Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Carody Culver defends Lowbrow Literature

by Carody Culver , June 6, 2014Leave a comment

Last week at the Highbrow vs Lowbrow Cultural Showdown, six of our favourite writers faced off to defend their preferred cultural forms. This week, we’re publishing their speeches in full for your edification. Here, Carody Culver defends lowbrow literature.

pulp-pardon-my-body Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to a close friend of mine commonly known as lowbrow literature.

Lots of people love lowbrow. He’s a popular guy. He also makes a tonne of money because he’s really good at turning questionable ideas into insane profits, and I’m mostly talking about teenage vampires and fifty shades of pretend bondage.

But, weirdly, no one likes to admit that they’re friends with lowbrow. ‘Lowbrow?’ they say with faint, barely disguised disgust. ‘No, thank you… I don’t’.

Why, ladies and gentlemen? Why this blatant denial, this inability to acknowledge our voracious appetite for trash? I’m here to defend lowbrow. I’m in his corner. I’ve got his back. I’m rewriting his story and I’m taking you with me – because frankly, there are times when I feel like I’ve had just about enough of highbrow books. Their earnest ideas, their lyrical prose, their fancy awards and their cover quotes from people like Jonathan Franzen, and – and this almost goes without saying – their size, I mean good god, just look at The Luminaries. I can barely lift it.

Full disclosure: yes, I read highbrow books. Sometimes, I even enjoy them. I work in a bookshop and I spent my days telling people to read David Vann, Tim Winton, Jennifer Egan, Donna Tartt, and – of course – Hannah Kent, and that’s because I love their books.

But do I read them all the time? No. I need to be in the mood. My arms need to be up to the challenge of holding tomes like The Luminaries. And just as there’s a time and place for highbrow, there’s an equal time and place for its less intellectually regarded, but more commercially successful cousin.

Lowbrow is versatile. Lowbrow is fun. Lowbrow caters to many tastes. You want action, romance, horror, sci-fi? You want international conspiracies that illogically involve the Vatican, you want shipping magnates falling in love with their nannies, you want serial killers who never die no matter how many times they get shot, stabbed or beaten? Basically, do you want to be entertained? When most people get on a plane and make a last-minute panic purchase at the airport bookshop, do they look for depressing Russian novels featuring characters with names that go for pages? I don’t think so.

Look, I could give you hypotheticals all night, or I could give you cold, hard facts. Harlequin – the company that owns Mills and Boon – is currently worth $455 million. Fifty Shades of Grey is the biggest selling book of all time.

And yet still, many people don’t like to admit that they read lowbrow books because they think it makes them appear less intelligent, less discerning, more likely to name their children North West or Bieber. A 2011 British study found that a quarter of eBook readers are too embarrassed to tell the truth about what they’re reading: 55% had read less than a third of the ‘smart’ print books on their shelves and one in 10 hadn’t read any. Why? Probably because they’re too busy with those copies of Hunger Games they nicked off their housemate’s bedside table. And while we’re on that subject, it’s time to throw off the shame shackles and do away with ‘adult covers’ for popular YA books – you’re not fooling anyone.

We read for many reasons – to be informed, to be inspired, to look smart on the bus – but also because we want to be transported. It’s worth remembering that what we consider highbrow now – our classics, from Shakespeare to Austen and Dickens – was, in its day, what we’d now call lowbrow: popular entertainment. We shouldn’t dismiss something just because it’s a light and easy read. Highbrow is kind of like that intimidating hipster in the corner of the bar – the one drinking from a jar and wearing a waistcoat made out of an upcycled vintage saddle. Part of you wants to be their friend, but another part of you wonders if the effort is worth the return.

Lowbrow, on the other hand – lowbrow is like your hilarious cousin who always gets too drunk and ends up saying something hugely inappropriate but ultimately legendary. Lowbrow is the life of the party, and how is he repaid? By being given to Lifeline. It’s the literary equivalent of defriending someone on Facebook when you were the one who friended them in the first place.

Of course highbrow has its place – we need great literature. But imagine a world without lowbrow. Lowbrow has to exist, or highbrow is just… brow. There’s room for both – and I’m here to tell the world that it’s OK to read books about vampires getting it on if that’s your thing. I want people to get the Mills and Boon out from under the bed. I want them to reclaim the Dan Brown from the garage sale (maybe). Would you prefer to read Ulysses or the Harlequin classic inexplicably titled Pardon My Body? I know which one I’d rather take to bed with me tonight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.

 

Carody Culver is Killings books columnist, and a freelance writer and editor. www.carodyculver.com

highbrowvslowbrow




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1397733525000-TheOppositeOfLoneliness-600

Carody Culver

A published afterlife: Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan looked set for literary stardom. For an aspiring writer, her credentials were so perfect they could have been lifted straight from fiction. Read more »

warning

SA Jones

‘Weather is never just weather’: Sophie Cunningham’s Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy

We’ve had national disasters in the forty years since Cyclone Tracy, but Tracy’s iconic status in the national consciousness endures. Read more »

The Fictional Woman

Carody Culver

Learning from semi-charmed lives

When famous public figures take a step further and use their personal experience as a literary vehicle for exploring wider social issues, I can happily check my celebrity memoir prejudice at the bookshop door. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

Douglass books

Julia Tulloh

High fantasy writers who aren’t George RR Martin, and who are also women

‘Tolkien is the greatest burden the modern fantasy author must labour under and eventually escape from if they are to succeed.’ So wrote Australian high fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, a decade and a half ago. Replace Tolkien with George RR Martin, and one might say the same principle applies today. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »