My latest book began with a trip to the movies five years ago. In August of 2018, I went to a cinema and bought a ticket for Jurassic World 2. I knew it wasn’t going to be any good. I knew that when the movie was over, it wouldn’t be worth thinking about or talking about and that I would summarily forget everything about the film before the following day. I knew that I should have instead purchased a ticket to see First Reformed, which was also playing, and which I had heard was quite good—but I didn’t. Jurassic World 2 was as vacuous and stupid as I knew it would be, but days later, I couldn’t shake the frustration I felt with myself for wasting my time and money on the ticket.
Love What Lasts is the book which grew out of this frustration. Why had I seen a stupid movie when I could have seen a good one? It wasn’t a matter of cost, time, or convenience. It was a matter of laziness. And bad taste.
As I’m sure you know, Jurassic World 2 was the sort of mindless, soulless, big-budget spectacle which is wildly popular for a couple of months, then forgotten about. If you saw it, you probably only saw it once. It’s not the sort of film you need to see twice. There’s nothing intricate, delicate, or subtle about the story or themes which repays a second viewing. As opposed to seeing it a second time, you’re much happier watching a different mindless, soulless, big-budget spectacle that you haven’t seen yet—then forgetting about it, as well.
The longer one mulls over popular culture, though, the more obvious it becomes that mindless, soulless, big budget spectacles are not just a kind of movie, but a kind of life, and unless you’re very careful how you live, you can accidentally get stuck in such a life. There’s a Jurassic World 2 variety of music, fiction, food, fashion, diet, church, politics, architecture, and so on. The modern world is full of cultural artifacts that are ultra-sensual, wildly popular, then suddenly gone, easily replaced by something even more sensual. In Love What Lasts, the term I use to describe such things is “mediocre.”
Obviously, not all things are mediocre. Some things last. In fact, some things last a long time.
Why do some things last, though?
Why are we still listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska forty years after it came out? Why are we still listening to the Brandenburg Concertos three hundred years after they were first performed? Why are we still reading the City of God sixteen hundred years after it was written? Love What Lasts offers answers to these questions. It also explores the question of why so many people fill their lives with things that do not last, and what becomes of souls that are fed on things which do not last.
I wish I could claim that Love What Lasts was a finger-wagging victory lap about how I overcame bad taste after seeing Jurassic World 2, but it’s not. It’s an aspirational book. It’s a book about the profound importance of goodness and beauty, though I will plainly admit that I am struggling to live up to the modest standards I lay out.
When I was young, popular music was a sort of religion to me, but then I got a job teaching classical literature, and over the last twenty years, I’ve come to see just how very different things which last are from pleasant, trendy things that come and go quickly. I’ve also seen how prolonged exposure to blockbuster films, blockbuster novels, and blockbuster theologies corrupt our ability to enjoy or even understand real beauty or piety. I have seen this in my students. I have seen it in myself.
It’s never too late, of course. The responsibility to love and enjoy beautiful things is a lifelong task which is not abrogated simply because we start late. Love What Lasts gives readers ways of evaluating their tastes and reasons to evaluate the tastes of their children. It’s a book which proposes a common sense definition of good taste and offers reasons why the hard slog of developing good taste is worthwhile.
Love What Lasts is a difficult book to classify, then, because it’s also a history book which explains the origins of popular culture, secularism, and the blockbuster. It’s a philosophy book inasmuch as it explains why blockbusters are bad for the soul. It’s a theology book inasmuch as it defends common things, for common things are only defensible in the light of the uncommon things of heaven. It’s also a confession and a personal history of what I’ve learned about good taste from teaching high school. And given that it’s also a diatribe against the ugly clothes, ugly food, and ugly entertainment marketed to American children, I suppose it’s a bit of a parenting book, as well.
I hope it is as enlightening, convicting, and amusing to read as it was to write.
Love What Lasts is available for pre-order now.