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Saturday, June 08, 2013

"I Ought To Like, But Don't"

The weekend seems like the appropriate time for a frivolous and non-law post.  I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Studio Theatre's excellent production of Tom Stoppard's The Real ThingThe Real Thing was already my favorite play, but seeing this production made me appreciate parts of it even more.  My theater companion was not so impressed, and remarked that given his theater tastes, Stoppard was "one of those things I ought to like, but don't."

I was intrigued by the concept.  Amazon and Netflix now regularly make confident assertions about things I'll like, given the other things I like, and given what people who like those things like.  And while those assertions are often right, they occasionally misfire.  Similarly, even without the algorithms, I suspect that each of us have books or movies or other tastes that we "ought to like," given the tastes of those similar to us, but don't.

Mine's The Lord of the Rings.  I read a lot of fantasy novels and given what others like, I ought to like these.  But while I finally managed to finally slog through the first two books by pretending that they'd been written by George R.R. Martin, I still got stuck early on in The Return of the King.  I ought to like them much more than I do. 

How about you?

Posted by Will Baude on June 8, 2013 at 07:36 AM in Books | Permalink


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I read TLOTR twice -- once twenty years later just to make sure about my earlier opinion -- and barely liked them. I enjoy the story more than the reading. I like SF and fantasy, so I should like them more, and would have, if Tolkien were a better writer. Sorry, but it is the truth.

Posted by: Mike | Jun 14, 2013 1:30:37 AM

"Faramir" is right to suggest that Lord of the Rings is an eccentric choice for something you ought to like, but don't, but here are some contrasting reasons why it's an eccentric choice. It's easy to dislike the Lord of the Rings because stylistically the first chapter (the unexpected party) is so different from the others, or because the heroes are all white and from the north and west and the villains are generally black and from the south and east, or because there are neither well-drawn women characters nor adult situations nor a coherent economic explanation for how the Elves and Dwarves, say, get enough to eat, or because given the Holocaust there is way too much talk of "the true blood of Westernesse" running in the admirable characters, or because the whole thing is way too long. It's so easy to dislike the Lord of the Rings for any or all of these reasons that it's never been something that I have particularly expected anyone else to like.

I like it because I grew up reading it and, darn it, it's a great story, but there are all sorts of reasons why it's not right to expect anyone in your position to like it.

On the other hand, 15 years ago a summer law clerk hit on the best subject for "ought to like, but don't": Bob Marley.

Posted by: Mark Regan | Jun 11, 2013 4:52:47 PM


Yes, really. At any event, I'm surprised and intrigued by the fervor of your reaction. Thanks!

Posted by: William Baude | Jun 9, 2013 1:06:52 AM

Boswell's 'Life of Samuel Johnson.'

But I need to try again.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Jun 8, 2013 7:48:50 PM

I enjoyed my brief moment masquerading as an obessed LOTR fan. I'm not one, nor am I an opera fan, but I am amused at the idea of putting those who worship LOTR in the same elitest camp as those who insist that Henry will give up his love of popular music as soon as he hears an opera star.

In any event, when you introduce a great category like "I ought to like, but don't," it would be best not to illustrate it with a pick so eccentric as to distract from the category you are creating. Because you don't just say you don't like LOTR, you say you couldn't bring yourself to finish it. You were barely able to get yourself to read what you did read. Really? For good or ill, LOTR is probably the most highly regarded piece of fantasy fiction there is, both by critics and in popular terms. To say you are a fan of fantasy but can't abide LOTR is like saying you are a fan of opera but walked out of a performance by Marie Callas. Or that you are a fan of the Righteous Brothers but have never been able to listen all the way to the end of "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling."

Posted by: Faramir | Jun 8, 2013 7:19:33 PM

In light of Faramir's comment, a quote from The Real Thing itself seems apt:

Henry: I was taken once to Covent Garden to hear a woman called Callas in a sort of foreign musical with no dancing which people were donating kidneys to get tickets for. The idea was that I would be cured of my strange disability. As though the place were a kind of Lourdes, for the musically disadvantaged. My illness at the time took the form of believing that the Righteous Brothers' recording of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" on the London label was possibly the most haunting, the most deeply moving noise ever produced by the human spirit, and this female vocalist person was going to set me right.

Max: No good?

Henry: Not even close. That woman would have had a job getting into the top thirty if she were *hyped.*

Posted by: William Baude | Jun 8, 2013 2:41:43 PM

The basic problem is that Tolkien is a poor and essentially unedited stylist. That, and Tom Bombadil should be lashed to a dead ent and sent over the falls. Ring a shamma lamma ding dong, etc.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 8, 2013 2:25:47 PM

Get help.

Posted by: Faramir | Jun 8, 2013 1:31:20 PM

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