01/03/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Tachyon. 92 page A5 size enlarged paperback. Price: $11.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-892391-92-6).
check out websites: www.tachyonpublications.com , www.jeffvandermeer.comand www.johncoulhart.com
An odd little book this. Essentially a re-working of the old mediaeval bestiary, 'The Kosher Guide To Imaginary Animals' sets out to argue whether or not different monsters would be edible under Jewish dietary laws.
As most readers will know, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) sets out various rules for what makes an animal fit or unfit for human consumption. Most famously, pigs are not fit to be eaten because while they do have cloven hoofs, they do not chew the cud and for cloven-hoofed animal to be kosher, it needs to satisfy both these requirements. There are lots of other rules like these and by going through the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Jews over the years have established the edibility of all sorts of different creatures, from clams (not kosher) to giraffes (kosher).
It's in this spirit that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have written this book about 34 different monsters and fabulous animals, ranging from the familiar (such as dragons) through to the obscure (like the abumi-guchi). Each creature gets a two-page spread with a line-art illustration, a brief description of the creature's provenance and function and then a discussion of whether or not the creature is kosher.
While definitely whimsical and a fun glimpse into the dietary customs of a distinctive culture, the problem with 'The Kosher Guide To Imaginary Animals' is that it really isn't all that funny. Some of the jokes may well be more accessible to Jews than Gentiles, but even allowing for that, this isn't a laugh out loud book. It's mildly entertaining and certainly very strange, but not really funny. The arguments between the authors have the feeling of snapshots of chatroom dialogue rather than carefully crafted humour.
The book rounds off with a 10-page dialogue between the two authors and TV cook Duff Goldman, in which they discuss the best ways to cook a variety of different monsters, from Chewbacca to Cthulhu.
Overall, a middle of the road gift book. There's nothing really wrong with 'The Kosher Guide To Imaginary Animals', but once you get past the rather brilliant idea behind the book, the authors don't quite manage to bring the funny.
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