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Dan Brown, world’s worst bestselling novelist, takes on the Masons

September 15, 2009
Dan Brown: You'd be smiling, too.

Dan Brown: You'd be smiling, too.

It’s a great day for those who read only one book a year: Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, successor to his inexplicably popular The DaVinci Code–80 million copies sold worldwide since 2003!–has finally arrived.

I know this kind of sneering makes me look like an elitist, but I don’t care. Dan Brown practices the “See Spot run” style of writing, with short chapters, toilet-paper-thin characters, and stilted dialogue. He’s the worst writer among bestselling phenoms since Robert James Waller inflicted The Bridges of Madison County on an unsuspecting public in 1992.

Before I go on, here are some links if you want to join the Dan Brown “fun”: USA Today has an interview with the author; for a relatively generous early review, see the Los Angeles Times; the Times also has a good article on the publishing backstory (5 million copy first printing!); for a smart parody, see John Crace’s piece in the Guardian (sample: “He strode onwards through the clunky sentences and the turgid repetition of pointless information till he reached his destination.”

Really, I enjoy a good pulpy thriller as much as anyone, and that’s what I expected when I picked up The DaVinci Code a few years ago — only to find the novel is nothing but an extended series of sketchy chase scenes, with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and blah-blah.

Brown claims the “information” in the novel about how the Catholic Church has suppressed knowledge of Mary Magdalene is all true, and that veneer of historical accuracy no doubt helped fuel The Da Vinci Code’s popularity. People love secret history and conspiracy theories. In fact, the story of Christ’s bloodline as the real Holy Grail does not go back to the first century but was invented from scratch in 1956 by Pierre Plantard, an anti-Semitic French conman, with the help of Gerard de Sede, a writer.

Although long and thoroughly discredited in France, Plantard’s humbug was was successfully repackaged by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln in their 1982 “nonfiction” bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which is most likely where Brown found it. If you don’t believe me, check out this excellent expose by Laura Miller at Salon.

Still, I have to admire a good hoax — or a bad one improved upon –and do not really wish to spoil the fun of those who want to read The Lost Symbol in peace. Admittedly, I could not defend all my enthusiasms. I watch the Syfy Channel, for example, and not just for “Battlestar Galactica.”

But how such very bad writers as Brown, or Waller, or James Patterson, or John Grisham become so fantastically popular is an enduring enigma. As J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Anne Rice, James Michener, and any number of bestselling novelists have shown, stylistic imbecility is not a requirement of literary entertainment.

Finally, Brown’s new book aims to do for the Masons what The Da Vinci Code did for the Catholic Church — make it seem a shadowy, nefarious secret cult up to no good. But whereas the Vatican dutifully responded with outrage of incalculable publicity value, the Masons are viewing The Lost Symbol as good clean fun, reports Reuters.

How disappointing for Brown and his publisher, Doubleday. Maybe the new novel will sell a mere 70 million copies.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    September 15, 2009 1:41 pm

    Yuck yuck. I went to college with some not so dumb people that thought that when they read The Da Vinci Code that they were learning great historical stuff. I don’t understand why people read this stuff.

    And SyFy? Why? What was wrong with simple Sci Fi? (it’s even worse than Pacific Sunwear going to Pac Sun)

  2. Oline permalink
    September 15, 2009 2:17 pm

    OHHH, Chauncey, a deliciously pinprick of a blog. I am always amazed how many people forgot that The Da Vinci Code was fiction…that means that Dan Brown MADE IT UP…HE MADE IT UP….IT WAS NOT FACT…HE WAS NOT CLAIMING ANYTHING…HE MADE IT UP.
    I admit I have a different opinion about The Lost Symbol than you but reasonable people can disagree.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 15, 2009 2:32 pm

      I’m not sure where you think we disagree on The Last Symbol — I begrudge no one who reads this swill with pleasure. As I noted, I have some swill I’m fond of, too (“Warehouse 13”, anyone?). Where I must correct you is on your assertion that Dan Brown made no claims for the veracity of The Da Vinci Code. On the contrary, he maintains the “historical” information it contains is “99 percent accurate.” What a putz. As Nancy Klingener notes elsewhere, this is a man who thinks British TV reporters can win a Pulitzer Prize. But otherwise, a very fine blog posting on Off the Page.

  3. Candice permalink
    September 15, 2009 9:18 pm

    Short chapters? Toilet Paper thin characters? Stilted dialogue? Sounds perfect for beach reading. Next time, I’ll leave the Jane Austin behind.

    For the record, I read the DaVince Code only recently. Friend who was with me when I bought the book warned me that I was wasting my money. He was right and I was disappointed, especially after all the hoopla when the book first came out.

  4. September 16, 2009 9:22 am

    Great commentary. I found the book and movies kept my attention for about 2 minutes. I thought I had an attitude because I felt this way. As far as I am concerned the world started 2009 years ago. I feel much better now that I just did not like the book. The book industry is pretty simple. Make money, or you get no honey. It is not about the best at all. I can only imagine how many great works get snuffed out at the publishing companies, and these will make millions. Oh yes on the 2009, I do not know if that is B.C. or A.D. (these are special signals in the De V Code, I think)

  5. alexis permalink
    September 16, 2009 9:58 pm

    I guess after we had George Bush as president for eight years, Brown thinks we are stupid and we will actually believe The DaVince Code is historically based. I saw a great show on TV one time (a long time ago, so I don’t remember what it was or what network it was on.) but it spent the majority of the program looking into all the theories presented in the book. To the point where I was going, holy shit, could this be real? And then, in the very last five minutes, they totally debunked EVERYTHING and didn’t leave any room for speculation.

  6. shivani shankar permalink
    October 19, 2009 3:15 am

    Hi to every one. I am from India. I became a fan of Dan Brown when I read his “Angles & Demons”. From then, I am a big fan of him. I read his three novels, Angles & Demons, The Davince Code, The deseption point. I like to say that I enjoyed more when I read his Angles & Demons. Thanks for this oppertunity.

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