I picked this book for one reason: Tom Vanderbilt. I absolutely loved his book TRAFFIC, and bought copies to give or lend to other people. TRAFFIC is the sole reason I bought this book in hardback instead of seeing if they had it at the library.
Vanderbilt talks in the book about how liking other things predisposes people to want to like something. So, having read and liked his other book influenced me. Would I have liked it less had I known nothing about the author? Probably. If I hadn’t known and liked the author, and if I hadn’t paid twenty five bucks to buy the book, I might not have finished it.
I wanted to like it more. I wanted this to be a life-changing pop science book that everyone quotes from. Maybe it was the locale. He says in the book that sometimes you like that wine when you’re in Italy, but you hate it at home, because what you really liked was being in Italy. Maybe I disliked it because I think of it as doctor’s office waiting rooms in the apex of an especially hellious summer.
Or maybe I disliked it because of the bland, MS Paint cover, though I saw they also offered it in red. Would I have liked it more if it had a more dynamic cover? If I had read it on an idyllic beach? If it had blurbs from celebrities? Maybe I was jaded against it because it was mentioned so glowingly in The Week. I was promised champagne and got Big Red.
Or maybe I just disliked it because it seemed so disorganized, a loose collection of factoids and anecdotes that didn’t seem to draw any compelling conclusion or lead the reader to an epiphany about the world. Maybe I disliked it because it really needed some photos to go along with the extensive discussion of art, so that I didn’t have to go and google the images. I wanted more specifics, more concrete examples, and something to draw from this experience besides the conclusion that research on taste is pretty much inconclusive. One of the things that made Malcolm Gladwell’s work so compelling is how his deep understanding of one or two specific examples per chapter led the reader along his though process to draw the conclusion he drew. One of the things I liked about Stephen Johnson’s HOW WE GOT TO NOW was how every chapter dealt with one cohesive theme. I don’t want to read about inconclusive research and conflicting ideas unless I can be convinced to care through a compelling argument or a deep dive into the subject.
Or maybe I don’t know why I only felt meh about this book. After reading it, I don’t feel like I have a better understanding of why people like things and why they don’t. Perhaps that’s reason enough to dislike a book on liking things.