding them) and takes readers back to her child-self to consider how her early personality may have influenced to participate in sex-work. The big shock to me re: Febos's dominatrix work wasn't confusion or conflict around sexuality and power dynamics, but how sad I felt for her clients, especially those men who seemed trapped in grotesque, cyclical abuse fantasies. I kept thinking: is this the best we've got as a society --secretive, base, unending subjugation, wrapped up in shiny dressing? What does this say about the options available to men? It's easy to understand the men who hired Febos to be perpetrators who help create and sustain unhealthy relational patterns and promote systematic abuse, but they also seemed incredibly hopeless. Object and subject aside, I'd like to come back to just how interesting and funny this autobiography is. SO many great quotes! My favorite: "Most of the time, my lifestyle felt like a choice I had made, because I was smarter, more complicated, terminally unique. But not always, and in those other moments when it felt like a bondage to something I didn't believe in I was choked with envy." The one thing that Febos didn't get into that I wondered about was race. She mentions her Puerto Rican grandmother, but says nothing about her own identity and how that may/may not have played out in her experience as a dom. Yes, can't fit EVERYTHING in just one book, but I'd be interested to hear her speak on it. All-in-all, really excellent work. Congrats, Ms. Febos!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    The writing is decent, but the author's contempt and disgust with her chosen profession ruined the book entirely for me. I picked it up thinking I would be getting an autobiography of a dominatrix who liked her job, or if not her job, at least her clients. Febos instead gave me a claustrophobic trip inside her last few years of drug abuse and a heaping helping of scorn for and judgment about submissives in general, her own personal clients in particular. I get that it's her own story, and true t The writing is decent, but the author's contempt and disgust with her chosen profession ruined the book entirely for me. I picked it up thinking I would be getting an autobiography of a dominatrix who liked her job, or if not her job, at least her clients. Febos instead gave me a claustrophobic trip inside her last few years of drug abuse and a heaping helping of scorn for and judgment about submissives in general, her own personal clients in particular. I get that it's her own story, and true to her life- and I certainly applaud her rigourous honesty for herself. But I didn't like reading it, I felt so sad for her clients. Also, it's poorly edited, with some glaring mistakes (words and usage) that smote my eyeballs.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    Kudos to the author for having the balls to write this memoir. I'm sure her story is not received lightly everywhere. Tho it is 2010, a lot of people still prefer to live in the dark ages, or prefer that WOMEN live in the dark ages. For the author to just go out there and write a book and say, I was a dominatrix and I enjoyed it sometimes and I did heroin as well.. gutsy. It is an interesting memoir. It takes readers to the nitty gritty world of S&M and tells just how far people go to get satisfa Kudos to the author for having the balls to write this memoir. I'm sure her story is not received lightly everywhere. Tho it is 2010, a lot of people still prefer to live in the dark ages, or prefer that WOMEN live in the dark ages. For the author to just go out there and write a book and say, I was a dominatrix and I enjoyed it sometimes and I did heroin as well.. gutsy. It is an interesting memoir. It takes readers to the nitty gritty world of S&M and tells just how far people go to get satisfaction and that satisfaction comes in all forms, ways, shapes, and sizes. Melissa began dominatrix work to pay for her expensive drug habit, and discovered she liked the power the job gave her and the self confidence so she stuck with it for four years. There is role playing, brown rain, gold rain, nipple clamps, doctor games, and many other things I would rather not mention here on goodreads. It's not for the sexually squeamish or easily offended. It is a memoir, however, and I did get the impression that Melissa is being absolutely honest and hiding nothing. I liked that she never made herself sound larger than life and that she admitted her flaws, mistakes, and conflicting emotions about her temporary career. Some of the stories made me cringe and some made me laugh. It was a good memoir, BUT I got tired of the drug talk. 75 percent of the United States has a drug or alcohol addiction and probably 25 percent are in AA meetings so that is nothing new to me. I grew very bored when the author started going on and on about her heroin and coke use, her AA meetings, and her personal issues. As perverted as it sounds, I picked this book up to know more about the "sexual underground" and when it veered off track, I lost interest. All in all, I was entertained and I have a better understanding now of what S&M, bondage, and all that stuff is about and why people do it.. or have it done to them. Three stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hat of Nikitich

    Three and a half? Three and three-quarters? Whip Smart was really interesting and, in fact, pretty smart. The author is very articulate, even if you might find her hard to relate to, or like. I had personal revelations of my own while reading it, mostly tangential to the book, but I don't think they would have been quite so clear without the sharp writing. That said, it does devolve from time to time into maudlin introspection and emotional flogging (no pun intended) that can be difficult to trea Three and a half? Three and three-quarters? Whip Smart was really interesting and, in fact, pretty smart. The author is very articulate, even if you might find her hard to relate to, or like. I had personal revelations of my own while reading it, mostly tangential to the book, but I don't think they would have been quite so clear without the sharp writing. That said, it does devolve from time to time into maudlin introspection and emotional flogging (no pun intended) that can be difficult to tread through. Such is the nature of memoirs. Whip Smart was intensely personal, in a good way, if sometimes in a difficult way. And this is without making mention of some of the author's more graphic and honest depictions of working life as a domme. What disappointed me most, ultimately, was the feeling that the author was always passing judgement on the scene and the emotional motivations of dommes in general because of her own circumstances. She had crippling emotional issues and an addiction, and her time as a dominatrix was heavily influenced by that. Her happy ending was getting out and letting go of it, finding her normality. And that's fine -- that's admirable, but it's not everyone. The intimation that being a domme is a crutch for a dependency or lack of stability elsewhere seems judgmental and short-sighted, not to mention the general tone of pity for other sex workers. Insightful, sharply written, but definitively a personal memoir of personal experiences.

  18. 5 out of 5

    K

    A really irritating woman talking about an interesting subject. Her narcissism and genuine disdain for everything and everyone she encounters takes all the fun out of it. Not cute. Plus several of the people I know who are current or former sex workers have very valid bones to pick with the way she represents a lot of the work, her fellow sex workers, and the clients. If you are at all interested in kink, do not turn to this book as a window into the world. Too much is inaccurate, dangerous, sex A really irritating woman talking about an interesting subject. Her narcissism and genuine disdain for everything and everyone she encounters takes all the fun out of it. Not cute. Plus several of the people I know who are current or former sex workers have very valid bones to pick with the way she represents a lot of the work, her fellow sex workers, and the clients. If you are at all interested in kink, do not turn to this book as a window into the world. Too much is inaccurate, dangerous, sex-negative, and BORING. And if you are interested in thoughtful, self-reflective writing, avoid this "too cool for school and I got away with it" memoir.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Quanah Edwards

    After I finished the Fifty Shades trilogy (Of Grey, Darker, Freed), I was ravenous looking for another book dealing with the BDSM lifestyle. While at Vroomans, I saw this on the recommended list and the cover and title intrigued me. A true story about a dominatrix? Yes, one please! Not only was it something in the BDSM range, but when I was 19-21, I wanted to become a dominatrix. I got so far as placing an ad in the Detroit Weekly and when I got a call, I got nervous. I wasn’t as brazen as I tho After I finished the Fifty Shades trilogy (Of Grey, Darker, Freed), I was ravenous looking for another book dealing with the BDSM lifestyle. While at Vroomans, I saw this on the recommended list and the cover and title intrigued me. A true story about a dominatrix? Yes, one please! Not only was it something in the BDSM range, but when I was 19-21, I wanted to become a dominatrix. I got so far as placing an ad in the Detroit Weekly and when I got a call, I got nervous. I wasn’t as brazen as I thought I was. Anyway, I thought this would be a really good book for me. I could see what she really went through and it would let me know if I could have really been a dominatrix…and after reading this, no I couldn’t have. Also, Melissa was on heroin and cocaine during the beginning of her career so maybe that made it easier for her to do a lot of her sessions. Sessions of hers included different bodily fluids, latex, medical rooms, enema’s and a lot of latex. She spares no details and at times, it’s a little hard to read. But I respect her honesty and attention to detail. What turned me off a bit with her was that she seemed a bit too snobby. She’s a smart woman, and felt she was better than some of her co-worker’s and her clients. She felt above them and was a bit condescending while writing. Yes, a heroin and cocaine addicted dominatrix thought she was better than those around her. Towards the end of the book, she became a bit more human and sympathetic. I’m glad, because if she would have stayed the same person, it would have left a bad taste in my mouth after reading it. If you’re interested in the world of dom’s, this is the book for you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Whitney Teal

    Here's a confession: I've never actually read a memoir before, so I went into Melissa Febos' cleverly titled Whip Smart with complete ignorance. As a result, I'm not sure if the book's half-plot, half-retroactive dime-store psychological self-exploration formula is typical of the genre or not. Either way, I found the real-life narrative of a twenty-year-old college student turned self-destructive sex worker simultaneously engaging, sickening, unflinchingly honest, and enormously annoying. Febos' Here's a confession: I've never actually read a memoir before, so I went into Melissa Febos' cleverly titled Whip Smart with complete ignorance. As a result, I'm not sure if the book's half-plot, half-retroactive dime-store psychological self-exploration formula is typical of the genre or not. Either way, I found the real-life narrative of a twenty-year-old college student turned self-destructive sex worker simultaneously engaging, sickening, unflinchingly honest, and enormously annoying. Febos' story is certainly uncommon. As a straight-A student at New York City's The New School in the early 2000s, she decided to become a dominatrix, not because she was particularly strapped for cash or because she became seduced by the BDSM scene or even because she was bored. She makes the case at the beginning of the memoir that it was either that or stripping. "The vulnerability of stripping had always disturbed me; it seemed too easy to be condescended to, to be humiliated," Febos writes. "My need to be in control had always trumped the allure of being so desired." A couple of calls, a short interview, and a few training sessions later, the author is plunging headfirst into the world of dominant-on-demand women and the wealthy men they serve. Read the rest at Feminist Review: http://feministreview.blogspot.com/20...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    A few years ago I might never have picked up Whip Smart, cowed by its sexuality and firm in my belief that we'd all be better off without most of the memoirs being written. The seeling point of the book is of course Melissa Febos' (aka "Justine") description of four years spent working as a dominatrix in a Manhattan dungeon. The practices and fetishes that Febos describes responding to in her clients may thrill or disturb you (this is not a book for those put off by frank sexuality) but the bdsm A few years ago I might never have picked up Whip Smart, cowed by its sexuality and firm in my belief that we'd all be better off without most of the memoirs being written. The seeling point of the book is of course Melissa Febos' (aka "Justine") description of four years spent working as a dominatrix in a Manhattan dungeon. The practices and fetishes that Febos describes responding to in her clients may thrill or disturb you (this is not a book for those put off by frank sexuality) but the bdsm life is only part of the story. Febos is a therapist's child and her description of her state of mind during her sessions may border on the indulgent, but she doesn't paper over or rationalize the drug addicition she kicks during her time in the dungeon. Like many of her young colleagues, Febos eventually drifts away from her work and we find her settled in a happy and "vanilla" lifestyle. Yet the lack of regrets and judgments is perhaps what's most affecting about Whip Smart, and at heart the book is not a story of overcoming but of a chapter that lasted exactly as long as it needed to.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    OK, I really liked this memoir. I read a few reviews that shout "we don't need another boring recap of someone's struggles with drugs/alcohol/insert problem here and how they've overcome" but isn't that the gist of most books? And I'd argue that the topic of this book definitely is NOT boring. Febos writes about her experience as a dominatrix in NYC in her early 20s. Frankly, I was shocked to learn about some of the things people are into. I mean, this stuff is freak-kay. Seriously. I've always c OK, I really liked this memoir. I read a few reviews that shout "we don't need another boring recap of someone's struggles with drugs/alcohol/insert problem here and how they've overcome" but isn't that the gist of most books? And I'd argue that the topic of this book definitely is NOT boring. Febos writes about her experience as a dominatrix in NYC in her early 20s. Frankly, I was shocked to learn about some of the things people are into. I mean, this stuff is freak-kay. Seriously. I've always considered myself an open person, but never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine up some of these sexual skits. I'm not even sure I can give an example, since even the most tamest and lamest is probably not appropriate for this review. Let's just say I was VERY entertained. I would recommend this book. The content is fascinating and Febos is a talented writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    Interesting enough story, but Jesus, it's all over the place. No cohesion or discernible timeline, and huge chunks of the story were outright missing. I don't understand why memoirists with this kind of story to tell play it so safe. Put it all out there or don't bother. The last quarter of the book is basically a rehashing of her therapy sessions - which is tedious enough to begin with when they're your own, but even more so when they involve someone so remarkably un-self-aware. The ultimate de Interesting enough story, but Jesus, it's all over the place. No cohesion or discernible timeline, and huge chunks of the story were outright missing. I don't understand why memoirists with this kind of story to tell play it so safe. Put it all out there or don't bother. The last quarter of the book is basically a rehashing of her therapy sessions - which is tedious enough to begin with when they're your own, but even more so when they involve someone so remarkably un-self-aware. The ultimate deal breaker for this book were the grammatical errors. Some pages had several and it became a huge distraction. I'm guessing the editor became as bored as any future readers surely would be. Pass.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Absinthe

    This was a pretty good book. I must say, in addition to the other talents that Melissa Febos discusses in her memoir, her writing is astonishingly eloquent. She is a mistress of finding the right words, not just the 'good enough' words. The story itself has a lick of inspiration to it, and plenty of passages that will leave you pondering the essence of your own life. Whip Smart is incredibly introspective and combines the thrill of taboo with the sobriety of life lessons. I would highly recommen This was a pretty good book. I must say, in addition to the other talents that Melissa Febos discusses in her memoir, her writing is astonishingly eloquent. She is a mistress of finding the right words, not just the 'good enough' words. The story itself has a lick of inspiration to it, and plenty of passages that will leave you pondering the essence of your own life. Whip Smart is incredibly introspective and combines the thrill of taboo with the sobriety of life lessons. I would highly recommend this to adult readers.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sayantani Dasgupta

    Bold. Uncomfortable. Eye-opening.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I picked this up after hearing Febos give a reading from a more recent collection. I fell in love with her voice there, and this book has that same sharp wit and detailed prose. An intriguing and evocative read that explores the ridiculous power of female sexuality and desire, how alluring and addictive it can be. Whip Smart is a book about secrets and figuring out the self through and despite them. Even though I have not experienced drug addiction and perhaps most readers have't witnessed the d I picked this up after hearing Febos give a reading from a more recent collection. I fell in love with her voice there, and this book has that same sharp wit and detailed prose. An intriguing and evocative read that explores the ridiculous power of female sexuality and desire, how alluring and addictive it can be. Whip Smart is a book about secrets and figuring out the self through and despite them. Even though I have not experienced drug addiction and perhaps most readers have't witnessed the dominatrix job the book covers either, readers can certainly relate to Febos: how she could tell herself stories about her own life, perform it for others, and not quite see them as untrue until later down the line. I think that's what I liked so much about this book. How even though readers know that many of her lies and other negative patterns, like heroine, are a dangerous choice and we can assume she'd later change such choices, in the moments of her addictions, she writes so clearly of those times and how she talked herself in them. So much nonfiction is written with that nostalgic or reflective tone. But here we don't learn truths until the narrator does. Thus, we get to experience the dominatrix role as a fun and empowering job before the rose colored glasses come off. Of course, having the readers become the voyeurs also propels readers forward--we become interested in all of these men's deprave fantasies and traumas just as she had. But the real achievement with this book is experiencing the narrator fall in love with a new, powerful image of herself as a dom, how she loved the novelty of it, how she loved the sexual attention; only after do we witness how that all comes undone. How fragile, how juvenile, how ridiculous that becomes -- yet it's still what our culture constantly tells women to seek and value. A really great read overall: a funny, yet insightful page-turner.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Grace (9racereads)

    DNF. It was captivating for the first halfish, but then I realized how privileged Melissa is and how touristy her “journey” (as the blurb calls it, i believe) into an industry some people do for their living is. she has little respect for her fellow women and workers, even though they engage in the same type of work she does. all the while, she is comfy, proclaiming that she only does this work for drug money. while entertaining certainly, i felt more and more uncomfortable with this story as i DNF. It was captivating for the first halfish, but then I realized how privileged Melissa is and how touristy her “journey” (as the blurb calls it, i believe) into an industry some people do for their living is. she has little respect for her fellow women and workers, even though they engage in the same type of work she does. all the while, she is comfy, proclaiming that she only does this work for drug money. while entertaining certainly, i felt more and more uncomfortable with this story as i went on.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    An entertaining but also frustrating read. The author is kind of an asshole? I couldn't get over the racist depiction of her coworker early on. Having been involved in the kink scene previously I'm still interested in any nonfiction about it. But like the author I used it in a way to feel wanted, or to hurt myself. So in the end, I find her slightly relatable, but still utterly unlikable. I didn't care about where she ended up and the last few chapters didn't interest me at all.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy Brand

    This book walks a fine line between the popular - a sexually titillating tour behind the scenes of the dark under-belly of the Manhattan sex world - and the cerebral - a graduate student's musings on pscyhology and sociology, gender relations, feminism, the roots of our desires. At first the author does come across as arrogant (other reviewers have commented that she "thinks a lot of herself"), but she soon reveals herself to be as self-critical as she is open about her own strengths. I picked up This book walks a fine line between the popular - a sexually titillating tour behind the scenes of the dark under-belly of the Manhattan sex world - and the cerebral - a graduate student's musings on pscyhology and sociology, gender relations, feminism, the roots of our desires. At first the author does come across as arrogant (other reviewers have commented that she "thinks a lot of herself"), but she soon reveals herself to be as self-critical as she is open about her own strengths. I picked up this book because of interests in power, feminism, and gender relations. Melissa Febos is smart, observant, and thoughtful enough to address these, as well as the psychology of a domme (herself and others, professionals or amateur enthusiasts) and the psychology of a client. Still, this is a fast, fun read. Yes there are dark parts, but not so dark as to be emtionally draining. This book is a an act of undressing - with one part voyeuristic/teasing thrill, one part a mirror of intellectual social commentary, and one part self-revealing, therapeuting purging. I have never been a drug addict, alcoholic, sex worker, etc., and yet the similarities I found with the narrator surprised me. Deeper similarities, in feelings about the romance of secrets, power, vulnerability, how it feels to be a woman and hence the constant focus of sexual attention, and how it feels to be human in an uncontrollable world. Interesting how much one can learn from the lessons another has gained through experience. The only thing that bothers me about this book as I have sat with it over a few weeks, is the fairy-tale ending. I want her to write another book - memoir or fiction, it hardly matters. I want to know on some level what is happening with her now. Real life is not happily ever after, no matter how satisfying or good. What struggles have replaced the ones of addiction and sexual power? Are they as thrilling and satisfying as her life before? Is art/writing her replacement for power and addiction? Is it enough? What's next? Edit: The more I reflect on this book, the more the ending bothers me. Or rather, a certain smugness with which the author sometimes seems to look down on her younger self from her current seat of health and respectability bothers me. I feel like this position is false. I don't even think the author really believes it. But it's like a cultural norm or mask she has to wear, because we're just not ok with a woman really owning a dark sexual past. In order to tell it at all, she has to disown it. Why can't a person have a love of D/s sex AND have a healthy sexuality? I think they can, but this book says the opposite. It implies that someone must be damaged, have suffered abuse or trauma,in order to be drawn to D/s. Perhaps Febos feels this to have been the case for her and for her friends who worked in the professional dominatrix world (the damaged sex worker is a familiar tripe - and probably for good reason). But according to some of the other research I've done, practitioners of BDSM in general (civilians, not sex workers) are no more likely than any one else to have been abused. Febos's book was one of the first I read in my investigation of BDSM. It was great in exploring many of the questions I had about how BDSM relates to power, to our culture in general, to vulnerability and secrecy, even to art - but it is just a starting point. As a memoir I suppose it can't be held accountable for telling a complete story. That's not what a memoir does; a memoir by definion tells a *personal* story. However, I do question whether Febos is completely honest with the ending to her personal story. Did her editor and publishing house encourage her to put a more normal, wholesome face on the protagonist (herself) at the end of the story than really exists? Because the mainstream public couldn't accept this story unless it was a classic tale of redemption?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

    Febos writes about becoming a dominatrix with maturity and compassion--prerequisites, as far as I'm concerned, for deserving a readership in spite of using sex to sell your prose. She avoids taking cheap shots at the men who she dominates and avoids using her book as a condemnation or an apology. This is largely because she is preoccupied with herself and with what impact her decisions are having on her own life and identity. If you've got low tolerance for extremely self-aware and process-orient Febos writes about becoming a dominatrix with maturity and compassion--prerequisites, as far as I'm concerned, for deserving a readership in spite of using sex to sell your prose. She avoids taking cheap shots at the men who she dominates and avoids using her book as a condemnation or an apology. This is largely because she is preoccupied with herself and with what impact her decisions are having on her own life and identity. If you've got low tolerance for extremely self-aware and process-oriented stories of drug addiction, her grappling with heroin and sundry narcotics may put you off the primary material. Febos's personal struggle often relegates the titillating anecdotes about her New York fantasy dungeon to the second stage; and I found that a bit disappointing. That's because I read this book as a voyeur; but so did everybody else. "Whip Smart" is best when Febos elucidates the power dynamics between her and her regular customers and when these are snapped into focus by the parallel descriptions of how her confidence and power impact her sexual relationships outside of work. I haven't read any of the other self-exploiting, sex-worker autobiographies that have grabbed headlines in the last decade; but I suspect that amongst such a crowd, Febos would have a noteworthy poise and incisiveness of vision. It will be interesting to see whether or not (and with what) she chooses to follow this book.

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