I've been joking behind the scenes with a friend about artistic appreciation and what might be called (very unnecessarily) "Reception Theory." The questions are like this, "Do good prophets require good apostles?" and "if a parable falls in the woods with nobody around to hear...."
With another (blogless) friend I've been talking about an old favorite of mine, Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. This friend (age 30) just read it for the first time, and thought (as I did at age 20) that it was the best novel he'd ever read. This friend was so excited that he sent me a message declaring, "I remember you told me to read that book ten years ago -- I don't know what I was thinking waiting so long! I'll read anything you recommend starting now."
I have a mixed reaction about this: part of me remembers how much I enjoyed Rand's books when I was 20-years old. Another part of me remembers how I "escaped" (Rand is notorious for having cultish followers): I trusted Rand's artistic sensibility. I read some of her non-fiction, in which she panned a number of authors and praised a few. The few included Nietzsche, Victor Hugo, Dostoevsky, Hawthorne (sort of), as well as musicians like Rachmaninoff and painters like Dali (again, sort of). At the time, I was looking to read other stuff, but I didn't want to waste my time on the bad stuff.
What I found, of course, were all of the books that I've come to love. Indeed, I suppose I could be accused of never having escaped Rand's influence. In any case, although I remember the thrill of reading her books for the first time at age 20, I never read any of her work twice, and I'm not sure I want to keep recommending it to my friend. Maybe he would like Hugo? Maybe.
Back to my first friend: he said in a recent message that he can't be sure what kinds of literature will appeal to me -- "only you know (that)," he explained. Probably. But why should this be so? Why can't we prescribe "next books" effectively, by combining our knowledge of literature with our knowledge of a person?
This has been a long way of saying, "Hmmm...." I was trying to follow up on a promise in an earlier post concerning what I called "Vulnerability." That's forthcoming, and very much related to this failed post.