Monday, February 02, 2009

The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal

When I was in college, a friend found out that I'd never seen a porno, and I was promptly invited to her porno party--which she'd been convinced to throw because she'd never seen one, either. I went, and I wrote about the experience (which I won't describe here) for my weekly column in the college paper.

Then, when I was in grad school, a stranger at the local Barnes & Noble Starbucks struck up a conversation with me that somehow ended in an invitation to a fetish ball. (It wasn't a date invitation, just a suggestion that he'd be ever so happy to run into me there.) I obsessed about that invitation for a week; I was extremely curious as to what a fetish party would be like. In the end, I decided that such an experience likely wouldn't be worth the discomfort of being so far outside my comfort zone--and I couldn't think of anyone to go with me who I'd trust in that kind of situation, anyway.

The Book of Vice explores both porn and fetishes as human vices. Peter Sagal wasn't so quite so shy. He went to a fetish club and a porn set to research for this book. The other vices he explores--consumption, food, gambling, swinging, lying & strip clubs--are also personally explored by visiting a swingers' club (with his wife, but strictly as observers), interviewing strippers, spending nearly $1000 on a food experience, and visiting Vegas and talking to professional gamblers.

Alcohol, smoking and drugs were not discussed because Sagal felt there was an element of addiction that overrode their vice qualities. Funny, I thought porn and gambling were addictive, too. I guess drawing the line between physical and psychological dependencies.

Sagal uses a combinationof expository and narrative in each chapter, which generally worked very well with his conversational style. He does have a tendency to drag every now and then--I was tired of gambling, strip clubs and porn about halfway through those chapters, even though the second halves were always as equally interesting as the first.

My favorite chapter was the one on eating--the descriptions were fun, though it quashed any desire to experience a 26-course $1000 "meal" that involved inhaling shrimp cocktail through an atomizer or eating little frozen pureed vegetable cubes. (In the end, all Sagal and his wife Beth really wanted was something satisfying--like a fast food burger.)

I wonder how a woman writing this book would have changed it. Would she have reached different conclusions about why some men are drawn to strip clubs? Would she have even covered the same vices? Would she have explored why there are so many sexual vices? (About half of the vices in this book are sexual.)

I can't say I would highly recommend this book. It's just a little too slow, a little too purposeless to be highly recommended. (But I would like to see that ghostwritten memoir he mentions in the porn chapter rewritten and published as a fictional memoir.) This will probably hold the most interest for people who really liked their pop culture, or maybe sociology, classes in college.

Thanks to Jennifer at The Literate Housewife Review for sending me this book!


Zibilee said...

Sounds very interesting, especially the parts about food. Thanks for sharing this.

Fyrefly said...

This seems like it would be interesting browsing... very similar to Dan Savage's book Skipping Towards Gomorrah, where he devotes a chapter each to the seven deadly sins, and the people who indulge in them. Thanks for the review!

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