From time to time I ponder that my tastes aren’t necessarily very cool. This ought not to be a surprise , since I have never been cool throughout my life and indeed my life has been set up according to the exact opposite principles as to those that make one appear cool. One reason this comes up fairly often is that as a book reviewer in particular my tastes are seen to matter. Just today, for example, I received a message from a publisher whose book I reviewed on a lark from Net Gallery because I was looking for something comedic and as a result of my review I was given auto-approval to all of the books that the publisher has online, and got a friendly message from the publisher as well, who hails from near my birthplace, as it happens. I say this not to brag (although it is something worth bragging about), but instead because I am often mystified that my opinion about books is significant to publishers. When I view books in a negative fashion, this negativity leads others to be deeply hostile to my reviews in an attempt to discredit the critique, but when the review is positive, as it usually is, my opinion carries such weight as it makes it easy for me to acquire free books that I will then usually like in a virtuous cycle.
Why does it matter, though, what a critic says? I am painfully aware that not all books are written with me in mind as an ideal audience. Quite frequently I read books that appear entirely disinterested in having me as a reader and quite unprepared to be reviewed by someone with my perspective. Sometimes this is merely a matter that authors tend to assume that they will be read by people of a certain gender or age or ethnic background and I routinely read books that are inappropriate for me on those grounds. At other times books are written from a worldview that is not merely different than my own but hostile to it, and that usually results in a harshly worded review on my part. For the most part, though, I understand that not everyone creates books or music or movies or anything else with my own preferences and approach in mind. And even where I may not find a book enjoyable to read, I try to think of what audience would appreciate the book and find it enjoyable, so that the book may reach those who would appreciate it the most. I think of the same way when it comes to works of art in general. I like there to be a good match between a creation and those who would appreciate it; I take little pleasure in having my time wasted by that which I do not find edifying or pleasing to me.
Yet it appears that many critics do seem to enjoy making fun of that which they do not like. When it comes to music criticism, for example, I can tell that most of the reviews of a new Train album or an album by the Click or something else of that nature will be negative to the point of being savage, although I must admit I am enough of a Train fan to own most of their albums and to have even paid for a live concert when they were on tour with NeedToBreathe in support of their For Me, It’s You album. I would likely go and see them again if the cost and concert date was acceptable to me–no Friday night shows, for example, as was the case when they were in town last summer. The fact, for example, that Train is not cool does not bother me in the least. I happen to like a lot of uncool musical acts–Toto springs to mind as being a particularly uncool band I happen to really like, for example. Liking music or books or art that is uncool does not make me hate that which has critical approval. I recently finished reading a novel that won the Pulitzer prize and in reading it I could understand why it appealed to critics and found it an enjoyable if somewhat troubling read on my own. If something is going to have mass appeal, I don’t have a problem with it on those grounds–I may have a problem with it on other grounds if I find it immoral, for example. If something has a limited appeal to a small niche audience, that does not bother me either.
As a critic, and someone who takes criticism rather seriously, I tend not to think that I am some sort of gatekeeper that determines what is cool and what is not. To the extent that my opinion carries weight with others, I hope that my opinions are well-informed and that my rationale is easy to understand even when others disagree with it. I generally think of books or anything else that takes up my time–this includes people–as being the sort of creation that I wish to like and enjoy and appreciate. There are times when I do and I feel happy about this. Even when I do not appreciate something, I hope that someone else does and I feel no sense of hostility to that which is not to my own tastes. I do not expect people to necessarily do everything according to my own tastes and my own preferences. Nor do I expect that if I do not like something for myself that I think it unworthy of being liked or appreciated by someone else who happens to have different standards. I think in general that our critical environment would be a lot better if we tried to recognize the grounds that something was appealing for others, and to appreciate that sometimes people, a lot of people, may simply have tastes that are much different than our own. To have different tastes is not to have bad tastes. We should simply be able to enjoy being around those who enjoy our tastes and whose tastes we appreciate. There is enough that we ought to judge that matters of preference or the fact that someone makes it a bit too obvious that they are trying too hard ought not to mean that we mercilessly make fun of them and insult everyone who does not feel the same way as we do, as if we have some sort of authority to be the arbiters of taste for anyone other than ourselves and whoever chooses out of their own free will to consider our opinion to be a worthy one.
 See, for example: