Lowbrow vs. highbrow literature: The debate continues! | EW.com

Books | Shelf Life

Lowbrow vs. highbrow literature: The debate continues!


john-grisham_lForget the expanding congressional divide. Literature is seeing its own structural breakdown, thanks to an increasingly petty argument between two integral types of authors: highbrow and lowbrow. Nearly one month ago, Time book critic and The Magicians author Lev Grossman was criticized for his commentary in The Wall Street Journal in which he dissed high-minded “Modernist” authors: “The Modernists felt little obligation to entertain their readers…Conversely they have trained us, Pavlovianly, to associate a crisp, dynamic, exciting plot with supermarket fiction, and cheap thrills, and embarrassment…If you’re having too much fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

Then there is the latest dustup over the lowbrow book of the hour: Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. British novelist Philip Pullman took the intellectual approach while talking to a U.K. paper: “All the usual literary things [Brown] just doesn’t know how to do, but he’s not interested in those and nor are his millions of readers…It is not great writing.” The Firm author John Grisham then responded to Pullman’s criticism of Brown by knocking classic literature as a whole: “I’ve read literature in the classic sense. We’ve all got those type of books on the shelves at home…I admit that I didn’t like them much. I couldn’t understand why they were said to be so good.”

I’m not sure which side I take, but I do know one thing: We seem one step away from a Twitter fight of Speidi-Ryan Seacrest proportions here. And it seems the debate will rage on. After all, sales for lowbrow lit only seem to increase (Hello, Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson!), while highbrow lit still garners all the accolades (not to mention an occasional endorsement from the big O). But since I would say a majority of us avid readers enjoy dipping in both reading pools, can’t we all just get along?

So tell me, Shelf Lifers: Which side are you on? Team highbrow? Team lowbrow? And are you, like me, feeling uncomfortable with the fact that Grisham knocked hundreds of years’ worth of amazing reads?

Photo Credit: Maki Galimberti

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