Virago, €12.89

In 1997, Lily Burana met a Wyoming cowboy while travelling cross-country on a journalism assignment. This is a true story and - as sometimes happens in real life - it turns out that opposites attract, the cowboy proposes and Lily accepts. There's only one problem: Lily is an ex-stripper. It's not a problem for the cowboy, but it seems to be one for the author. And although she hasn't stripped in five years, she decides that before settling down, she needs to somehow purge herself of her past.

With a prose style as candid and colourful as the lady herself, Lily Burana crosses the United States on a journey of discovery that takes her almost a year. The result is a captivating tale that takes the reader from the ecstatic to the tragic, from the glamorous to the seedy and from rags to riches.

Burana begins with the practical (essential suitcase items for a stripping trip: bikinis, garters, hot pants, spandex evening gowns, body concealer, wigs, razors, false eyelashes, etc…) and, although she finds it difficult to confront, eventually comes to the emotional. She may take a journalist's approach - visiting the Exotic World Burlesque Museum in California, exploring the history of stripping, and interviewing many of the women she meets along the way - but in the end this is a very personal tale.

The meat of this book (excuse the pun) is not in the descriptions of the dancing, the costumes, the venues or the customers - fascinating and titillating as they are - but in Burana's exploration of the complex feelings that result when a woman strips for money. Burana explains how she started, explains why she continued and half way through begins to wonder why she ever stopped.

Two thousand miles, twenty-five strip clubs, plenty of g-strings, body glitter, bare skin and an incredibly understanding fiancé later, comes the realisation that stripping is a part of who Lily Burana is and in many ways she's glad. It turns out that its not something that can be labelled, tagged and stored in a box under the bed marked "my past"; but that's ok.

'Strip City' is funny, shocking, enthralling and in many ways awe-inspiring. It's a book for anyone who's ever been to a strip club, worked in one or simply wondered what goes on behind the doors, on-stage, back-stage and in the minds of the women who can earn hundreds of dollars a night by taking their clothes off. And that's just about everyone.

Cristín Leach