[ Best and Worst ] The Beauty and Beast Within

When CanaryTheFirst invited me to do a guest post, I was excited. Then she told me the topic (your “Best and Worst Reads Ever”), and I almost broke out in a cold sweat.

It’s not that I don’t have a best read ever. Of course I do. It’s just that… well… it’s something I’ve never shared with anyone before.

See, my best reading experience had very little to do with the book, and everything to do with the experience of reading the book.

First, let me tell you about the book. It’s a tiny little thing, only 162 pages long.

It’s The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett, a treatment on the Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, published by Inner City Books. A friend gave me the book because he knew I was writing a novel involving the Sumerian goddess Ishtar, but I was having trouble bringing her character to life. I had very little information on her that wasn’t dried-out fact or archeological evidence.

I had never heard of Jung before.

The title and nature of the little book embarrassed me. I didn’t want to be seen carrying it around, so I covered it with nondescript wallpaper. Now I could read and be amazed incognito.

Once I agreed to write this post, I wanted to find my copy of The Sacred Prostitute. I started digging through my boxes of packed away books. It took a while, but–there! It was like finding an old friend or a favorite stuffed animal, its wallpaper covering now worn and yellowed. That little book took my world-views, and turned them upside down–or rather, right-side up.

I know, I know…what’s the book about?

(Just so you know, I’m having pitch-slap PTSD…)

The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett

Qualls-Corbett tells us about the historical goddess representations of Ishtar, Inanna, Venus, etc., and explains how sexuality and femininity were once valued aspects of society. Next, she delves into the psychological archetypes of the sacred feminine and how the perception and denial of sexuality influences our societal evolution. The book ends by touching on how we might reconcile the very concept of sexuality with our current belief-systems, mainly Christianity.

Cracking open the cover of a tiny book ushered an entire paradigm-shift in me as the reader. It was an awesome light-bulb moment that changed how I viewed myself as a woman. I was raised to think of sexuality as a dirty topic, off-limits, not discussed. When I went to college and learned a little of the Freudian perspective, it pretty much reinforced that negative view.

Jung’s concepts, though–now that was something altogether different. The author’s treatment of the topic of values, societal attitudes, and the advent of Christianity and patriarchal codes…it made me feel glad to be a woman.

It set me free.


My worst reading experience is going to be a lot easier to describe.

At first I wondered, how does a person have a worst reading experience? Why not just fling the book out the window if it’s that bad? After a bit more thought, I realized I did have a bad experience, once, with a book I’d read from cover to cover.

I cursed the author the entire time I was being sucked into a world I didn’t want. That book was…

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I didn’t want to have anything to do with this book to begin with. I knew of King by reputation, and as far as I could tell, wrote about the things I was more comfortable not thinking about…but stupidity reigned over common sense.

“Dr. Louis Creed and his wife Rachel chose rural Maine to settle his family and bring up their children. It was a better place than smog-covered Chicago — or so he thought. But that was before be became acquainted with the pet burial ground located in the backwoods of the quiet community of Ludlow.”

It’s that pet cemetery that brings their dead cat back to life–but the cat comes back different. Wrong. And it’s that pet cemetery that calls to Doctor Louis Creed when he loses his toddler son. He can bring the child back to life, but at what cost?

The cost is too high.

Now, it’s not that the book  isn’t well-written. It is. And that was the problem. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to put the entire story out of my head, in fact, but I couldn’t. And then I was angry with myself afterwards for finishing it.

Books like Pet Sematary illuminate the worst nightmare of all parents–the main character’s son is killed by a semi-truck when he runs onto the highway. Then King takes it a step farther and preys on the pain of the parents who want so badly for their dead child to live again.

It is not a book I’d ever want to revisit again.



Now that this essay is written, I’m amazed to see that there is a tie-in with my best and worst reads. As Carl Jung unveils and gives life to the mysteries of human psyche and desire, skilled horror writers like Stephen King prey on them.

It would seem that I prefer the unveiling to the exploitation, but I think that in reality, all best-sellers capitalize on that exploitation of secrets. It’s what make us, the readers, tick.

But that is a topic for a whole ‘nother editorial.

That’s my best and worst—now it’s your turn. Do you have a book that tilted your world onto a new axis? 

You can find more great writing by Madison at her blog. Click away, canaries!

11 thoughts on “[ Best and Worst ] The Beauty and Beast Within

  1. Nice post!

    I’ve been back and forth with King’s stuff. Some of it I’ve loved and some has been bloated trash. “Pet Sematary” scared the crap out of me. The scene where Louis goes to the grave in the rain is one of the most riveting and scary scenes I know.

  2. Great post, Madison. Have to say Pet Sematary is one of my all-time faves, because like Steve above, it also scared the crap out of me. I’m an adrenalin junkie that way. As for THE book that tilted my axis, hands-down it was The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky’s brilliance terrifies me! lol.

  3. Steve and Mike, thanks for commenting! I believe it is because it’s so well-written that Pet Sematary bothered me so badly. Too believable, LOL. Ha. I figured my ‘worst’ read would be a lot of people’s favorite.

  4. I agree with you about “Pet Sematary”–and in interviews King has said maybe the concept wasn’t such a good idea because people thought his own son had died. (He hadn’t; he became the writer Joe Hill.) It’s on my shelf along with his other books, but it’s one I won’t re-read.

    “Women in Celtic Myth” was one of the books that made me glad to be a woman–and Celtic.

    Well-done post.

  5. re: “The Sacred Prostitute” might illustrate one of the best things about eBooks (along with their convenience) – the fact that you don’t have to worry about the rest of the world knowing what you are reading! But, it could also be a worst thing: No chance of someone striking up a random conversation with you because they loved the book, too.

    This best and worst is an interesting topic… I really haven’t thought about mine. I can think of the book that, I feel, marks the beginning of me entering the realm of adult stories (“The Crow” by Iain Banks)… As for the “worst”… too many that I didn’t fancy, but, actually… one just might come to mind… (“The Redemption of Althalus” by David Eddings).

    “The Sacred Prostitute” looks like a must-read…

    • DebE, I hadn’t thought of how well eBooks can hide the subject at hand (unintended pun, lol). My Kindle should arrive next week and I’m excited to dip a toe into the eBook waters for the first time.

  6. Maggie, I knew the topic of the feminine was a fav of yours and I forgot to post a link to this post to the forum. Thanks for finding me! I think you’d enjoy that book.

    I might crack open the King book again to dissect how he did certain things, but I’ll try to not *read* while I’m doing it.

  7. Tilted my world on a new axis–I like the sound of that! I’ll go with a recent one: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. I so appreciated the way it makes love to the world in a strong, gallant, gentle voice and the way it gazes at women–the beautiful and the scarred–out of a clear set of eyes that never seem to look away from the shame and horror and beauty of the way we are–we, I mean, not just women but humans.

  8. Pingback: Tuesday’s Topic: SF/F Genre Study – Roger Zelazny « Madison Woods

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