The Romans would say: De gustibus non est disputandum. The French might shrug and murmur: À chaque, son gout. In English, we might argue: To each their own or more cuttingly, there’s no accounting for taste.
These thoughts struck me yesterday when I was adding a couple of books to my Goodreads account. Some of them were new acquisitions and another was an older book I’ve just started to read because the author, whose other books I’ve admired, recently died. I thought it was time to explore one of his few novels that I hadn’t yet read. What I noticed was that the book had middling reviews on Goodreads – or rather it had wildly divergent reviews gaining almost as many one star ratings as five.
Was it a case of you either love it or you hate it or was there something else at play? Certainly, it has been shown that nothing more negatively affects a book’s rating on mass reading sites than for it to win a major award or otherwise be subject to public approval. A positive review in The New York Times might do the trick.
There are, after all, hordes of trolls who are never happy unless they are crapping on what other people do or love. Or perhaps it is the response of the high school student who comes to hate novels because too many teachers have told them they are ‘good for them.’ What more damning praise could an author ever ask for?
To me, taste is indeed as the Romans, French and English all agree: an unaccountable and individual thing. Our language is full of such expressions. One man’s meat is another’s poison. Your trash is my treasure. We acknowledge it and yet grow rancorous when someone disagrees with us about this being the best book ever written and that being the most incredible film of the year.
Taste is not a matter for elites – read it to make yourself a better person or, better yet, read it to see just how stupid and without perception you are – nor for democracy. Popular is not a measure of quality simply of, well, popularity. Some popular things are, of course, of the highest quality and some things are ignored because they deserve nothing better.
And who is to say which is which? History perhaps decides what has lasting value – or perhaps not. It is estimated that only 10% of every film ever made still exists today. Recently a cache of old silent movies were discovered frozen in Dawson City, Yukon. Of the hundreds recovered only a few existed in other prints. For many of the rest, there wasn’t even a list somewhere or a newspaper article archived in a dusty vault to record their existence.
Besides who has time to wait on history? I know what I like and need neither the experts nor the masses to tell me if I’m right or wrong. I guess what is really driving this blog is all the reading I’m doing as a publisher. Some of the things I like I realize others might not find to their taste; things I reject, many might love. But as the publisher who pays the tab, whose taste should I obey if not my own?
And that’s ten minutes.