Regarding Taste

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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.

 

Monday Musings

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It’s Monday. I should be working. I’ve got to get to the office. Then I have to come home to my other office and work some more. Instead, I’m typing for ten minutes for your pleasure and elucidation. I trust you appreciate it. Even as I write, the items on my list of things to do are having a sexy morning. Honestly I can see them procreating.

Guns from Canada have fallen into the wrong hands! Apparently guns sold to our good friends, the despicable Saudis, to use against the rebels in Yemen have somehow gotten into the hands of the very same Yemeni rebels. People are shocked. Government officials – when confronted with the facts – say the ‘when they become aware of such things’ (duh) they will work with exporters to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, exactly how are you going to do that? Every army in the Middle East have gotten their hands on weapons the international community says they shouldn’t have. How could that happen? Ask any gangbanger in Detroit and he’ll give you a hint. They ‘stole’ them or bought them on the black market or took them from the dead hands of their enemies. Sell guns to anyone and you better expect some or most of them will wind up in the wrong hands. It is, after all, the American way.

Bernie Sanders apparently was an active participant in the civil rights struggle according to a picture that has recently emerged. Emerged? Like a sword being lifted out of a pond by a watery witch. Despite his left-wing credentials, Clinton can still say that Bernie wasn’t a Democrat – even if he is a democratic socialist. Meanwhile right wingers in the Republican Party can’t decide if Donald Trump is more of a fascist than Barrack Obama. No really that is a discussion they actually have. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it – the rest of us are doomed to suffer from the repetition.

I’ve decided that I’ve pretty much had it with winter. Next year, I plan to spend as much time in southern climes as I can afford. When the money runs out, I guess I’ll have to drown myself. At least the water will be warm.

I’m currently reading novels for possible publication. This is the good part of my job. Before I could read the novels I had to read all the submissions. That, I hate to tell you, is not as pleasant. Most people are not bad writers or even lousy story-tellers; most of them are mediocre. Sorry but it’s true. After four hours of reading slush, I usually get a brain freeze, not unlike eating cheap ice cream too fast on a hot day.

One last thought on guns – isn’t refusing to do mental health checks on people who want to own guns a crazy idea? Especially since recent studies suggest that the majority of people who gun down their families have a history of severe mental illness.

Well, that’s it, the buzzer has gone and I can get back to my list. I swear it’s twice as long as when I started this blog. Where is Planned Parenthood when you need them? Right, busy being lied about by Republicans.

And that really is ten minutes.

Sherlock Holmes

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I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I first discovered the stories as a teenager. Since then I’ve read every original Doyle story at least five or six times. I have the beautiful (and massive) 3–volume Annotated Holmes edited by Leslie Klinger sitting on a shelf in my office.  I’ve read a great many of the homages and pastiches written over the years and I’ve even had a couple of Holmes stories published.

Naturally, I’ve welcomed (and dreaded) the plethora of Holmes adaptations that have appeared – both authorized by Doyle’s estate and those that have sprung up now that copyright has expired.

I enjoy them all, from Robert Downey Jr.’s action hero Holmes to the recovering addict of Elementary to the motor mouth rendition of Benedict Cumberbatch (is it just me or do other people sometimes find that Holmes talking so fast you can hardly understand him?) But, of course, none of them reflect the character that Doyle wrote or intended so many years ago. The closest to that were the early Jeremy Brett renditions – though even his portrayal went off the rails by the end, whether because of him or the direction he was given.

I blame it all on Sigmund Freud, which of course is a bit like saying I blame it on Nicholas Meyer who wrote the novel and screenplay of The Seven Percent Solution (for which he received an Oscar nomination). There Holmes, recovering from his cocaine addiction, meets up with Sigmund Freud and together they solve a mystery. Meyer, who also wrote the first three even-numbered Star Trek movies (fans will get that significance) cleverly revealed the modern fascination with Holmes which focuses on his use of cocaine (only mentioned in a very few of the stories), Moriarty (mentioned in even fewer)  and the psychological implications of a man who appears – at least at first – to have sprung fully formed out of the nature of the times. He must have a tortured past, right?

The Holmes of Victorian England was not like that at all. Rather, he was meant to represent the power of reason operating in the service of justice. It was about neither the self (the egomaniacal Holmes of Sherlock) or about overcoming weakness. It was actually meant to be about the power of intellect to cut through the fog of social convention and get to the heart of social ills. Holmes was a crusader – much as Doyle was himself – who cared more about justice than the law.

Holmes is, of course, an enduring character, for the same reason that many of Shakespeare’s plays continue to resonate. The attraction is not in the perfection of the writing or the way in which all the questions are answered and all the details laid out. Rather it is because there are gaps that allow us to insert our own interpretation into the story.

Holmes becomes the detective we need at the time. That’s why he can be transformed from the cool rational – if flawed – observer of the spider’s web of crime to the tortured intuitive megalomaniacal participant in world spanning plots. It is all in the interpretation.

But you should go back and see for yourself. But I should warn you – the values of Victorian England as written by an upper class male weren’t always pretty.

But that’s ten minutes.