Monday, May 13, 2019

The Book of Vice (a book review post)

I'm going to be honest: I only picked this book up because it was written by Peter Sagal of Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! fame. I love Wait, Wait, and Sagal is great, and the book looked amusing, at least, and, since I was getting it on, mostly, trade at a used book store, I figured I didn't really have anything to lose. For the price I paid, I'm sure that's true.

And the book was amusing, at times even fascinating. But...

By the end of the book, I was really wondering what it was supposed to be about. Because it's presented in such a way as to be about something, and it looks like it's supposed to be about something, but, at the end, I failed to see whatever that something was. Or is. I mean, beyond it being a list of "naughty things" people do. And I think it fails to be even that.

Or maybe I just missed the point since the book is supposed to be something of a parody of, or response to, The Book of Virtues, a book I haven't read. What I do know is that Vice didn't live up to its title: The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).

It's that "and How to Do Them" part that is the problem because, at no point, does Sagal ever go into how any "normal" person could go about doing the things that he's talking about. Not that I was looking for any instruction on how to pick up some vices, but it's right there in the title, man! Plus, he seems to have some confusion on what a vice really is, which is weird since he spends part of the introduction defining it, something you do for which you feel shame about later. In other words, something you don't really want other people to know you do.

Of course, at least half of the book is about sex.
And, let's face it, at least half of America would be more than fine if children grew up believing they were the products of spontaneous generation and that sex didn't exist at all.

The problem, though, is that after the first chapter... Wait, let's deal with the first chapter:
The first chapter is about swinging. And the first chapter is about regular people who swing. Mostly because, I think, he spends a good portion of the introduction talking about Power Exchange, a swingers' club in San Francisco (nope, never been there and, though I think I've heard of it, I didn't know that's what it was until I read this book), at which no actual swinging happens. In essence, he was forced to find some "real" people who do it to be able to talk about it. That said, I'm not sure it qualified as a vice for any of them since they had no secret shame over it. True, they didn't want it spread around that they spent weekends at a private swinging event, but none of the people he talked to treated it as if it was something wrong or bad that they were doing.

After that, though, each chapter dealt with the... providers...? of said vices.

The second chapter is about food but, rather then deal with people who, say, eat packages of Oreos on the sly, he dealt with high-end foodie restaurants, specifically with Alinea, and what goes into making very expensive food. I'm not really thinking that people who eat at places like that think of that as any kind of vice. You go to that restaurant, you brag about it after, not try to keep people from finding out you went.

The chapter on gambling deals with the establishments and how they know they'll win. Though the question is raised about why people would gamble knowing they're going to lose, he never actually talks to the regular people who go deep into debt from gambling addictions. The chapter on strip clubs approaches it from the perspective of why would a woman do that for a living, not a vice, rather than the perspective of the man who can't keep himself from stopping at a club every time he has a few dollars in his hand.

The chapter on consumerism... Honestly, I'm not even sure what that chapter was about. There's no "vice" for that. Unless breathing is a vice. Or drinking water.

The chapter on lying dealt only with some high profile liars and, since the book came out in 2007, we don't even get to see his take on Trump (#fakepresident), possibly the biggest lying liar ever. But I have a hard time classifying lying as a vice, too. Maybe it qualifies in some cases, but, at that point, I think it would more likely be called a pathology.

And the chapter on porn is all about porn stars, not the people who have their porn stash hidden away and only get it out when no one is around.

Substance abuse, including cigarettes and that "one" glass of wine after dinner every night, isn't even mentioned.

So, yeah, it's mostly amusing and, like I said, bits of it are fascinating, but, in the end, I'm not sure what he was trying to get at, especially since his own judgements about any particular "vice" are glaringly obvious:
Porn is bad.
Gambling is fine as long as you're the smart guy (him) who plays the one game where the odds are in the favor of the gambler; otherwise, your stupid to gamble.
High-end eating establishments, like Alinea, are dumb and people who spend their money at them are even dumber. Find a Jack-in-the-Box (his idea) and be satisfied.

Hmm... That sounds a bit more harsh, maybe, than I intend it to sound, but, well, that's how it ends up coming across. But, you know, if you want a light, amusing read with some interesting character studies, this may be the book for you.

1 comment:

  1. That title definitely sounds like it writes checks that the book doesn't keep. From the impression I get, it weirdly seems like the "how to" part is on not how to actually do it, but how to actually produce the vices for retail sale.