November 22, 2009

Review: Sex, Drugs, & Gefilte Fish: The HEEB Storytelling Collection

Edited by Shana Liebman; Foreword by A.J. Jacobs
Released by Hachette 26 Oct 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

HEEB is a magazine focused on reporting Jewish-related information in a humorous style. The title is a reclaimation of the term "hebe," an ethnic slur. (You learn new things every day.) Personally, I know almost nothing about Jewish culture. I've read some of the religious texts, but I've done that for all the major religions. (Haven't read anything significant of the Quran, but I've read several of the more important hadith. I have publicly commented on something relating to Islamic culture, so I do sometimes open my mouth about things I'm not an expert in.)

The review request for this came in soon after I finished SO PUNK ROCK, which definitely had me thinking about young Jews in America. Sometimes it's really fun to read something you know nothing about in an attempt to learn something. Plus, who doesn't like to laugh?

The presentation of this anthology isn't that great, in my opinion. The back cover is cigarettes stubbed out on what I assume is gefilte fish (er, it looks like organ meat texture and is covered in this jelly-like fluid). The front is weighed down by the dark border and puts the emphasis on the "drugs" part of SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH. But Drugs is only one of the six sections, and most of the stories within it are relatively innocent, including OCD medication, Plan B, giving a cat meds, and letting a dying old woman smoke a joint. (Stephanie Green's "Benzos and Breast Cancer"? Not innocent.) Since the plate on the cover has six holes, couldn't each one of them represent one of the sections instead of four of them representing one of the smaller sections? It looks kind of like a coffee table book, but it doesn't really look like something you'd want to display on your coffee table.

The other sections is the anthology are Sex, Work, Youth, Family, and Body & Soul. Youth is the longest at 52 pages; Sex is the shortest at 23. (Drugs clocks in at 25.) My favorite stories were "Prime-Time Playa" by Andy Borowitz, "Poop Sandwich" by Abby Sher, and "Finding My Kegel Muscles" by Stephen Glass. Why these three? Well, "Prime-Time Playa" tells about the beginning of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I loved that show as a kid, and it's interesting to see just how it came to be. "Poop Sandwich" definitely makes me uncomfortable, but Sher perfectly captures the It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time existence of high school. "Finding My Kegel Muscles" reminded me of my own inability to let something go when I think it's wrong. And I agreed with Stephen; I don't think men have Kegel muscles. (My reason for liking the story really stood out once I realized it was that Stephen Glass.)

Some of the stories are strike-. It's an anthology; it happens. But overall SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH is humorous and thought-provoking. Though the commonality is being an American Jew (except for one story), there is a range of experiences, including sexuality, represented. Ignore the cover and pick it up for these stories that show good satire survived past in the eighteenth century.

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