Wednesday, July 23, 2014

No accounting for taste

In literature as in love we are astonished at what is chosen by others.
Andre Maurois

That people's tastes are so different has got to be a good thing. How unfortunate it would be if all men pursued the same few women or if some nutritious foods, perhaps liver or mushrooms, went uneaten because nobody could stand to eat them.

Even so, as Andre Maurois reflects, we all find it amazing that others like what they do. Of all the men in the world, why did she marry him? How could anyone enjoy that music? Did you actually read Moby-Dick because you wanted to? We all probably think such questions, even if we don't dare ask them.

When I told some friends We were planning to go to Elkins, W.Va., this week to listen to Irish music, I sensed some wonder in their eyes. Why would anyone want to do that? We were not alone at the Augusta Heritage Center concert last night, however. The crowd, though relatively small in comparison with many rock concerts, was enthusiastic. Some of us love Irish music. Some of us don't. It makes for an interesting world.

When it comes to literature, however, I sometimes think human taste is not nearly diverse enough. Too many people seem to be reading the same books. Too many read books, or at least buy books, only because they are best-sellers, because everybody else is reading them. Meanwhile so many terrific books, some much better than most of the books on best-seller lists, go virtually unread.

At a used book sale last weekend I overheard one woman tell another she was interested in finding books by only a few select authors. When she found an author she liked, she read everything she could find by that author, then just had to wait for a new book to be written. I admire devotion to particular authors, but her attitude seemed extreme to me. Diversity in taste is a virtue not just from one person to another but also within each individual. One should be able to enjoy books both by David Baldacci and Thomas Hardy, as I do, and Irish music as well as classical or rock music.

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