”What’s your favorite color?”
The question came, one morning on the walk to school, from my five-year-old daughter, lately obsessed with “favorites” — declaring hers, knowing mine.
“Blue,” I said, feeling very much the Western male (the West loves blue, and men love it a bit more than women).
A pause. “Why isn’t our car blue, then?”
“Well, I like blue, but I don’t like it as much for cars.”
She processes this. “My favorite color is red.”
That’s the way Tom Vanderbilt begins, You May Also Like, his investigation of favorites, of taste, how we come to like one thing (music, food, color) over another.
I remember being obsessed with favorites as a kid. I’m a little embarrassed by it now. While I certainly have preferences these days, I have tried to cultivate a pleasure in variety, in not having one favorite but in appreciating many things, in finding things to like in places that seem unlikely (or unlikable).
Yes, I remember insisting that people (my mother, my classmates) come down on a favorite color, as though announcing a favorite defined something essential about that person, something helpful. I think my favorite was red. But I also interrogated this preference. I would look at red in a shirt, red in an advertisement, red in a flower and ask myself if, really, this red was better than blue or purple or yellow anywhere. There were different shades of red, I could see. Maybe there was the shade of red that was the finest, that I could say was my favorite red, no, not just my favorite red but my favorite color, that other shades of red might not hold up to every blue the way my favorite red surely would.
I remember one time quizzing people on their favorite television network. At the time for me it was CBS. Because they ran a Muppet special, I think. There must have been one or two other things. Maybe they hadn’t preempted a favorite program for a stupid play-off game like other dumb networks. Unlike with the favorite color I mainly got puzzlement over the idea of having a favorite television network. Not just, I like red sometimes, I like blue sometimes, I guess I don’t have a favorite, but what’s a network? If you don’t know which network airs your favorite TV shows how can you declare a favorite network? Not only was educating people on the premises of my question more work than I wanted, the people I had to educate weren’t interested in the lesson. C’mon the CBS eye logo is kinda cool even now, right?
source: You May Also Like: taste in an age of endless choice by Tom Vanderbilt. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.