Malcolm Gladwell is almost always right. (Like when he refers to the single biggest problem every successful person faces.) 

But he does get one thing wrong.

I was listening to an episode of Gladwell's reliably excellent podcast series, Revisionist History. In an ad for Audible, Malcolm shares his love for the "Jack Reacher" books by bestselling author Lee Childs, calling them a "guilty pleasure."

A couple days later I took an Uber. The driver was listening to Gwen Stefani. After a minute or he said, "I should probably change that," and switched to a classical station.

One second he was nodding his head and tapping the steering wheel to the beat while we learned to spell "bananas." The next he sat still as we listened to a Russian chamber piece that was way over my head.

I decided to ask. "Do you enjoy classical music?" I asked.

He thought for a minute. Then he sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Not really," he said. "But I figure that's what people think I should listen to."

For him, that made Gwen Stefani a guilty pleasure: Something "that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard." 

But why, for Malcolm, is a Lee Childs book a guilty pleasure? Should he only proud to like, say, books by John Irving or Philip Roth or Toni Morrison? 

There's nothing wrong with enjoying engrossing, well-written thrillers that also happen to be considered "mass market." 

Why would you ever change your behavior -- like listening to something you don't really enjoy -- just because of what other people might think? Is it uncool to admit you love reading Childs, or Jon Sandford, or Robert B. Parker? Or that you love Billions? Or no matter how many times you've seen it, it's always fun to see Mr. Miyagi thrash the Kobra Kai?

If so, I'm totally uncool. In lots of ways.

I would rather watch any South Park episode -- even those I've seen multiple times, like Casa Bonita or Ginger Kids or Scott Tenorman Must Die or Best Friends Forever -- over pretty much anything on, say, Masterpiece Theater. (Except Downton Abbey, of course.)

And while I probably should like Bon Iver, Wilco, or Radiohead... I prefer bands like UFO, Metallica, Rush, and least highbrow of all, early Kiss (even though Gene Simmons did once accuse me of creating fake news about his 10-CD box set, The Vault.)

I like what I like. You like what you like.

Why should we be ashamed? What we enjoy has no bearing on our level of intelligence, or sophistication, or education. Malcolm is in no way diminished because he enjoys the occasional mass market thriller. 

And neither are we.

Life is too short to spend doing, or watching, or reading, or listening to things you think you're supposed to like. Life is definitely too short to spend time driving a certain car, or wearing certain clothes, or living in a certain a house, or the countless other things we do based largely on how we think it will make others perceive us.

The only time you should feel guilty is when you make a choice based solely on the reflection you think you will see in other people's eyes -- especially people you don't even know.

Then you should feel guilty -- because that's when you've cheated yourself. 

Published on: Aug 13, 2018
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