I’m taking delight, lately, in appreciations of things.
For example, Twitter is great for recommendations, but for a long time now I’ve turned to Tumblr as a place that shows me how to like things. Diving into a stream of gleeful reactions and fanart is fun for its own sake (for turns of phrase and feats of illustration), and as a lure, but it often shows me the way into a story.
In the case of Pacific Rim, I distinctly remember a photoset for a Pacific Rim / Strictly Ballroom AU (alternative universe) which tipped me into (a) watching it and (b) consciously and thoroughly choosing to have a good time.
There’s a certain amount of power and chaos in deciding in advance to have a good time.
When Jupiter Ascending came out, I remember a review (I can’t find it now) titled “Jupiter Ascending is the best worst movie: go see it immediately”, in which the author mentioned they went in having “pre-gamed with feminists on the internet”, which was exactly how to do it.
There have been a few shows and books for which I used to deliberately associate with people who enjoy them, rather than with fans. And sometimes I’ll feel neutral about a show or story, and then decide to hang out on a hashtag and find out how to love it.
Slightly Foxed Quarterly, while exuding a very tweed-jacketed air, and mostly dealing with books that seem suited to being read by someone dressed that way, is full of appreciations. Its essays aren’t an argument or an assessment, but a brief revelation. I even like having read about the books it DOESN’T make me want to read — often I at least understand more about how other people relate to them.
An appreciation can be a delight in itself. There’s joy in someone else’s joy.
Some of the best answers from the panel I chaired at BWF were not in answer to “what books would you recommend?” but “what books got you through?” Sometimes when I interview people, I ask them “what lights you up about [this thing you do]?” I think I got that question from Chariots of Fire, which my father made us watch a lot growing up: that moment when Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige) gives a serious answer to why she is an actress, and then laughs and loses her formality and says, “No, that’s silly. I do it because I love it.” And every so often that question will elicit that same unselfconscious delight.
And the first time I listened to judges of an award on a panel (after the award was presented) was also joyful — a ramble through books they’d enjoyed by five people who had all those books in common. There were too many books submitted for them to try to talk us into reading them all — they didn’t even try.
One reason I like Todd Henry’s note-taking structure is that “surprises” and “likes” comes before “dislikes”.
During my brief stint at a bookshop, I was afraid I’d be even more confronted with how many books I’d never get to read. But instead I got to let them pour through my hands like bright stones, and listen to and deal in and pass on other people’s appreciations, and my own, and little pools and great waves of local enthusiasms, all mixed up together.
An appreciation of a piece of art that doesn’t try to talk me into (or dissuade me from!) liking it is such a wonderful encounter with HOW to like it, if I want to. Sometimes it’s a gentle disclosure of why it might (not) be for me, as well as a glimpse into the workings of a small corner of the world, and what another mind made of it. Not infrequently, it’s an invitation to try on an unfamiliar way of reading and experience enjoying something I might not have otherwise.
Sometimes I realise all I want is a story that leaves me crying with delight while laughing, “What is going ON?” with everyone around me.
Every so often I meet someone who doesn’t understand why some people laugh not because something’s amusing, but from surprise and delight. “Why are you laughing?” they whisper, perturbed, in the cinema. “What’s funny?”
I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once tonight, and the audience was compact but vocal. They enjoyed it out loud, together, and the movie kept looping back and building on things we didn’t think it had meant us to pick up on, sometimes comically but not solely, or centrally. I watched the movie not because I’d been told to, but because of the spreading ripples of people saying what it meant to them. I think it meant something different to me, not least because part of its value for me was that those other people’s reactions now existed. The first song on the car radio after I came out of the cinema was Matchbox Twenty’s “Real World“, and it didn’t mean anything, but it fit, and that felt meaningful in the way a song you know how to sing does. I’ve never owned a Matchbox Twenty album, but because my sister did, I knew all the songs in order.