All books written about the sex industry tend to have one thing in common - either the person writing it has no personal experience working there or they let someone else ghost-write the book. It was therefore very interesting to note that Phonephucker[a] is indeed written by a real, live ex-phone sex operator.
The story of how Tanja ended up as a phone sex operator is about as incredible as the stories she would later serve up to her callers. In the Fall of 2005 she left the engineering physics[b] degree program at KTH[c] (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden) as her second year of studies started. By ways of a ten-week course in movie censorship she decided to study psychology. In order to be accepted to those courses, however, one had to have one year of work experience, and when a friend suggested she do phone sex, she decided to give it a shot. She soon got a job.
Phonephucker could be subtitled "A Guide to the Workings of a Phone Sex Line". Among the topics covered we find: How to make sex sounds, how the payments work and a graph of penis sizes as claimed by the callers. All presented with a good dose of dry wit. It is here, as a guide to the day-to-day workings, that the book shines. Unfortunately, that in itself does not an excellent book make.
The book originated in Tanja's old blog by the same name[d], where she chronicled her experiences in the phone sex industry, a fact which despite a lot of added material is still noticeable in the overall tone of the book. We are served up bite-sized items of her experiences and thoughts, but without the reflections on the over-arching whole that one would expect. The small servings make the book an easy read, but also insufficient in that while a lot of the text describes the facts of life of a phone sex operator, it is without the added depth that would be possible in a book. This results in the book being a sterile recollection of facts, nicely wrapped in dry humor but ultimately lacking the soul to really animate it. A shame, because Tanja certainly has a way with words, and describes the working conditions of a phone sex operator with considerable gusto in a well-organized way.
For example, while Tanja states that she doesn't see selling sex as something bad, a lot of the illustrations describe her clients as anything from annoyingly stupid to outright creepy, and always as Tanja's inferiors - but extremely rarely in a positive light. The client of a prostitute is in Swedish called a torsk, meaning cod[f], and the book is full of little cartoons of Tanja chopping fish, spear-fishing, etc. All very entertaining, but what if a retired politician's memoirs had cartoons depicting the voters as sheep? What would we suspect in regards to the relationship between them and their voters? In a blog it is natural that your writing becomes 50% catharsis; therefore more is written about the idiots one meets as opposed to the pleasant people. A book doesn't have those restrictions, and after a hundred pages it becomes impossible to not notice the contrast between "selling phone sex is ok, but not a suitable job for everyone" and "all my customers deserve to die[g]". Such a contrast can work well in pure entertainment, but in a non-fiction book about a topic like this, not reconciling those two views is a glaring omission. Since Tanja says that she is avoiding the subject on purpose, I can't be the only one to notice the absence.
Another gap is when Tanja reminisces about the three really bad calls she had. What made the first bad is explained, but the other two are only discussed very briefly. We are not told much about them, which is understandable due to the anonymization, but when Tanja says that she "cried like a child" after hanging up, I wish she would expound on just why those two were so singularly bad. Even if Tanja wants to keep her own feelings private, it would help if the calls could be put in a greater context. Were they different in kind or degree? We never find out, as Tanja switches to talking about customers who quite literally wank all the time. Funny, but not enlightening.
All in all, it is a good albeit flawed book. Having read Tanja's blog[h], I have noticed that not only has her writing improved stylistically, but she also draws upon more years of life experience and studies to write more compelling texts. I would very much like to see a second edition of Phonephucker, where the old material can remain as-is as a statement of her views at the time of its writing, but with added commentary and insights of the Tanja of today.