fiction, humor, influences, philosophy, writing


I remember reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (which I looooooved and read in one day even though it’s non-fiction and it usually takes me MONTHS to read non-fiction) and being amused and a little taken aback at how casually she referred to herself, her writing, and her reading as “lowbrow.”

“Max is highbrow,” she says casually, of her second husband. “And I am decidedly lowbrow.” And then she goes on to detail all of their differences in taste, in a comfortable, matter-of-fact manner.

I read beautiful prose, writing that is definitely “highbrow” even when it is, say, MG fiction, and I think “Ooh, I wish I could write like that.”

But I’ve tried, and it’s ridiculous. Seriously, I can’t even read it myself without snickering.

I’m lowbrow. My writing’s never going to be considered great literature. No one’s going to talk about Tolstoy and Bates in the same category. I write for pleasure, for enjoyment, for fun, for a chance to put a smile on someone’s face. I hope, usually, to also sneak some Deep Themes underneath it all, but let’s face it, nobody’s reading Magic Most Deadly in hopes of finding out the Meaning of Life. And they aren’t going to find it even if they look.

In one of the Anne books by LM Montgomery, Anne and Gilbert are discussing their future goals. Gilbert has decided he wants to be a doctor, to fight disease and help people live better lives. Anne, though she knows wanting to help people and teach them is more noble, just wants to add some beauty to other people’s lives, to give them one or two moments of joy that they might not have had otherwise.

You know what? That honestly seems pretty noble to me. If that’s lowbrow, I’ll take it.

I don’t have to write Great Literature to bring joy to others. I just have to write joyously. And that I can do.

6 thoughts on “Lowbrow”

  1. Look, I’m managing to read and respond to a blog post right away! You tricked me into it by mentioning Agatha Christie’s autobiography in the first few sentences so they showed up on Facebook. :) That is one of the BEST autobiographies ever! I was kind of amazed how much I got into it, too, particularly when I read it post-kids and had already entered my “ugghhh I can’t get through long books anymore” phase, and that’s a doorstopper.

    Which is just to show, she really DID know how to write to capture and keep your attention.

    I don’t know so much about these “highbrow” and “lowbrow” definitions. Who can really say the effect that a book will have on a person? Awhile back my MIL was going through the bookshelves my SIL had left behind and offered me some of the children’s books. “There’s a big box of Babysitters Club books–” “Yes!” I interjected, but she continued without hearing, “–but I don’t know if you’d rather have the kids reading Good Literature and not have these things around–” “YES I’VE KEPT MY BABYSITTERS CLUB COLLECTION AND WOULD LOVE TO ROUND IT OUT!” I insisted. Where do people get this idea that, since I’m a book person, I must be a book SNOB? Actually a Babysitters Club book is one of the titles I point to as having had a most profound effect on me– a later one, even, written by a ghostwriter instead of Ann M. Martin– “Kristy and the Secret of Susan”– it was the first thing I ever read/learned about autism, and it BLEW MY MIND, and set off a life-long fascination with neuro-UNtypicalness– I didn’t even know my then-baby brother himself had mild autism at the time.

    Contrast that with something like, say, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which I read in school because it was CLASSIC and I enjoyed it at the time, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about it now except that it took place during one of the World Wars (I’m not even sure which one! Probably the first, that would have given it more time to achieve “classic” status).

    The way I see it, communication comes FIRST in writing. You can write all the flowery beautiful prose you want, but if it loses the reader, what’s the point?

    1. It’s funny, I read many of the Babysitters Club books when I was a kid, and really hated them (mainly because I was awfully young for my age, and reading about girls my own age who were basically acting like sixteen and seventeen year olds made me feel even more inadequate and awkward), but now I find myself remembering back to them and thinking that they really did impart some good lessons. Like Mallory and Jessi’s friendship, and Jessi working with the deaf child, and the time that Mary-Ann had to get her charge to the hospital because she had pneumonia … they really weren’t so bad after all.

      I finally, after four tries, finished Anna Karenina this fall. While I can understand why some people love it, I don’t think there’s anything about it that I will ever look back on and think “Wow, that’s actually something really helpful I got from that book.” And I feel no desire to ever re-read it. I’m SUCH a Philistine.

  2. I think lowbrow and highbrow are subjective, and I think that your goal is very highbrow :) To add beauty to other people’s life in whatever way we can is being as highbrow as we can be. That’s what I strive for, too! (And <3 Anne)

  3. Fistbump!
    Oooh, I’d have a lot to say on highbrow/lowbrow-ishness. Especially since I’m currently immersed in the ultimate of highbrow establishments, the academic environment. I have years worth of thinking left to do on this topic, and far more questions than answers. Incidentally, there’s quite a number of highbrow researchers doing highbrow research on this in the field of Cultural Studies, sub-field Popular Culture. And I didn’t know that about Agatha Christie. More fodder for the thought mill on this topic.

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