On middlebrow books
What should I make of the fact that middlebrow nonfiction tends to be so much more rewarding (for me) than middlebrow fiction?
- What distinguishes highbrow from middlebrow offers much greater rewards in fiction than in nonfiction, for intrinsic reasons. Most obviously, the bare transmission of information matters a lot more in nonfiction.
- What distinguishes highbrow from middlebrow offers much greater rewards in fiction than in nonfiction, because of how highbrow nonfiction and fiction are generated. (Should I really read recent journal articles about Abraham Lincoln instead of Abe?)
- If you read something wonderful, it's easy to classify it as "middlebrow" if it's fiction but tempting to elevate it to "highbrow" if it's fiction. (If A Moveable Feast weren't so wonderful, I'd probably not be tempted to think of it as highbrow.)
- I'm deceived by a short-term trend. (A few years ago I read The Dog, Straight Man, and Dear Committee Members and am very glad I did so.)
- I'm worse at selecting middlebrow fiction.
- The comparative advantage of books is greater for middlebrow nonfiction than for middlebrow fiction (television and Twitter exist!).
P.S.: The impetus here is The Startup Wife. It tells a basically plausible and engaging story of a business; it's funny; the writing is crisp; and it's well-paced. I devoured it. It's not always easy to make sense of the book's politics, but what matters most for its plot and aesthetic agenda--sexism, gender dynamics, and so on--seemed on point to me. But despite its being the very best middlebrow fiction book I've read in years, I'm only somewhat glad I read it instead of the next thing on my list.