I originally wrote this book review for Epinions.com on May 11, 2011. I thought the book was pretty bad, but it was an amusing read. So I’m reposting the review as/is for your amusement.
A few months ago, I admitted to being a trifle bit kinky. Around that time, I happened to add a few books to my Amazon.com wish list. One of the books I added was DJ Williams’ 2010 book Playing Dangerous Games: The Personal Story of a Social Scientist Entering the Complex World of Sadomasochism. To be honest, I’m not sure why I added this book. It wasn’t reviewed on Amazon and it was priced at a relatively expensive $19.95. But I recently decided to purchase some actual books as opposed to Kindle downloads and Williams’ book somehow made the cut.
Once I started reading Playing Dangerous Games, I found out why it was both rather expensive and unreviewed on Amazon. It was published by Booklocker.com, which is an outfit that sells ebooks, print on demand titles, and self-published works. Now… I have nothing against self-published books. Prior to reading Williams’ book, I read a couple of other offerings by Booklocker. One book was really awful. The other was very good. One thing that I notice about self-published books is that they aren’t necessarily brilliantly edited, and I did find that to be the case with this book. On the other hand, I think maybe Williams self-published because his book might be hard to pitch to mainstream publishers. While I think a lot of people would be very interested in reading about kink, it’s potentially embarrassing to buy a book about kink at the local Barnes & Noble. Therefore, a mainstream publisher might not consider a book like this one a good financial risk. Thank God for the Internet. It spares consumers the need to approach a cashier with books about taboo topics.
Who is DJ Williams?
At the beginning of this book, DJ Williams is a post doctoral graduate student doing research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Williams had earned his doctorate from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the same school. Prior to becoming a professor, Williams had been a social worker, having earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. He also earned a second Master’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Utah.
Williams was in Edmonton, working on some research on gambling in prisons in Utah, when he innocently stumbled into the wonderful world of BDSM. BDSM, for those who don’t know, stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism. Williams read a paper about sadomasochism which included some discussion on SM practices such as whippings, electroshocks, canings, bondage, and anal sex. Williams had apparently never before been exposed to these more exotic flavors on the sexual menu.
A chapter or two later, I found out why Professor DJ Williams was so sexually innocent and naive. He was raised by devout Mormons and had served a mission in the United Kingdom for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to his mission, Williams took his first trip through the temple, where he took out his endowments and presumably donned temple garments for the first time. After his mission, Williams came home, got married to a fellow Mormon, and had a daughter. The marriage didn’t work out and Williams eventually left the church. And now as a college professor, he had free rein to study the subjects that interested him. So, although Williams was supposed to be studying gambling in Utah prisons, he soon found himself drawn to BDSM. Before long, he had scheduled his first appointment with a professional Dominatrix named Mistress Kitten, who gently introduced him to the pleasures of “sexual deviance”.
One thing led to another and pretty soon Dr. DJ Williams developed an alter-ego he called “Doctor Deviant”. He began to experiment in earnest, attending his very first “munch” (a gathering of people who are interested in BDSM) and moving on to to his next mistress, Mistress Midnight. Apparently, Mistress Midnight was well-known for being one of the most twisted of the BDSM bunch in the Edmonton area. Mistress Midnight taught Doctor Deviant how to throw a bullwhip and exposed him to other BDSM couples who showed him just how deep the lifestyle can run.
To the uninitiated, BDSM practices can be shocking and disturbing. Indeed, Williams was shocked and disturbed by some of the things he saw during his earliest experiences at BDSM parties. I got the sense that Williams was trying to overcome his sheltered upbringing as well as the conventional wisdom he’d picked up as a social worker working with sex offenders and domestic violence victims. At the same time, he was trying to be a responsible father to his teenage daughter, Brittney, whose mother, stepfather, and half siblings were all still faithful members of the LDS church.
This book could have been a lot better than it is. DJ Williams is technically a good writer. By that, I mean there aren’t any egregious typos or grammatical errors and his prose is basically easy to read. However, despite Williams’ obvious personal affinity for BDSM and his interest in educating himself and others about the subject, he comes off as a bit of a dork.
For one thing, he swears a lot. It’s as if in order to shed his Mormon upbringing, he has to drop the f-bomb gratuitously as he describes the sensations he feels when Mistress Kitten ties him to a St. Andrew’s Cross and hangs five pound weights from his testicles. Before anyone tells me they would drop the f-bomb too in that situation, I will share that Williams uses the f-word very liberally. I’m not at all offended by cussing, but when a word is used so repetitively that it becomes annoying, I’d say it’s time to hire an editor. And as Williams is a college professor, I would expect him to have a broader vocabulary anyway.
Williams frequently comes off as dorky and contrived in his dialogue… kind of like he’s trying too hard to be cool. It’s as if he’s trying to make up for a lost adolescence through rebellion, and that entails taking on an alternative appearance, using the f-word, going to munches and drinking screwdrivers (groan), and submitting to a Domme. I can tell that the BDSM turns him on and is a bit of a mindblower. Knowing what I know about Mormonism and the stereotype about how church members tend to feel about sex that isn’t strictly vanilla, I can understand where the dorkiness and awkwardness come from. I sense that despite his efforts to be open-minded, Williams still seems to think there’s something kind of “wrong” with BDSM.
Williams’ dialogue reads like a cheap novel in that it’s very amateur. He writes a lot of internal dialogue that comes off as especially disingenuous. He seems uncomfortable with what he’s doing, even after he wades into the BDSM underground and apparently really enjoys the experience. Even the title conveys what, to me, seems likes Williams’ conflicted feelings about BDSM. Done correctly, BDSM doesn’t have to be dangerous at all, and yet Williams titles his book Playing Dangerous Games.
Williams also seems to have a problem with overweight women. In one chapter, he describes attending a BDSM party where many people are participating in “scenes”. He notes a “heavyset” woman being tied to a table by male Dominant. Then he writes that he can’t believe she’s comfortable enough with her body to engage in a public scene. It seems to me that Williams was trying to be “nice” in using the euphemism “heavyset”, when he evidently meant to say the woman was fat and unattractive and should be ashamed of herself. Later, Williams describes a private party he had with several other people, one of whom was an overweight woman. He writes outright that he doesn’t find her attractive. But then, once the scene starts, he realizes that the “heavyset” woman is a natural actress who makes the scene more real for him. She becomes more attractive to him for that reason. But if he hadn’t been tied to a bed, would he have given her a chance to show her most attractive qualities?
I guess I can give him credit for at least realizing his bias… eventually, anyway. I do think that he pays lip service to looking beyond the surface, though. I checked out his Web site and saw evidence that he’s still pretty hung up on the external. It’s been my experience that people who spend a whole lot of time on their physical appearances often do so to cover up some less flattering internal qualities.
Despite my criticisms, I did find this book interesting on many levels. For one thing, I myself hold Master’s degrees in social work and public health, so I could relate to some of Williams’ comments about the social work profession. For another thing, my husband is an ex-Mormon. He was not raised in the faith, so it’s not a pervasive part of him, but he did spend enough time as a Mormon convert that he knows the culture very well. I, in turn, have done plenty of research on the subject of Mormonism, though I have never been and will never be a member of the church myself. And then there’s the fact that I’m also a little kinky, though not nearly as kinky as Williams is.
I also admire Williams for writing about this subject. I think it takes a lot of guts to research BDSM, especially given the fact that he’s a college professor and an ex-Mormon. I do think that Williams seems to have radically rejected his roots. He’s dyed his hair different colors, gotten tattoos, and been branded… and he engages in some pretty exotic and erotic sexual practices. However, it did occur to me that Williams has traded membership in a very strict, controlling church community for membership in another controlling group. After all, Williams went from being a member of a church that told him what kind of underwear to wear to being a member of another group that tells him what kind of underwear to wear. I’m sure Williams’ Mistress has a say in whether he wears boxer briefs or a cock ring.
By Williams’ account, Mormonism is spiritually and behaviorally confining, while BDSM is literally confining. It might be said that members of both groups could be led to a kind of liberation… In both situations, one gives up personal power to become part of something bigger than themselves. A devout Mormon submits for the promise of a wonderful afterlife with loved ones. Someone who submits to a Dominant submits for the promise of a wonderful physical and mental experience. Being “forced” to submit allows the submissive to experience heightened sexual arousal without any guilt.
I can’t say that reading Playing Dangerous Games was a waste of time. While I wish it had been better edited, I have to admit that Williams’ book did give me some food for thought. I would recommend it to readers who want to learn more about BDSM, especially from an academic standpoint. I also think this book would be interesting reading for ex-Mormons, particularly kinky ones. Devout Mormons, on the other hand, might not like this book.
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