My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have a theory that the only way to learn how to love art is to undergo an apprenticeship of appreciation. Almost all of the art I love–poetry, literature, music, film–I love because someone else introduced me to it and showed me how to love it well. I’ve tried on a variety of different tastes through the years, usually because of someone I was hanging out with at the time or someone I wanted to impress. I learned to enjoy (briefly) R&B because of my best friend in 8th grade. I was on a serious emo kick for awhile in college because of the guys I was hanging out with (but didn’t we all listen to Dashboard Confessionals sing Your Hair is Everywhere in 2000?)
Some of my appreciations lasted longer than others, usually because I pursued them more earnestly or because I began to really appreciate the art form itself, going beyond the initial introduction. I wonder sometimes if there is any other way to learn to love a thing? At least for me, there is always a who behind every what. Sometimes that who is a friend or teacher; sometimes it is a “celebrity” or someone I don’t know in real life, but who nonetheless represents how I want to live or think or become.
All that to say, to me this book was about an apprenticeship of appreciation. Frank knows music because his mom knew music. She showed him the possibilities of music, especially when you put your favorite songs in conversation with one another. But Frank carried on his mother’s appreciation of music, using music to address his customer’s needs with surprising results. And Frank, too, passes on his knack for finding the right song for the situation to another character who puts this talent to use as a career (no spoilers!) Because of his knowledge of and enthusiasm for music, Frank shows everyone around him how to love music, too.
When Ilsa meets Frank, she seems to be captivated, first and foremost, by his taste. She wants to listen to him appreciate music so that she can apprentice herself to his loves. Of course, she turns out to have a story of her own before the end of the story, but the point is this: we learn to love art by learning about it from those we love or admire or are drawn to. And that is the most beautiful thing about art: it forms community. When we are drawn to a song or a poet or a painting, we’re drawn into a community of others who love the same thing. The internet is rife with “fandoms”–online communities of people who find their truest companions among those who love what they love. I understand this impulse to love things with others and so I understand the characters in this book.
I will say that I liked Rachel Joyce’s bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry better than this one, for reasons that I won’t divulge. But I loved that both books celebrate community and the need to be physically present for those we love, and both celebrate the way that love can grow even into middle age and beyond. A fun read.