One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

There ain’t, I am reliably informed, no accounting for taste. But from time to time I come across something that I have heard lauded for years and years, and my reaction when I finally get to it is… eh. Or worse, urgh. Like: where is this film/book/play that sounded so great? I wanted to see that one.

A few weeks ago Spartacus was on, and my husband and I realized we’d heard about it forever and had never seen it. And it was directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom we both admire. So we watched it… for about 40 minutes, before we agreed that our lives were worth more than sitting through any more of it. It wasn’t that the film was dated–there are films that are considerably older that we watch with enjoyment. Spartacus was visually arresting and filled with great actors, many of them doing unspectacular work. After all the years I’d heard about this movie… the big take away was “I am Spartacus.”

About a dozen years ago the late P.D. James wrote a “sequel” to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley. The reviews I saw were nothing short of rapturous. With hope in my heart and the book in my hands I dived in and…Ugh.I really want to read the book everyone else read and got so enthusiastic about. I could take your time and mine and explain all my objections–it was dreary and without wit, it was a mediocre mystery, it had no idea who its target audience was.  Etc. There was no magic.

But that’s just me. Maybe you liked it. Maybe you found it everything you wanted in a mystery-sequel-to Austen. In which case, who’s right? What you want from a given work may be entirely different from what I want. We may not be reading the same text or seeing the same movie, because we see with such different eyes. Agree to disagree and move on.

So why even mention it? Because I’ve noticed a real uptick in the past couple of years in conversations that suddenly swerve into “No, you’re WRONG” trainwrecks. Often among usually easy-going folks. It’s as if we’re all on such a short fuse that a disagreement about a subjective response to a piece of entertainment can feel like an attack. I feel it myself, when I’m bubbling over with enthusiasm for something I like and someone else comes in and, as we say in my household, yucks my yum. Particularly with a sharp-edged diss that suggests that I’m stupid for liking what I like. Conversations like these leave shredded souls all over the internet.

I can’t fix the internet. All I can do is to remember, next time the temptation to snark, to yuck someone else’s yum, wells up in me, that if I want the world to be an incrementally nicer place, it’s got to start with me. The floor I’m tap-dancing on my be someone else’s ceiling, and a little consideration is something I want to cultivate.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor — 6 Comments

  1. Especially in the arts, where frankly judgment revolves around taste. It didn’t ring my bell either, but clearly for many other readers it was delightful. There are things we could fight about that are actually rooted in fact! We don’t have to argue about an artistic judgment. (Although I do admire, in THE EYRE AFFAIR, that alternate universe in which disagreements about how GREAT EXPECTATIONS should end leads to rioting in the streets and the cops being called out. I would rather fight about this than neo-Nazis.)

    • I love a good sturdy argument about why something works or doesn’t work for me and others. What I’m going to try to create and maybe model (if I’m very very good and meet my own standards) is to make it a fun discussion rather than an all-out knife-fight.

      And I still want to read the book that those readers found. I’d love to be that delighted!

  2. I usually shy away from “sequels” of favorite books, even if P.D. James wrote it, because it can’t replicate the magic of the original.

    That said, I did see the Masterpiece Theater movie of Death Comes to Pemberly and enjoyed it. There is magic in the way Lizzy and Mr. Darcy look at each other, gently (and subtly) brush fingers in passing. And their arguments ring true as well as their making up.

    One instance where the movie is better than the book?

    As artistic arguments go I believe the mash up books, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” etc leave me cold. Ruining a great book. Leave the originals alone.

    Yes, let’s argue about that rather than the pseudo politics and fake news that explode on the internet as fact.

    • I’ve often found the BBC dramatizations of P.D. James’ work far superior to the novels they’re based on. I stopped reading her books when I realized that every single person in them who left dishes in the sink overnight died a horrible death.

  3. A friend loaned me the books written from the POV of Darcy about the times in-between during PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and a woman almost stalking/entrapping him for his wealth. I remember them as interesting & thoughtful although I don’t know that I would read them again.

    In the past couple of years I have had a few books where I just could not read them. I will admit that they are DNF but I also point out that the writing is usually good, characterization good, etc.. But for some reason I didn’t want to spend time with those characters. So it’s a “if you like stories with X, Y, and Z, give this a try” review.

    I enjoyed Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, but a couple of them I don’t re-read, for different reasons. It just works that way sometimes.

    And as you said. That’s all right! We can disagree civilly about it!

    I have left dirty dishes in the sink overnight. I will never feel the same way about PD James’ work again. OTOH, I adore the BBC/Amanda Root production of PERSUASION, and recommend it to anyone who wants to see an awesome eyebrow twitch/words not said/only line not by Austen that sounded like Austen might have written it production (at the end, her father speaking about his daughter and her offer.)