'Elements of Taste' - Book Review

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why
2017, Benjamin Errett
TarcherPerigee (Penguin Random House) (225 pages)

Errett opens with a fantastic quote (which resonates more with a librarian like myself than it will with most others):

Nothing classifies somebody more
than the way he or she classifies.
-- Pierre Bourdieu

But it's all downhill from there. Errett makes a big promise at the beginning of the book: as the subtitle claims, he's going to help us understand why we like what we like, and with that knowledge make it much easier for us to find food, music, video, and books that we like by applying our new-found understanding. Because, you see, taste in all these things is strongly connected.

But he stumbles badly right out of the gate by claiming that everyone loves ketchup (I like it, I don't love it - and that distinction seems important when we're talking about defining taste). And by the second page he's fallen down completely by claiming that everyone also loves the musical Hamilton, the original Star Wars trilogy, The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, and the Gershwin song "Summertime." I don't know Hamilton, and I'm at best indifferent to The Great Gatsby, but I actively dislike "Summertime," so his claim that these are universals of taste have already broken.

I stumbled on through 56 pages of wobbly assertions built on this foundation of jello, but the farther I got the less it seemed like he could hope to provide any solid understanding of "taste." So I said goodbye to the book.

The book did provide one interesting moment: the author talked about an event in his early twenties, naming snacks he was eating and radio he was listening to that were SO similar to my life that I flipped to the back page where I found the "about the author" section saying "... and lives in Toronto." Sure, the point of the book is that we have common tastes and some common experiences, but that he should have been eating that exact set of snacks while listening to that exact playlist ... it was too similar for him to have been anywhere else.

An intelligent man writing on an interesting topic on which I would love to see some kind of definitive explanation, but it seemed clear he wasn't going to be the one - very disappointing.