I was just now standing in the kitchen gobbling up the better part of a freshly opened jar of pickled asparagus my wife picked up at one of the farmer’s markets here in Minneapolis, and thinking… besides, “Man, this is some good asparagus!” I was thinking, “this pickled asparagus is to good not to be a metaphor for something.” OK, it was really more the first than the second. But it’s worth noting that as a child I loathed asparagus; I thought it was among the most inedible vegetables, surpassed only by okra for the rank evil it introduced to the dinner table. I was ambivalent about pickles. The idea of pickled asparagus would have horrified me. But at some point I tried asparagus again and loved it. Now it’s my favorite green vegetable. And it’s especially delicious pickled: light and tangy, the perfect snack for a summer afternoon.
I’ve had the same experience with many authors, ones who I was forced to read in high school or college, dismissed roundly, and came back to later with new appreciation.
So I’m saddened when people report with utter finality what they don’t like in food or books: for example, grown-ups who have not eaten a vegetable since adolescence, or who would never read a book for young readers. That’s no way to live. Mark Twain said that the man who won’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t; you might say that a person who won’t read a variety of books has no advantage over the person who doesn’t have access to a variety of books.
To be fair, I have been through periods where I focused on a narrow selection… For example, a summer where I ate nothing but goober grape sandwiches and rice-a-roni and read nothing but mid-century postmodern fiction. Or the winter I ate Italian sausages diced up into pasta dishes and read Horatio Alger novels. If somebody told me they had found a certain bliss with ham and pineapple pizza and Patrick O’Brian novels for the time being, I wouldn’t try to bully them about it. But once in a while it’s a good idea to take a tour outside of your comfort zone; even take a break from your own tastes.
My life is full of favorite books and dishes I used to despise: squash and Kafka, mussels and Melville. And while I doubt I’ll ever warm up to okra or Ayn Rand, I have given myself ample enough samplings on repeat occasions to know.
I live for serendipity.