In my reading life as an adult, there have been a number of books that it seemed like everyone was reading at the same time. There was The Firm and The Bridges of Madison County. Over the last few years, the book that readers and non-readers alike have been reading is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels). I’ve had friends from as far away as England, Belgium and Vermont ask me if I’d read those books yet and heartily recommend that I do so. (Whether or not my friends in Belgium who read the books in Dutch are recommending the same book that I would read, in English, and whether that book is the same as the book that was written in Swedish, with a different title, is a whole other conversation.)
Although I am always reading something (currently The Honorable Schoolboy and The Invisible Gorilla) and although I have had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my Kindle for months (and had access to a physical copy for months before that), I have been reluctant to read the book. Part of me thinks that I should wait until after the US versions of the movies come out, although I have already seen the Swedish versions of all three movies thanks to Netflix streaming. But mostly I think its about not wanting to be on the bandwagon. I especially don’t like having books recommended by non-readers. I instinctively feel superior to them and assume that there is nothing those people can recommend that will be a better use of my time. (In support of my position, I have The Firm et al. However, taking the de facto advice of Hollywood, say with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, hardly seems more sensible.) And this got me thinking. What is so important about discovery that it makes us feel better about something than if someone else discovers it?
I’ve mentioned before that I “discovered” R.E.M. on my own (through Rolling Stone) only to find that one of my best friends had already discovered them (through his older brother). In truth, I don’t discover very much on my own. I’ve never walked past a band rehearsing in a building somewhere and become a lifelong fan. I’ve never been shown a manuscript by a would-be author or seen paintings or sculptures by an artist who has yet to show in public. I rely on gate-keepers or taste-makers (or Big Brother) to winnow everything down so I can make a choice. I once learned that you never ask a child what he wants to do because if a child can’t decide if he has too many options and will become frustrated. You need to ask a child if he want to do this or that. It’s the same for most of us. Do you want to watch this TV show or that one? Do you like this song? Someone else narrows it down and and then gives us a reasonable range of choices.
Why does it matter? I enjoy the Black Keys (thanks to a friend) just as much as I enjoy Little Feat (thanks to a different friend) just as much as I enjoy Aimee Mann (thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson) just as much as I enjoy Gram Parsons (thanks to everyone he influenced, especially Emmylou). I am a fan of Tolkien and of George Martin, both from the same friend. (I turned him onto Ender, which had been passed on to me by a professor for a course in college. Wasn’t college great?) I’m not sure why I like Picasso and Van Gogh and Matisse. (Probably because I was expected to.)
Even though I never discover anything, I still enjoy being the gate-keeper for someone else. I introduced my wife to Lucinda Williams. I didn’t discover Ms. Williams, I only read an article about her in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in advance of her upcoming concert at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. But I will always be the one who turned my wife onto a singer that she really likes. Why should that mean anything? I don’t know.
It matters to us a great deal who introduces us to what and what we introduce to other people. (Internet forums wouldn’t exist if this didn’t matter.) I think this must go back to our ideas about identity, about who we think we are or who we want others to think we are. Just look at the number of links in this post. I’m wondering about this idea but adding these links to make myself look cooler. (Then again, how cool could I be given the links I’ve made? I really should try harder.)
I don’t think I’m done with this topic.