An indie music critic decided to write a book about the artist he most despised. What happened next took him on a journey to the end of taste.
Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love first appeared in 2007 as part of the 33 1/3 series, in which authors devote an entire book to one of their favorite albums. Prior to Wilson's volume, these titles invariably covered albums that, whether new or old, were widely regarded as classics. The Beatles, James Brown, the Ramones, ABBA and the Beastie Boys all have albums featured in the series, and the books are clearly aimed at fans. As an old back cover blurb from the series put it, the books functioned as "extended liner notes" for those who wished to dive even deeper into their favorite albums.
For Let's Talk About Love, the 52nd volume in the series, Wilson decided to flip the script. Instead of selecting one of his most beloved albums, he chose one from the artist he most reviled-- arguably one of the most polarizing figures in music over the previous decade-- Céline Dion. Reminded of the world-conquering omnipresence of her 1997 Titanic-propelled hit, "My Heart Will Go On," Wilson pitched a book on Let's Talk About Love, the album that features the song, and attempted to locate the source of his overwhelming disdain for Dion and her music.
The resulting book is less a discussion of the album itself as it is a biography of Dion-- how and why she came to sing the sort of music she sings-- a taste biography of Wilson-- how and why he came to like and value the music he likes and values-- and an interrogation of the very concept of taste itself. Figuring it very unlikely that 31 million Céline Dion fans could be wrong, Wilson sets out to understand just what it is about her music that they respond to, and why he has the opposite reaction. The subtitle to the first edition was A journey to the end of taste, and Wilson succeeds in leading the reader to question notions of "good" and "bad" taste, as well as the assumptions and value judgments that come with these categories.
Let's Talk About Love came to be one of the most successful, and certainly one of the most talked about, books of the 33 1/3 series, and it has now been re-released in an expanded, standalone edition. Supplemental essays from musicians Owen Pallett, Drew Daniel and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic; authors Nick Hornby, Mary Gaitskill and Sheila Heti; plus other music critics, academics, not to mention walking MFA thesis James Franco, expand and comment on Wilson's original conceit, offering new perspectives and bringing secondary ideas buried in the first edition to the fore.
I'm typically not much of a re-reader, so even though I count the first edition of Let's Talk About Love among my favorite books, I was still surprised what a joy it was to read it again in this new edition. While the new essays are uneven, as would be expected with such a wide variety of contributors, each is thoughtful and thought-provoking enough to be well worth the read. Let's Talk About Love is already established as a must-read of 21st century music writing, and this book would likely be of equal interest to those interested in personal nonfiction, memoirs, essays, criticism and insights into the ways we interact with art.
I worked for Worthington Libraries from 2008-2015, and am willing to read just about anything if someone makes it sound interesting enough. I once read a book of perfume reviews, but this was a mistake. I enjoy essay collections, cultural criticism, humor and science fiction. I also like weird pop music, exploring central Ohio by bicycle, finding things to eat and drink and the Cleveland Indians.