Book Review: You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt

Book Review: You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt

Publisher: Knopf

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Consumerism, Marketing

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

If you’re like me, you are an endlessly curious person who enjoys reading and learning about many things, and you like and enjoy a great many different things…if so, then here is a classic book for you!

‘You May Also Like’ endeavours to answer some fascinating questions about why we like particular things over others. You probably have never considered these questions:

  • Are liking and disliking something merely opposites on the same spectrum or are they different things?
  • How do we come to like things that we once disliked?
  • How much can liking be quantified?
  • Why do the tastes of the layperson and the expert so often diverge?
  • Can the pleasure of liking something that you think you are supposed to like be a sufficient substitute for liking something because you authentically like it?
  • Do we know what we like or like what we know?
  • How open are we to changing our tastes?

Vanderbilt deep-dives into the murky and unclear ways that people are motivated to like things and where this aesthetic and sensory preference comes from.

This is a bubbly, effervescent, fun, yet erudite and informative book that I managed to breeze through in one evening. It was so incredible that I bookmarked almost every second or third page. It’s just one of those books. Each page gives you an AHA moment of recognition (as Oprah would say). It turns out that our unique pastimes, preferences and peccadilloes are not as specific to you as an individual as you may have thought!

Ukiyoe Small Museum of print art in Kyoto Japan
Ukiyoe Small Museum of print art in Kyoto Japan

In his book Strangers to Ourselves, author Timothy Wilson argues that we are often unaware of why we respond to things the way we do, much of this behaviour occurs in what he calls the ‘adaptive unconscious’.

We are in effect strangers to our tastes. It is time we got acquainted.

You May Also Like

Liking something is about anticipation and memory

Even as you are looking forward to something, you are looking backward at the memory of the last time you enjoyed it. As Pascal once lamented, The present is never our end. The past and the future seem to dominate our thoughts. Perhaps it is the simple fact that the past and the future last longer than the present. We try and ‘live for the moment’, but how long is that moment before it’s already a memory. That so many people photograph their memorable meals speaks not only to how fleeting the experience may be, but to how photographing it helps to actually make it memorable

Mirrored sky landscapes by Japanese photographer Shota
Mirrored sky landscapes by Japanese photographer Shota

Context is important when ‘liking’ food

People eating in an ethnic restaurant with appropriate decor rate the food higher. Add some red checkered table-clothes and Sergio Leone poster and they will eat more pasta. Context is not just about place, but time. Your love of breakfast cereals probably does not, in normal circumstances extend to dinner.

Kappabashi fake food - Jonelle Patrick
Kappabashi fake food – Jonelle Patrick

Exposure: Liking is Learning

This truism runs from entire cultures down to the individual. The exposure effect begins even before you were born. If you liked rock music or carrot juice as an infant, chances are your mother drank of lot of carrot juice or listened to a lot of Metallica before you were born.

Banksy: ‘The grumpier you are, the more assholes you meet’

The brain likes to resolve things into a recognisable pattern. If you like contemporary art, you will more likely direct your attention towards things that seem like contemporary art.

I want what she’s having

Simply seeing other people eating something or doing something seems to promote us liking it.

Yelp and Google reviews have effectively destroyed (or democratised) authoritative arbiters of taste

Vanderbilt explains the complex conundrums of relying on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google reviews. Although this has meant a flourishing of egalitarian aggregated views on particular restaurants, shops or even whole cities. The need for critical authority and experts has diminished at the same time. It is also possible to ‘buy’ likes, positive reviews and so on to establish quality of service or products where none actually exists.

Travel: Cycling adventures along the Kamo river, Kyot
Kamo river in Kyoto

The paradox of literary prizes

When a literary prize is won, a book’s rating on GoodReads plummets. Once a book is adorned with a sticker denoting that a prize is won, expectations from readers are raised. This goes from being a book you might like to being a book you should like. Not surprisingly this often ends in dashed expectations.

You Might Also Like
Content Catnip cat and breakfast gif

We can be strangers to our own taste

Have you ever bought something home from a trip – a bottle of Italian wine, a piece of Balinese art – that seemed fantastic when you first encountered it but no longer seems to excite you? Perhaps what you really liked was being in Bali or Italy.

eidolia museum in Japan with rocks that look like faces

I hope you enjoyed this review. Are you going to give this book a read? I thoroughly recommend it! If you do, let me know what you think of it below. Happy reading.

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt

  1. This looks great, definitely one for the to-read-next list.

    By the way, all these book reviews on your blog β€” have you thought about some kind of time lapse photography series with all these plants that feature in your photos? I’ve been going through them, seeing when all the different ones crop up to see if I can spot them growing… πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww Terry hehe I don’t know how to tell you that I photograph them all at once then write up the reviews later. I get so busy that I often forget about these poor plants and as a result this poor succulent in the green bowl died…I felt ashamed of it and didn’t know how to tell you πŸ˜†πŸ™€


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