Friday, February 1, 2013

Acquired Tastes

As a child I tried a sip of wine at a wedding. After I had wrinkled my nose in disgust, my mother told me it was an acquired taste. Someday I would feel differently. Perhaps I was just a precocious or challenging child, but I had to ask, "Why would anybody take the time to acquire a taste?" And I couldn't understand why you would drink something that wasn't quite pleasant.
As I grew older, I did in fact acquire a taste for many things that I initially couldn't tolerate: beer, wine, cheddar cheese, tomatoes. In fact those are practically four of my basic food groups currently. I've found that tastes other than those in my mouth have developed as well.
In high school, I couldn't stand Virginia Woolf. My advanced placement English group read To the Lighthouse. I found it tedious. I didn't like Woolf's style. The whole thing felt rather pointless to me. Last year I came back to it. I admit that I was reluctant to revisit the novel, I only did so for a British literature class. Imagine my surprise when I found that there was something in the novel I had missed the firs time around: humor. With the space of a few years between me and my previous experience with the book, I found it to be a very different text. This summer I read Woolf's Between the Acts and found that to be a very interesting, if somewhat fatiguing book.
That's the strange thing about novels. They may not be factual, but they tell us truths. Usually truths about ourselves. Many readers will have one book they return to over the years that stands as a sort of gauge for that. The text remains the same. We're the ones who change.
Literature is not entirely unique in this way. I've had similar experiences with music as well. When I first heard The Decemberists, I wasn't sure about them. There was something odd about their sound. It was like my ear needed to be calibrated to their music. And eventually it was. Now they're one of my favorite bands.
Perhaps that's the difference between disliking something and needing to acquire a taste for it. Things that you acquire a taste for are unsettling. You don't like them at first, but there is something intriguing about them. Something deeper to the taste, the sound, the text. When you spend more time around it or return to it later, you begin to uncover that depth. It's almost like you have to work for your appreciation of that that thing. That makes your attachment to it greater in the long run. Maybe it's a little like falling in love? But, matters of the heart are not my area of expertise.
What things have you had to acquire an appreciation for over time? Or what things have you considered trying again after finding it initially unappealing?


  1. As far as books go I could never understand the popularity of To Kill A Mockingbird. I attempted to read it in middle and high school, but it wasn't until freshmen year of undergrad that I finished it and realized Harper Lee wrote a great American novel.
    As far as music goes, I found the Dave Matthews Band repetitive and boring. Just a couple years ago I listened to them again and fell for their funky jazz inflection coupled with deeply sensuous lyrics.
    Finally, as a dancer I have felt ballet was a dead movement. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to change my mind about something so I registered for a ballet class at my studio. I'm in love with the barre and find myself concentrating on my French pronunciation of moves like the sissone.
    Changing your mind about things is one of the joys of growing older because who really wants to have the same likes/dislikes they had as a child. It proves that the world can continue to surprise you, even if you think you have experienced everything it has to offer :)

  2. Hello darling,
    I agree with you about TKAM, I couldn't get into it when I was 13 and we were given it in school. I've been meaning to reread it. Now you've inspired me to do it sooner than later. I'm glad to hear you're getting back to ballet, I'm sure you're doing beautifully.
    That is such a defining moment of maturity in a way, trying things again, developing your appreciation for something outside your comfort zone. I always think that people who are unwilling to try something new are perpetually stuck in an adolescent "I-won't-like-it-cause-it's-different" mindset.