Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big Wide World of Vice: You knew you shouldn' loved it. And feel terrible

In order to give you a break from reading my posts about Strange & Norrell and to give my shoulder a break from carrying it around, I picked up a funny and quick re-read from my shelf.  I also finally got my copy of What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States for my book club so I will most likely read that book as well before I finish up with S&N.  I like being able to break up S&N, both reading and writing about it.

The title quote is the basic working definition Sagal uses to determine vice in The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).  Now this isn't actually a how-to book of vice.  I'm pretty sure I found it on one of the humor tables at the bookstore.  The title caught my eye and the fact that it is written by Peter Sagal of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me* made me pick it up.  It's what you expect from the host of WWDTM: ridiculous and fairly pretentious.  I mean this as the highest compliment because pretentious comments lose their power when used to describe things like penis pumps.  Here are the opening lines to the chapter "Swinging or Dinner Parties Gone Horribly Wrong":
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a couple at a swingers club announce that they are there merely to observe, and not actually to swing, everybody loses interest in that couple pretty quickly. (19)
I was trying to come up with a good way to describe this book but I've been having trouble coming up with a good way to really get the story and humor to come through.  So I figure I'll just wriggle out of doing any work myself and give you a quote from each of the chapters.  I'd say I'm sneaky like that but I obviously just told you of my plans. Watch me do the quote thing anyway.

"Eating or Sodom's Restaurant":
Many restaurants offer information on where the various ingredients are raised or farmed, so we can be certain, as we dig into our pork tenderloin with the demi-apricot glace, that the meat comes from an animal whose throat was cut by someone it knew and trusted.  There are those who say the ironic betrayal adds piquancy to the flesh. (51-52)
"Strip Clubs or Sure, They Like You, Really":
The professors have tremendous respect for the dancers, who, they told me, were doing their best to maximize their economic status and take control over their financial/sociocultural destinies. "McDonald's, now that's a degrading job". (84)
 "Lying or This Chapter Will Change Your Life and Make You Millions!":
I began researching the play [Denial] primarily because I was interested in exploring why Holocaust deniers are so effective in achieving their goal -- which is annoying Jews. (114)
"Gambling or Dice, Cards, Wheels, and Other Lethal Weapons":
[Las Vegas] seemed like the veritable neon level of hell, Virgil's City of Dis with better lighting.(133)
"Consumption or How To Keep Up With the Joneses When the Joneses Are Insane":
...Commodore Green also owned what may have been the world's only diamond-encrusted chamber pot, which, in re his innate attitude toward the nature and source of his wealth, would send any Freudian into fits of ecstasy. (161)
 "Pornography or You Can Look, But You Can't Admit It":
But it's the early stuff, the chiaroscuro photos of hard-core sex from the 1910s and earlier, that really arrest attention.  They look so old that you surmise the models were held still by iron apparatuses holding their heads, like Abraham Lincoln being rotogravured by Mathew Brady. (In this context, even "rotogravured" sounds dirty.) (192-193)
Now to actually give my two cents on the book: you won't actually learn much from it but it is funny and you can feel slightly pretentious while reading it.  And if you read it in public you get lots of interesting looks, a few nods of approval and some stifled giggles. 

*See the article at Stuff White People Like: Public Radio

Title quote from page 15

Sagal, Peter.  The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).  HarperCollins, New York.  2007.