My first undergraduate program was English Literature because I wanted to write and thought that was my way in. We read all the greats and I tried desperately to like them, but most did nothing for me or I actively disliked them.
Now for the short story intensive, I am reading them again: Hemingway, Welty, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so forth.
I still don’t like most of the ones I’ve read so far. I find them tedious and depressing.
For a short time emotionally I was back in that classroom in Denver, feeling as if I didn’t belong, that I was wretched and stupid. Fearing I could never be a good writer if I didn’t think that Sherwood Anderson was the best writer that ever lived.
Fiction truly is just a matter of taste. Not in the sense of good taste or bad taste, but in the sense of ‘she likes chocolate ice cream’ and ‘he likes strawberry ice cream.’
These days I know a lot of writers. (Now that’s a statement that my inner geek girl thrills to.) Some of them write stories I adore. Some write fiction that just doesn’t appeal to me because I’m not their target audience. In general, if a story begins with a person bleeding out on the ground, I’m not going to read that story. Same with stories that explore the depths of depression.
One of the most powerful, creativity-affirming things I ever heard was Seth Godin’s statement, “You are not for everyone.” Embracing that means embracing my unique voice and my unique taste. It’s liberating.
Similarly, Dean Wesley Smith escoriates his students not to say that certain books are ‘bad,’ particularly books that sell well. Instead, he says we should say, “that book is not to my taste” to get out of the binary trap of good/bad and realize it’s about taste. It removes the question of “Am I a good writer or a bad writer?” If it is all a matter of taste, that question doesn’t apply.
Who is the better captain Kirk or Picard or Janeway? That’s a matter of taste and no one really takes those arguments seriously. Everything in art is Kirk, Picard, or Janeway. Just arguments about taste.
In solidarity with the miserable girl I was, I say now that Hemingway is not to my taste. Ring Lardner is not to my taste. Sherwood Anderson is not to my taste. And that’s ok.
I hope you are embracing your own taste. I hope you are willing to try art and stories new to you but keep only those that resonate.
Be well, friends!