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Who Has Taste?

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August 2015
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I was in the library of my dreams the other night, just luxuriating in the smooth floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelves with the order and symmetry of the books. There was a small desk intended for light correspondence and a green glass shade banker’s lamp. A ladder hung from the shelves and scooted along on a railing from one side to the other. This is the life, I sighed. This is heaven. I ran my fingers along the dark red wood, feeling the high polish.

Here is what a person of sophisticated taste lives like, I thought. I want to be a person of sophisticated taste. But in my hand I held an old cheap paperback Western, Max Brand’s Singing Guns, with its garish cover. Uh oh. What doesn’t belong in this sanctuary of taste?

I pushed the tacky Western aside and looked about for something concerning taste in literature. Then I remembered. I looked down the row and found what I was looking for. There they were. David Hume’s collected works.

As I start this blog on The Literary Life, I would like over the next several weeks to consider with you some of the really big questions that simply must be dealt with for anyone for whom great literature matters.

Let’s start with one of the biggest issues of all: TASTE. Particularly, of course, taste for good literature and art. So:

What is taste?

Who has taste? I mean today, in 2015?

Is there such a thing, really as taste anymore? Any distinction between good taste and bad taste?


Ouch! Let’s get personal here. Do you really have good taste?!

(A bit of a disclaimer here: I’d die if anyone ever saw the playlist on my IPod. Professionally, I’ve spent quite a bit of my career as a literary scholar studying and writing about one of the lowest forms of popular literature—paperback Westerns and horrid Western movies. So, I’m not exactly in a position to be a snob when it comes to taste.)

Nevertheless, it does seem to me that the questions of taste, what it is and what’s good taste versus bad taste are pretty important for leading a literary life.



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