It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.
May 11, 2013 5:22 AM   Subscribe

Don't make fun of renowned author Dan Brown. "Renowned author Dan Brown hated the critics. Ever since he had become one of the world’s top renowned authors they had made fun of him. They had mocked bestselling book The Da Vinci Code, successful novel Digital Fortress, popular tome Deception Point, money-spinning volume Angels & Demons and chart-topping work of narrative fiction The Lost Symbol."
posted by zoo (176 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, that was fantastic.
posted by deliquescent at 5:33 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was rather amusing.
posted by shelleycat at 5:41 AM on May 11, 2013


The Internet commenter enjoyed the article and expressed this with a comment typed into the community blog with his computer.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:42 AM on May 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


never having read an interview with the man, i wonder whether brown thinks of himself as a popularizer of esoteric mysteries and such, or just a storyteller sticking with a profitable formula. i'm guessing the latter, but i wouldn't be surprised if he'd come to believe some of the conspiratorial stuff he writes about.
posted by waxbanks at 5:49 AM on May 11, 2013


“Thanks, John,” he thanked.

I lol'ed.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:49 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


...inspired by top Italian poet Dante

Ha! Great post, thank you.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2013


Is the actual writing this bad? He mixes up transitive and intransitive verbs?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:59 AM on May 11, 2013


Or perhaps Brown himself is simply the latest grandmaster of the Priory of Sion. Convincing the world that the real treasure of Rennes Le Chateau is the so called Sangreal. Don't make me laugh.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:02 AM on May 11, 2013


Is the actual writing this bad?

Yes. Yes it is. The following paragraphs are actually not a parody of his writing. They appear on the very first page of The Da Vinci Code.


Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils. The albino drew a pistol from his coat and aimed the barrel through the bars, directly at the curator.

posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:04 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Consider the opening to The Da Vinci Code:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

The folks at Language Log have a good post explaining why this is terrible writing. Many posts, in fact.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:04 AM on May 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


Also, I like that the thread is tagged "renowned." LOL
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:05 AM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oops, Pyrogenesis beat me to it.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:06 AM on May 11, 2013


The famous man looked at the red cup.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:06 AM on May 11, 2013


you know, I've written a lot of bad shit myself, but I still don't get how "heaved" made it past an editor.

Also, I'm going back through the thing I'm working on and murder all cases of alliteration in their faces
posted by angrycat at 6:10 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I try not to be a literary snob and if something is super popular I'll always give it a go if only out of sheer curiosity (Harry Potter for instance). However I've picked up The DaVinci Code at at least three times but cannot get past the first page as the writing is so bad (see also to a lesser extent 50 Shades of Gray)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:11 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cash4Lead, the renowned MeFite of undeterminate age, sauntered into the thread to post a post indicating the problems found in the writings of the renowned author Dan Brown, but much like a cup of tea blown by the gusts of the monsoon, the 175cm poster of MeFi posts, Pyrogenesis, had already heaved that very same comment into the thread like a eel in a bowling alley.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:12 AM on May 11, 2013 [65 favorites]


A voice spoke, chillingly close, despite this being the Internet where notions of physical distance don't apply. "Oops."
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:18 AM on May 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm also enjoying Michael Deacon's Twitter feed today. (He's the author of this.)
posted by Richard Holden at 6:19 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Consider, also, "The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms", where "cradled in his palms" is used three times in something like two pages. (Also not a parody.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:21 AM on May 11, 2013


"Oops," he oopsed.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:22 AM on May 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


I was sort of out-of-the-loop when Da Vinci Code was everywhere, but I kept hearing buzz about it and saw it in a bookstore and thought, "Oh there's that book that everyone keeps talking about, I wonder what makes it so great?" And I read the dustjacket and thought, "Hey, this sounds pretty interesting, kind of like Foucault's Pendulum [which is possibly my favorite book]." So I sunk $40 on a hardcover and went back home to start reading.

And halfway into the first paragraph, I knew that it was not like Foucault's Pendulum.

And I wept for my $40.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:23 AM on May 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


And Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences. I never get tired of dumping on Dan Brown.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:24 AM on May 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


INTERVIEWER: Have you read The Da Vinci Code?

UMBERTO ECO: Yes, I am guilty of that too.

INTERVIEWER: That novel seems like a bizarre little offshoot of Foucault’s Pendulum.

ECO: The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.

posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [134 favorites]


heaved the masterpiece toward himself

The unrenowned small English professor uttered a groan like the sound of a carrot snapping in half.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:31 AM on May 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


Love it, one caveat: The Michelangelo Wordsearch should be The Buonarroti Wordsearch, no?
posted by signal at 6:32 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It must be possible to write a Danbrownian translator that takes any prose and turns it - wel, whatever the colour is that's a mucky mix of purple and Brown. Probably.
posted by Devonian at 6:34 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


April is the cruelest time of year, heaving lilacs and other plants out of the ground due to their light weight, mixing things you think about with the rain as it rains on the ground in springtime. Ironically, winter kept everything warm by covering everything in a white papery blanket, feeding everything with the things that grow underground.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


"To be, or not to be" The renowned prince muttered, thinking about suicide.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:45 AM on May 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


had already heaved that very same comment into the thread like a eel in a bowling alley

I don't think you can actually heave eels. They are too slithery. I suspect that you have never rigorously examined this image that you are trying to foist upon us.

More seriously, while Dan Brown's grammatical constructions are... less than apt..., he di an excellent job in the Da Vinci Code of plotting a book with an eye on having it made into a movie, which is an accomplishment of a sort.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:45 AM on May 11, 2013


Is the actual writing this bad?

As people have mentioned, yes.

You can find equally bad examples in his new book.

I like "Here aboveground, I raise my eyes to the north, but I am unable to find a direct path to salvation . . . for the Apennine Mountains are blotting out the first light of dawn" and "Her eyes, though a gentle brown, seemed unusually penetrating, as if they had witnessed a profundity of experience rarely encountered by a person her age."

Here's hoping for more responses from Language Log.
posted by jeather at 6:46 AM on May 11, 2013


had already heaved that very same comment into the thread like a eel in a bowling alley

I don't think you can actually heave eels. They are too slithery.


You just have to freeze them first.
posted by Mad_Carew at 6:50 AM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Don't hate, celebrate!

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: A “Lyttony” of Grand Prize Winners, 1983-2011
posted by Room 641-A at 6:50 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


LOLZDANBROWN
posted by Bovine Love at 6:53 AM on May 11, 2013


Here's a link to the Language Log posts (list is at the bottom).
posted by jeather at 6:56 AM on May 11, 2013


I went on a trip once and didn't bring any fiction to read. I think I had planned to read non-fiction the whole time or something, and had plenty of it... But after sitting at Hartsfield-Jackson for a couple of hours, I decided I need some fiction bad. I had heard of _Angels and Demons_...heard *of* it a lot, though almost nothing *about* it... Jonesing bad for fiction, I picked it up. Wow. Bad. Bad bad bad. I have low standards and it was bad by them. I'll read almost anything action-y for fun, but I could not read that. Never got past the 50th page or so. Really not good.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:03 AM on May 11, 2013


Dan Brown and E. L. James are exhibits A and B for the case that whatever function the publishing industry claims to be serving to justify its existence, it is not actually serving that purpose.
posted by localroger at 7:04 AM on May 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


angrycat: "but I still don't get how "heaved" made it past an editor. "
The seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece. "Bleargh," he heft.
posted by vanar sena at 7:07 AM on May 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


Renowned author Dan Brown got out of his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house and paced the bedroom, using the feet located at the ends of his two legs to propel him forwards.

This is just the best thing ever.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:08 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is genius. And yes, okay, I know I'm fitting myself into a niche here, but:

[...] a signed first edition by revered scriptwriter William Shakespeare.

Hah!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2013


Is the actual writing this bad? He mixes up transitive and intransitive verbs?

Yes, yes it is. Of course, The DaVinci code has become a symbol of one of the more frustrating experiences I've ever had, and I hate it with the burning passion that's equaled only by Dan Brown's love of cliff hanger endings to chapters.

Here's my rant about my how my in-law's, who I like a lot more than the rant suggests, some how managed to make moving more stressful.

So, about a decade or so we were moving to Seattle from Denver. The original plan was that my in laws would drive out with their big van loaded with our stuff and have a nice vacation on the coast, and then drive back to Colorado. About three days before the move, they decided they didn't want to do that after all, and were just going to MAIL our stuff to us. For a wide variety of reasons, that was a terrible idea. But, trying to tell them that it was a bad idea set off a chain reaction of FAMILY DRAMA. Anyway, after a lot of wrangling, we ended up with the plan that my wife and I could borrow the van, drive it out, I'd drop off the stuff and then drive back, pick up my car, drive back out to Seattle. Nobody was particularly happy about the plan, but it had the advantages of not being stupid and us not relying on people who were quickly proving themselves to be incredibly unreliably. So we drive out to Seattle, take a day to unload, and everything's running more or less smoothly again.

The next day I start back, but first my in-laws asked that I get the tires rotated. I'm kind of grumpy about because that means I'm getting a little bit of a late start. Anyway, I take it in, and wait for them to get the van up on the lift. As soon as it's up the mechanic comes into the waiting room and says "I need to show you something." The something was that the van needed 4 new tires. VERY badly. Even I, a guy who knew nothing about tires, noticed what was wrong without being told. The treads were missing. Not low, missing. Well, they needed the van, I needed my car, and in order for everyone to get their correct vehicle, I needed to replace the tires. The problem was that we were newlyweds, and had just enough money to move out there, and live for the 2 weeks before my wife's first paycheck. O.k. so I pull out our credit card (the one we were going to use for groceries until she got paid), and knowing her parents were good for it, almost maxed it out paying for the new tires (hey we were poor newlyweds, the credit limit was WAY low).

After all that's done, I start back on my drive, it's now 6 hours later than I wanted to leave, and I had grabbed the wrong CD holder when I had left home, so I had a bunch of computer games and a copy of The DaVinci Code on CD. So I pop in disk 1. The writing's bad, but the story's sort of o.k. at the beginning. At about Chpt. 4 I start to realize that every chapter has the exact same structure: Big reveal from last chapter. How great and smart Dan Brown, er art critic guy is. Bad catholic does something. Big reveal we're supposed to find shocking but is predictable enough that ancient sea faring peoples could navigate by it. End Chapter. Repeat 50 odd times.

The thing was, I felt compelled to finish the book, it was like I was in a Lovecraft story, I knew that the road I was going on lead to madness, and probably being possessed by a grumpy old dead guy, but I didn't care. I was using the shear awfulness of the writing as a target for my frustration and anger at the stupid situation I was in. That whole 2 day drive back was a meditation on hatred, my hatred for that stupid book. And you know, in the long run it was better than just flipping out and yelling at my in-laws for bailing on us, not taking care of their damn car, and every small thing they'd ever done that annoyed me, like I really wanted to do.

Then, came the drive back. Which involved among other things, them refusing to pay ME back fro the credit card, but insisting that they mail the check to our CC company (never mind that we wouldn't be able to eat until that checked cleared); making me leave Colorado 5 hours late because I had to wait for them to finish dicking around in my car; giving me my car back with less than a quarter tank of gas, and the very end of the book. It was worse than I had expected. The last two thirds of the drive back to Washington, I had made it through the book and was reduced to just chanting "Brown sucks. Brown sucks" while listening to the static filled country stations that were my choices in Wyoming and Idaho. By the time I stumbled into our new apartment it was 4 in the morning. My wife says she woke up to me lying next to her and staring at the ceiling and reciting my plan to drive Dan Brown insane by forcing him to listen to nothing but his own writing for weeks on end.

So, yes, the writing is that bad, and yes I hate that book. I will say that its existence was probably a net positive for my marriage. I still have no idea what it was doing mixed in with my PC game CDs though. I think it was either a practical joke or divine intervention.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:13 AM on May 11, 2013 [138 favorites]


Those poor people:

Even Dante could not have conjured quite such a hellish punishment: for almost two months, 11 people were confined to an underground bunker in Italy and forced to read the new novel by Dan Brown – all day, every day. Brown's Inferno, which reportedly makes repeated reference to Dante's Inferno, is due for publication on 14 May.

Its publishers were so keen to see the book released in several languages simultaneously that they hired 11 translators from France, Spain, Germany, Brazil and Italy to translate it intensively between February and April 2012. The translators are said to have worked seven days a week until at least 8pm, in a windowless, high-security basement at the Milan headquarters of Mondadori, Italy's largest publishing firm.

posted by jquinby at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


I hate it when my shark-white eyes flash like insectoid rockets.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:17 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


My British Authors teacher in high school won a teaching award the year after I took her class. I was invited to the reception to see Mrs. Hicks get her award, and eat fancy food, and hear speeches and such. This would have been spring of 2006, so right before The Da Vinci Code movie came out, and the keynote speaker - at an event to celebrate excellent English teachers around the state of New Hampshire - was Dan Brown. It was fantastically terrible (his speech was mostly about how crazy it was that he, Renowned Author Dan Brown, would soon be Renowned Film Person Dan Brown, and here he was, just a Normal Handsome Man from New Hampshire), and watching the English teachers all around us whither in dismay was lots of fun.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:18 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is the actual writing this bad?

Dan Brown's writing is astonishingly bad. I keep trying to come up with tortured metaphors to describe how bad it is, only to realize that his own tortured metaphors are a better example. The man writes like a sixth grader. I managed to avoid The Da Vinci Code thanks to the Language Log's The Dan Brown Code, but I made myself slog all the way through The Lost Symbol because I wanted to know what kinds of nonsense he was writing about the Masons; we have open houses in my neck of the woods and I wanted to be able to discuss the thing intelligently with people who get their history from Dan Brown and The Discovery Channel shows.

To his credit, he didn't take the predictable ZOMG Freemasons-founding-fathers-illuminati-Jack-the-Ripper-New-World-Order path... but it's just so bad. I think I read the book in about 2 days... not because I couldn't put it down, but because everything in it -- the characters, plot, and scenery, is made of soggy cardboard.
posted by usonian at 7:31 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had heard of _Angels and Demons_...heard *of* it a lot, though almost nothing *about* it... Jonesing bad for fiction, I picked it up. Wow. Bad. Bad bad bad. I have low standards and it was bad by them. I'll read almost anything action-y for fun, but I could not read that. Never got past the 50th page or so.

I forced myself to finish the thing, on the grounds that suffering builds character.

Usually, after finishing a book in the bath, I will put it over the side. Not that one. Apparently the suffering involved had built enough character to compel me to prevent its infliction on anybody else in the household.
posted by flabdablet at 7:33 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love the idea of ritualistically drowning Dan Brown novels in the bath.
posted by shelleycat at 7:38 AM on May 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


I remember reading Angels and Demons after my mother had gotten it from the library and being so angry with how awful the last couple of paragraphs were that I wanted to chuck the book across the rooms.

I was in junior high at the time. I had read a lot - a LOT - of books that were adaptations of Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings at that point of my life. Angels and Demons was just terrible.
posted by dismas at 7:40 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


After having read The Da Vinci Code on recommendation from a number of people whose tastes in fiction, on reflection, I should not only have distrusted, but used as indicators of what to avoid, I still somehow managed to read Angels & Demons (to my credit, somebody had given me a used copy and I didn't have time to get to the library). It was worse than I could have imagined.

I have a theory that Dan Brown is functionally illiterate and has never actually read a novel, possibly not even one of his own.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nthing the "I have to ask if it's really that--oh." I've read fanfic with better editing than the quoted passages.
posted by immlass at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2013


I never did understand the Dan Brown pile-on. He writes schlocky page-turners that go down easy like Cheetos and soda. I know his stuff is not great literature, but it always surprises me the depth of hatred people have for his writing.

If you want to pick on someone for writing absolutely preposterous thrillers, Matthew Reilly is your man.
posted by jbickers at 7:53 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


i had never made the connection that dan brown was an otter.
posted by gorestainedrunes at 8:03 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


jbickers: "Matthew Reilly is your man."

Oh man, I had forgotten about that guy. I now recall reading Temple, and it was like an eight-year-old playing out movie scenes using action figures - "then he went BIFF and then he jumped and shot that guy in slow motion and it was SO COOL"
posted by vanar sena at 8:08 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


My one weird literary tip: if you're reading a novel, and a character saunters, stop reading and find another book. Works for me.
posted by pipeski at 8:14 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Only characters in cowboy stories may saunter, and even then it's more of a mosey.
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I never did understand the Dan Brown pile-on. He writes schlocky page-turners that go down easy like Cheetos and soda. I know his stuff is not great literature, but it always surprises me the depth of hatred people have for his writing.

There are writers who write well whose books are page-turners that go down easy. Le Carré?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:23 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Stross' Laundry series is as light as a bubble and consistently clever.
posted by The Whelk at 8:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I never did understand the Dan Brown pile-on. He writes schlocky page-turners that go down easy like Cheetos and soda. I know his stuff is not great literature, but it always surprises me the depth of hatred people have for his writing.

The writing is bad.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I love the idea of ritualistically drowning Dan Brown novels in the bath.

I can assure you from personal experience that it makes no difference at all to the sogginess of the prose.
posted by flabdablet at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


With apologies to the Umbrerto Eco quote above, both he and Brown are characters in a draft of the Illuminatus Trilogy.
posted by wotsac at 8:38 AM on May 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I find Dan Brown's life story to be very puzzling and, in a way, sort of sad. I know it's weird to find the life of a guy who is ridiculously wealthy and successful "sad" but hear me out.

Reading his Wikipedia entry, I learned that Brown attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Amherst. That is an absolutely top-notch education. And maybe I have too great a respect for splendid educational pedigrees, but I find myself asking "with that kind of gold-plated education, couldn't ya do better than write cheesy thrillers with cardboard characters and horrid prose?"

But that's not all. Rather than do something dignified after college, Brown went to L.A. and tried to make a career writing and performing what sounds like laughably cheesy children's music. Take it away, Wikipedia:

After graduating from Amherst, Brown dabbled with a musical career, creating effects with a synthesizer, and self-producing a children's cassette entitled SynthAnimals, which included a collection of tracks such as "Happy Frogs" and "Suzuki Elephants"; it sold a few hundred copies. He then formed his own record company called Dalliance, and in 1990 self-published a CD entitled Perspective, targeted to the adult market, which also sold a few hundred copies.

* * *

In 1993, Brown released the CD Dan Brown, which included songs such as "976-Love" and "If You Believe in Love."

In 1994, Brown released a CD titled Angels & Demons. Its artwork was the same ambigram by artist John Langdon which he later used for the novel Angels & Demons. The liner notes also again credited his wife for her involvement, thanking her "for being my tireless cowriter, coproducer, second engineer, significant other, and therapist." The CD included songs such as "Here in These Fields" and the religious ballad "All I Believe."

* * *

He also co-wrote a humor book with his wife, 187 Men to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman, under the pseudonym "Danielle Brown." The book's author profile reads, "Danielle Brown currently lives in New England: teaching school, writing books, and avoiding men." The copyright is attributed to Dan Brown.


That resume gives me the impression that young Dan Brown was a lost soul with very little taste or talent. He had every educational advantage in the world and he wrote 187 Men to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman? That was the recourse of a desperate person who had resigned himself to hack work.

I've read it suggested that his wife, who is twelve years his senior, is the "brains" behind Dan Brown (heh heh ... to the extent that anyone needs to posit "brains" being behind such execrable writing) and reading about his career path it sounds plausible.

Just look at him. There's something so meek, pathetic and bland-looking about him, like he has very little testosterone. He looks strikingly powerless and inoffensive for someone so successful. I dunno, he's just always struck me as a lost soul who somehow lucked out and made it big. Poor guy.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:38 AM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well, this is enlightening. I've not read any of Dan Brown's writing, and had no idea that an evidently prominent writer has been flouting basic rules of grammar and composition with impunity.

I say this because I recently had the occasion to review the writing of a student at my law firm. The assignment was a report of a witness' examination: a document intended to convey the pertinent details of the examination in a digestible format. What the student was supposed to produce was a succinct summary. What was submitted to me was a mishmash of details from the examination, strung together seemingly at random with no sense of narrative or cohesion. Nearly every sentence took the following format: "The witness [said x] and [fact which has no relation whatsoever to x]." The student gave irrelevant details careful attention, yet provided sweeping and imprecise summaries of important evidence. At other times, necessary context was omitted: "the witness does not know about [x, y, and z]" seems irrelevant to the subject matter without the additional detail that the witness claimed they were performing an activity that involves [x, y, and z] at a very relevant time.

At one point in my revisions I realized the paper in front of me looked as though it contained more red ink than black. I wondered where on earth someone would ever get the idea that this was an acceptable way to write.

Now I know.
posted by AV at 8:38 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know his stuff is not great literature, but it always surprises me the depth of hatred people have for his writing.

The hatred is not for his writing. It's self-loathing for finding yourself continuing to read him after page 3. Dan Brown novels are the Cinnabon of fiction.
posted by flabdablet at 8:41 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's insulting to sixth graders and Cinnabon.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2013


Oh gosh. I am currently sitting in the back row at an academic conference where my partner just gave a talk. As I can't really follow very much of what's being presented, I thought to myself "oh hey let me just do what I typically do when I'm bored and fire up metafilter on the old ipad." Major tactical error. I very audibly snorted with laughter only a few paragraphs in to this article. Now I fear I have a reputation as someone who finds algebraic-topological representation theorems really amusing.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:03 AM on May 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Obscure, never-published MeFite Xenophile facepalmed into her morning coffee. "Alas!" opined the 5'0 brunette of coyly unrevealable middle age, "my master of fine arts in creative writing from a middlebrow university has rendered me as penurious as a poor person, one who doesn't have any money!"

She heaved her petite frame from the 59.99 gray Target loveseat and sauntered to the computer. Soon she was perusing the lamentations of her brethren and sistren on the Blue. Their comments evoked an idea within her, an idea so profound that it sparked like the fire struck on a third match in the trenches of a war zone.

"We must join our florid forces and write our own pulchritudinous potboiler!" she exclaimed in writing. "Now, who's with me? "Naked Came the Renowned!"
posted by xenophile at 9:05 AM on May 11, 2013 [24 favorites]


I know his stuff is not great literature, but it always surprises me the depth of hatred people have for his writing.

"Dan Brown's writing is better than it reads"?
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:07 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fifty Shades of Paste Tastes Good
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]



I never did understand the Dan Brown pile-on. He writes schlocky page-turners that go down easy like Cheetos and soda.

When The DaVinci Code was blowing up, I was in an airport bookstore and bought one of his other novels thinking, if the DaVinci Code is that amazing, I don't want to read it first. I only made it to the end of whatever I purchased because I was numb with shock that people could tolerate such crap. It was an easy read in the way riding in a kayak pulled by wild dogs down a windy gravel road is an easy ride. You know you'll get to the end quickly if you cling tightly to the edges and keep howls of pain and fear buried deep in your thorax, and then you'll get out and away and never look back.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:09 AM on May 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


There's something so meek, pathetic and bland-looking about him, like he has very little testosterone.
would you say.... womanly?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do feel kind of bad for Brown. I mean, you know he has to read at least some of this stuff, and no matter how invincibly loaded and permanently publishable you are, it's got to sting when basically everyone who can write just viscerally loathes your writing.

I have said for years that if I knew what magical formula renders his stuff so readable and so absurdly compelling for so many people, I would get rich off of terrible thrillers in a heartbeat. Maybe I'd use a pseudonym, but I'm not even sure I'd feel that much shame. I can't even begin to count how many people in my life, ranging from roommates who have probably voluntarily read like three books in their entire lives to a dude with multiple doctorates, have read and loved (LOVED) his stuff. Found it either Really Entertaining or Kind of Life Changing.

So yeah, it's shit writing - just brutally awful - but I can hardly judge him too much on that level if I wouldn't be above it myself. What I do judge him for is the terrible social and historical politics of it all. He knows absolute fuck all about the things at the heart of his model of history, and people perceive him as putting forth this really daring, shocking critique of the Church, or the oppression of women, or whatever it is, and ignore the way he is just completely making shit up (well, much of it is copying other people's made up shit, but whatever).

When you think that it matters what actually happened in the past, it hurts to know that a huge fraction of the world's population now gets their World Religion 101 from The Da Vinci Code.

And of course I suppose that's really the thing at the heart of Dan Brown's success. The thing a lot of people who can write infinitely better than him won't do: He's really good at making shit up about reality that happens to dial into something that people need or want to think. He's a lot more like the authors of The Secret or the people who peddle ancient universal peaceful matriarchal goddess religion to teenaged Wiccans than he is like most novelists.

It was an easy read in the way riding in a kayak pulled by wild dogs down a windy gravel road is an easy ride.

...tell us more.
posted by brennen at 9:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


I never did understand the Dan Brown pile-on.

If he were writing hard scifi space operas, no one would bat an eyelash, see: Alastair Reynolds.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's still the case because I stopped paying attention years back. But there's this general interest weekly magazine in town that, every year, surveys its readers as to the BEST OF what's in town -- everything from parks to music venues to flea markets to hamburgers. Guess who used to win BEST HAMBURGER pretty much every year.

McDonalds

By which I mean, none of this really Dan Brown's fault. He's just giving folks what they want, even if it is a piece of their own death (physical and/or spiritual). Beware the majority. They have shit taste in pretty much everything.
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have deliberately destroyed only two books out of rage and frustration at the awfulness of the prose. One was by Robert Ludlum.
posted by Jode at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2013


Considering I posted this damned article, I'm starting to find the Dan Brown hatred a bit weird. His writing isn't for me and I'm happy to laugh in a good-humored way at some of the things he does "badly", but the all-out "Dan Brown is weird; he's a bad person; his writing is bad for humanity; people who like his books are awful" criticism feels a bit too personal and a wee bit over the top.

I suppose the hate is another version of saying that your favourite band sucks. I can understand that.

But he writes stuff that people want to read. I've a friend who doesn't read much, and after he read The Da-Vinci Code he couldn't wait to tell me how amazing it was and how I should be reading it.

"Just put down the Nabakov, because this new guy is going to blow your mind."

Sneering at Brown feels like I'm sneering at the enthusiasm of someone less educamated than me. I suppose we need to do that to a degree (how will the proles know their places otherwise), but yeah. It doesn't feel particularly good or inclusive to be having a go at people because they don't know the rules of writing. (Whatever they are)

Of particular interest to me is the fact that the odd writer will be allowed by the current intelligensia, and even lauded, for writing badly. As long as the Hoi Poloi doesn't get ahold of it I suppose. As long as a writer can be an unacknowledged rough genius that nobody else has heard of.
posted by zoo at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Dan Brown was one of my favorite authors going into high school. My other big favorite was Dean Koontz. Then, luckily, I was introduced to Ayn Rand, which led to a whole new level of appreciating bad things.

These days, I don't read much.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


If he were writing hard scifi space operas, no one would bat an eyelash, see: Alastair Reynolds.

If he were writing space operas, then my ex-girlfriends, my middle-aged aunts, my Marine lawyer one-time drinking buddy, umpty million people on airplanes, the kids I took Latin with in college, Tom Hanks, my sundry incredibly smart coworkers with a weakness for actiony pulp? None of these people would have heard of the guy in order to provoke batted eyelashes from other people who care about prose quality or have read a little history.

Beware the majority. They have shit taste in pretty much everything.

This is one of those things that's both true and not true. In the short term, what is incredibly popular filters for qualities I sometimes hate and sometimes love. In the long term, what endures is often enough Shakespeare.
posted by brennen at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2013


Renowned author Dan Brown is a plagiarist who writes what other writers have written, only worse. DVCode was just fanfic of Holy Blood Holy Grail, just like 50 shades was twilight fan fic.
posted by dejah420 at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


METAFILTER: Just put down the Nabakov, because this new guy is going to blow your mind.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


what is incredibly popular filters for qualities I sometimes hate and sometimes love

This is true. The Beatles were pretty good, and old Tolkien managed to sell a few books. So let me amend my statement from ...

Beware the majority. They have shit taste in pretty much everything.

to:

Beware the majority, they're right about something about as often as Vancouver gets a white Christmas. It happens but you'd be a fool to organize your life around it.
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on May 11, 2013


Funny. I once spent part of an hour trying to edit the Wikipedia article on The Da Vinci Code. I could admit that the idea that Dan Brown's writing is awful is really just a subjective point of view... but leaving that idea out intuitively feels like missing the essence of the thing.
posted by ovvl at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If he were writing hard scifi space operas, no one would bat an eyelash, see: Alastair Reynolds.

Them's fighting words. Whether or not you like Alastair Reynolds, he knows to write on a word, sentence and paragraph level that Dan Brown just does not. In fact I find it hard to think of any sf writer I've read who'd be as bad. Certainly even somebody like David Weber, who writes formulaic mil-sf that has hundreds and hundreds of pages describing the fate of every missile fired during a during a space battle isn't as bad as Brown.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I find if I let my eyes become unfocused, like you used to do with the magic eye pictures, I can make my way through a Dan Brown book without becoming excessively rage filled. Like Twilight, it's reading for people who don't read often. It's beach reading, terrible prose but it stops you looking at the guy who really shouldn't be wearing a speedo.
posted by arcticseal at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't hate Dan Brown. I find him, his writing and all the comments (good and bad) about his writing all rather amusing. This article just happened to be more amusing, and thoughtful in a weird way, than most of it. I've read the Da Vinci Code and yeah, it was pretty terrible. But it was easy enough to get through and I don't hate that I read it. I'm not going to read another one though.

I also don't actually see buckets of Dan Brown hate here, at least not in a mean way. It's possible to acknowledge something as bad and even celebrate it's badness without actively despising it.
posted by shelleycat at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2013


> "I'm starting to find the Dan Brown hatred a bit weird."

Dan Brown's prose killed my family.
posted by kyrademon at 10:14 AM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Dan Brown is a remarkable example of the business of publishing working.

What kind of genius did the acquiring editor and promotions manager who acquired and commercialized the Da Vince Code have to have been to recognize in the indisputably horrid prose of the manuscript the thing that would make their employer hundreds of millions of dollars and move themselves from an airshaft 1-bedrooms or Jersey City shares to a classic eight on West End Avenue or an 20' wide brownstone on a good block of Park Slope?
posted by MattD at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have said for years that if I knew what magical formula renders his stuff so readable and so absurdly compelling for so many people, I would get rich off of terrible thrillers in a heartbeat.

It's not a magical formula. It's a combination of traits that are each individually compelling that add up to make a thrilling read, so long as the reader lacks a) aesthetic sensibility and b) understanding of any amount of plot composition whatsoever. The former is unsurprising, considering how infrequently people read nowadays -- any book is going to feel satisfying in a way that a movie or a song will not, and unless you've read enough books to tell the difference, you don't know what to hate. So, too, are books like the Da Vinci Code twistier than your average thriller movie -- are there any big Hollywood movies rooted in twists? Even Inception wasn't all that twisty; its shtick was telling you how complex and confusing it was while expositioning the fuck out of you. If you're not expecting a book made up of 50 twists, as another commenter put it, then it seems like you're getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.

Here are some of the many things Dan Brown does that are very satisfying to a reader who meets qualifications a and b above:

-- He gets to the action right away. All of his first four books (which are all I read) open up with a character dying, pursued by a mysterious antagonist who is sinister beyond all belief (sort of).

-- He gets to the MYSTERY just as quickly. Why did this person die? Clearly it was because they were trying to do something SUPER URGENT, only now an EVIL VILLAIN has stopped them from doing it by killing them. Right from the start it's like, whoa! Why did that happen? What the hell is going on?

-- His protagonists are "educated" and willing to use their education to play HECK OF PRANKS. It's fun that they're so smart because you feel like you're learning computer science/art history as you read, presented in short digestible snippets, but it never feels intimidating because they use their knowledge to tell you things like, that dude giving you a thumbs-up over there? That thumbs-up used to be a PHALLIC SYMBOL THAT MEANS PENISES (Angels & Demons).

-- Short chapters. I want to be pretentious and call them "memetic" chapters. Each one takes the idea from the chapter before, restates it, builds a little bit on it, and ends on a cliffhanger. You can pick up and be reminded of where you were, then get taken to a new place where you want to know what happens next. For slower readers, this is a godsend.

-- "Colorful" characters. Flat colorful characters, but the nice thing about flat characters is how easy it is to make them quirky. Sure, none of them hold up to extended analysis. That's okay, because it means they're not even obnoxious to read about: they're simply nonexistent. There's the Stern French Policeman, the Possibly Corrupt Bishop, the Masochist Albino, and they're all easy to remember by name or by brief description because, again, there is so little that happens in them.

-- DEEP SECRETS, obviously, so that when you DO find out what's going on you give a shit about seeing these things resolved through to the end. Was Jesus a dad? Can this computer virus hack the government? Is the Pope a false I don't even remember? Luckily our Educated Characters will explain this all to us, which even makes it make sense that we're following them! Makes less sense that they then become action heroes, but that only serves to make them more likable.

-- Tie-ins to contemporary issues, like privacy or child molesting priests or whatever. Brown gives face time to all sides of a story (about which more in a second), meaning that whether you think the Catholic church is super-molesty or unfairly maligned, you've got a character to side with. Which takes us to:

-- "Ambiguous" moral resolutions, wherein the good guys aren't always good and the bad guys aren't always bad, but everybody is trying to do the right thing. I know, bluh bluh simple, but it's compelling to have characters you thought were villains turn out to be good and vice versa. It achieves the illusion of complexity without the difficult parts of complexity, namely "this book is long and confusing" or "I need to learn how to write worth a damn".

-- Those 50 Twists, mentioned above, serve a valuable purpose, which is that they conceal the endgame from the reader for as long as possible. A good book lays out its themes, so I'm told, right from the very beginning; this unfortunately leads to a lot of books where you can get to the end and say, "What the fuck was the point of that? Pretty much nothing happened." Moby-Dick and Ulysses and The Sun Also Rises are prime examples of this, as is every Shakespeare/Greek play in existence. (If you disagree with me that nothing happens in Shakespeare plays, then you are playing into precisely the contemporary narrative that states that literature is bullshit pretentious ivory tower nonsense. Even Hamlet's body count doesn't pass the bar because from the crude layperson perspective there's seemingly no good moral reason for everybody to die.)

-- By contrast, in a Dan Brown novel you'll have between 5-20 chapters that deal with a single "arc" like Robert Langdon escaping a bathroom. The DEEP SECRETS take a pause to more immediate questions, not only "how will Langdon escape" but also "is Police Chief Guy secretly evil?" and "is Bishop Molestypants probably definitely evil?" (SPOILER ALERT: HE'S NOT!!) So long as you don't have the pattern recognition necessary to, say, peg the only seemingly helpful guy as the villain right from the start, and dismiss everything else as a red herring, this leads to a guaranteed climax wherein the Bad Guy turns out to be the last person you would have POSSIBLY expected, and when you ask "Wait what about those other Bad Guys?" you're told that they were secretly not so bad, and this leads to that moral ambiguity I mentioned above.

-- Brown's worldview is not super thought-out, but he does have a certain perspective on the world that he tries to reveal blatantly at the very end, and it's not quite as cut-and-dry as you'd... well, it IS, but only if you again have that pattern-recognizey thing, and if not it comes off as sophisticated and insightful. "Religion does some bad things but also some good things!" "The government is good but also sometimes bad." "Politicians are scum but some of them are okay sometimes, maybe." Look, it's not super impressive the way he does it, but it does get at the Thing which makes all stories or art great, which is that it tries to see both sides of a story and give you a richer, fuller understanding of the world in which the story takes place.

The things that make Brown novels bad are the terrible writing, bad characters, too-simple "information" about art slash the world, predictably twisty plots, and shallow understanding of the world. But what Brown excels at is taking his terrible writing, his bad characters, his etc. etc., and putting them into a pattern that is incredibly easy to follow yet which leads to a variety of different places. Are those places interesting? Not to me, no, but they are to a lot of people, and what's more the path Brown makes is better at getting them there than the path most books make. There's value to that.

I learned a whole fuckton about writing from Brown and similar "bad" authors, including Rand and Koontz (and Koontz has developed, over the years, a formula which is quite a bit different yet which remarkably touches upon all of the key areas of the Brown formula). Understanding how an audience will react to a story is a gift that requires a certain self-awareness, even if said self-awareness has nothing to do with "literature" as many of us here think about it. There are talented writers which possess a similar gift: JK Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell are two middle-brow writers who I think say a heck of a lot more with their works than Brown, but you can find similar narrative patterns there too. Roberto Bolano has some sense of the pattern too, though he subverts it and challenges his readers far more than anybody else I've mentioned; read the first part of 2666 and you'll find similarities in how he bounces between characters, towards Big Reveals, and ends up at a terrific endgame (though the endgame is far stranger than your average potboiler's). Frank Herbert's Dune is as big a hit as it is in part because of how good it is at escalating action: the first chapter involves the main character almost dying, and then there's Big Secrets, and then the second chapter introduces us to Serious Bad Guys, and so on. And you'd better believe that A Game of Thrones moves in a similar way, to the point that I find it very frustrating to read. (I don't think that Martin is a much better writer than Dan Brown, IMHO.)

I wish more writers existed who melded this side of storytelling with the more literary sort. I feel sometimes that filmmakers who merge the two are much more common than authors who do likewise; that's certainly an inaccurate feeling, since there are many writers worth a damn who also tell a good story, and since I've read far more bad books than I've seen bad films. In any event, what Dan Brown does is not without its value, and it's also not easy. A part of me wishes I could tolerate his writing, because I sincerely would like to catch up on The Lost Symbol and read Inferno and see if, in his own way, he hasn't been putting these years to good use and developing the things he cares about. I mean, I can't and I won't, because now I'm old enough that a Brown sentence feels like torture. But I regret that, and I do wonder what it is that I'm now missing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2013 [185 favorites]


Wow.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2013


I actually rather enjoy his books. They are badly written, oddly enjoyable books you read when you don't want to begin to think. I have read every single one of his books and will read Inferno some time this summer most likely.

I don't know what it is. The writing is as dreadful as people say it is. The characters are not even one dimensional. The plots are ludicrous. The cliffhangers are not even slightly surprising.

I can tell the book is bad. I also like reading better books. It's like junk food.
posted by jeather at 10:37 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Renowned author Dan Brown gazed admiringly at the pulchritudinous brunette’s blonde tresses, flowing from her head like a stream but made from hair instead of water and without any fish in.
I wonder, if i slipped this gem into next year's Bulwer-Lytton, would anyone would notice?
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:38 AM on May 11, 2013


Oh good god. I tried to read the Inferno preview linked above, and the opening sentence is:

The memories materialized slowly . . . like bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.

No wait that wasn't the real opening. The REAL opening was the Prologue, which starts:

I am the Shade.
Through the dolent city, I flee.
Through the eternal woe, I take flight.


I can say with actual sincerity which is real that I was the editor of my high school's literary magazine, and that while the "memories" sentence is about on par with how awful the things 14-year-old poets write, the "dolent city" one exceeds the badness of anything I ever crossed out in its entirety with thick black marker. If I'd had to read this I probably would have just stuck my marker in Dan Brown's eye and called it a day.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:44 AM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm in awe of Rory's ability to turn on a dime.
posted by flabdablet at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


@Rory.This is how fox news writes their stories. :)
posted by hot_monster at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2013


I got The Da Vinci Code as a present one Christmas. In my house, there's an interregnum between gift-opening and dinner where everyone quietly spaces out, so I sat down and read the book cover-to-cover in about four hours. I can't say I hated it, but that may be due to the way I read fiction: I tend not to notice all the little stylistic errors and redundancies that are being highlighted in this thread and instead just pay attention to the broader plot. The plot is ridiculous, certainly, but it's not decidedly worse than a lot of other works of fiction.

The only book I remember angering me upon finishing was The Celestine Prophecy. I was mad at the author, mad at everyone who blurbed it, and mostly mad at my co-workers who cheerily endorsed it's profundity and wisdom, telling me it changed their lives. It is without a doubt the worst piece of shit I've ever had the displeasure to read.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 10:56 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


My ability to... SEE BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY? That'll be $39.99 hardcover or $17.99 paperback.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:56 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm seriously going to use Rory's breakdown of The Method to become a rich and famous pulp thriller writer. That shit is money.
posted by Unified Theory at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can see the truth of Rory's lecture, much like that of the screenwriting guy in Adaptation, tht there is skill in pumping out the exact right kind of shit that tickles people's brains so that they will pay to devour it. And in the abstract, who cares? People like shit. If I can't enjoy shit, and celebrate the dark genius of shit production, well, guess I have to live with shit lovers thinking I'm too damn picky.

I'm still gonna call it shit, though.
posted by emjaybee at 11:13 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The most cutting description of Newt Gingrich that I ever read (probably written by Charlie Pierce) is that he talks like what a dumb person imagines a smart person would talk. It feels like there's an analogous description for Dan Brown, only I can't quite pin down the right contrasting adjectives. Low-class/High-class? Poor/Rich? [???]/Sophisticated? Help me here.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Rory, that's a beautiful comment and I concur with rather a lot of it.

I continue to feel, however, that there is a vasty, terrible-undergraduate-essay-flavored gulf between the prose of a Dan Brown and a GRRM. I mean, I've read a lot of bad genre prose. Even people in the vein of David Eddings or all those authors of faintly anonymous D&D novels don't usually turn out writing this grotesque. If the profoundly successful high-profile abuse of the English language is a contest, Brown is one of the handful of people in the world who can give Thomas Friedman a real run for his money.
posted by brennen at 11:37 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favourite thing about Browne was written as a fake blurb for one of his novels by renowned mefite turaho:

The DaVinci Code: If you only read one book in the past ten years, it will inevitably be this one
posted by Trochanter at 11:39 AM on May 11, 2013 [24 favorites]


Judith Krantz used to be my Dan Brown. I think I read her for the same reason many people read Dan Brown: even if they are aware of the clunky prose, the books give them something they haven't had yet from other sources.

Some time in my teens, when I had already started reading a lot of good popular and literary fiction, I started reading Judith Krantz.

I didn't read Danielle Steele or Jacqueline Susann or any other popular writers at the time: I genuinely, honestly found them both dreadful and boring. But I read Scruples several times, and Princess Daisy at least a couple of times. Why? Because Krantz studded these shopping-and-fucking books with the crack of knowledge (or fake knowledge). THIS is the way you design, stock and market an expensive clothing store. HERE is what goes into shooting a television commercial. I had no plans to get into either of these ventures, but the promise of inside knowledge, at great (and sometimes counter-intuitive) detail, could not be resisted.

(I think Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt and a lot of popular non-fiction writers sell the same crack.)

Anyway, I gave up on Dan Brown after a couple of chapters, not just because his writing caused me pain, not just because I was older and wiser, but because he wasn't offering me anything I hadn't already gotten from Umberto Eco or those Holy Blood, Holy Grail guys. I'd been inoculated.
posted by maudlin at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


OMG YOU GUYS! You can't be inoculated against crack. My writing sucks worse than ever just THINKING about Dan Brown. I'm fucking doomed.
posted by maudlin at 11:47 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


eponyhoosits
posted by Trochanter at 11:49 AM on May 11, 2013


maudlin, what you call "the crack of (fake-) knowledge", I call "process", or "process porn", and I love it. Documentaries on all the seven-hundred thirty eight steps involved in building a piano, blog posts explaining all twelve findings in a court ruling, America's Test Kitchen detailing the differing results from making pancakes with whole milk/buttermilk/greek yougurt — all process porn, and I can consume it endlessly.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I have no desire to know what goes into yougurt.
posted by arcticseal at 12:23 PM on May 11, 2013


mostly, it's time.
posted by The Whelk at 12:26 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, Rory!
posted by Pudhoho at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2013


Unfortunately Brown's actual writing is not nearly as bad or as funny as these parodies make it out to be. Also, people have this tendency to sink to an especially pedantic level of hyper-literalism when discussing things they don't like (see the Language Log critiques as an example). The reason is, I think, that people's dislike is a reaction to the gestalt of the work, but when explaining why they dislike something, they want to find slam-dunk smoking gun examples of why the work is bad. Brown's writing is bad, yes, but it's bad in aggregate, not because he sometimes writes sentences starting with the word "renowned" or because he occasionally mixes metaphors (mixing an army and a navy metaphor?! How dare he!).
posted by Pyry at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


A coworker pressed DaVinci on me with the promise "it's the best worst book ever". So I held my nose and got through it. It was bad but as Rory pointed out, you can see why it was popular. Just like all Bon Jovi songs are shit, you have to recognize that he carefully hits all the marks that appeal to the proletariat, especially a solid hook in the chorus.

Brown may be bad, but another coworker tried to get me to read Eragon. I couldn't get past the first chapter. It made Brown look like Michael Chabon.
posted by Ber at 1:46 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just like all Bon Jovi songs are shit, you have to recognize that he carefully hits all the marks that appeal to the proletariat

There's an It's My Life joke in here somewhere.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:10 PM on May 11, 2013


I didn't read Danielle Steele or Jacqueline Susann or any other popular writers at the time...

I actually liked Jacqueline Susann. She was a sleazy potboiler paperback writer who could toss in an unusual scene or an interesting offhand insight once in a while. I'm thinking of 'Once is Not Enough' or something like that.
posted by ovvl at 2:14 PM on May 11, 2013


the "dolent city" one exceeds the badness of anything I ever crossed out in its entirety with thick black marker.

After reading that, I had to look up "dolent" in the OED, and:
1868 H. W. Longfellow tr. Dante Inferno iii. 1 Through me the way is to the city dolent! Through me the way is to eternal dole.
posted by junco at 2:50 PM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I actually liked Jacqueline Susann.

Ditto, there was always something strange and manic lurking behind the pot-boiler premises and such.
posted by The Whelk at 2:54 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Later translators failed to see the magic in "dolent", it seems
posted by thelonius at 3:13 PM on May 11, 2013


(mixing an army and a navy metaphor?! How dare he!).

When you put it that way, yeah. Rules are made to be broken. I agree.

But, "learning the ropes in the trenches"? That's the phrase they're talking about. Pretty klutzy.
posted by Trochanter at 3:14 PM on May 11, 2013


Just like all Bon Jovi songs are shit

we must now fight to the death, sir
posted by elizardbits at 3:18 PM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have read many terrible things, most of which were for the lulz or for research purposes on how best to tell everyone in the world how terrible the terrible thing is (hi twilight), but some of which were read out of idle curiosity or on the recommendation of others. Dan Brown's books are the only books I feel embarrassed for having read. Finding one in your home is like finding a video of you doing the Elaine dance drunkenly and in public while all your friends look on in horror.
posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on May 11, 2013


I've read a fair few Dan Brown books. I not proud if of it, but I haven't actually paid for any of them. So at least there's that. I unironically like some Mickey Spillane so I dunno, I guess trash just doesn't bother me as much as other people?
posted by juv3nal at 3:39 PM on May 11, 2013


To clarify, I didn't actually like the Brown I've read, but I guess the only thing I found really offensive about them is how successful they were in spite of me not liking them?
posted by juv3nal at 3:42 PM on May 11, 2013


"Koontz (and Koontz has developed, over the years, a formula which is quite a bit different yet which remarkably touches upon all of the key areas of the Brown formula)."

My gramma used to be a huge Koontz fan, and I just read one of the books that I got from her but had somehow never gotten around to, The Cold Fire, about some dude with maybe mystical superhero powers.

What I was amused by was that throughout the book, Koontz would drop one paragraph where he was clearly just flexing his lexical muscles; words like minatory and iatrogenic dropped in to make you reach for the dictionary. Then he'll follow it with a paragraph that tells you the exact same information ("Maybe your disease comes from doctors," she said in a threatening tone) only in dumbed-down language. It was like two parallel books, and it seemed like it'd be a pretty successful way of appeasing both people who read enough to recognize those words on first pass, and the casual readers.
posted by klangklangston at 3:44 PM on May 11, 2013


Certainly even somebody like David Weber, who writes formulaic mil-sf that has hundreds and hundreds of pages describing the fate of every missile fired during a during a space battle isn't as bad as Brown.

If that were literally the substance of David Weber's novels they would potentially be very interesting, a sort of resolutely anti-human nouvelle sf.
posted by kenko at 4:05 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you think that it matters what actually happened in the past, it hurts to know that a huge fraction of the world's population now gets their World Religion 101 from The Da Vinci Code.

I once had the most agonizing root canal of my life, courtesy of Dan Brown.

The procedure was fine, but the endodontist and several of his assistants had just read The Da Vinci Code. So the whole time I was sitting there with my mouth blocked while they kept going on about "did you know they kept whole chapters out of the Bible?!?!" "Just met in secret and decided not to include them!!!!" With the assistant muttering about what Jesus would think about the whole thing.

This makes me sound like an insufferable prig, but I really wondered how folks could have a belief system that they didn't know the origins of.
posted by clerestory at 4:06 PM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


similarly, I once had, during a hospital stay, a nurse who was obsessed with like the plot of every one of the Saw movies. Which, I dunno man, kind of a freaky combo.
posted by angrycat at 4:17 PM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


> I have a theory that Dan Brown is functionally illiterate and has never actually read a novel, possibly not even one of his own.

"I'm one of the few people you'll meet who's written more books than they've read." (Garth Marenghi)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:53 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I forced myself to finish the thing, on the grounds that suffering builds character.

These poor people must have a lot of character.

I want an alot with character.
posted by homunculus at 4:56 PM on May 11, 2013


It was a bright day, the fourteenth of April 1984. It was fifty one degrees Fahrenheit. The clocks had just struck thirteen, because twelve hour clocks were abandoned by the Party...
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:38 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was a great takedown. And the way that Dante was referred to as "top Italian poet Dante" reminded me of a story about the early days of The Sun under Rupert Murdoch, in which two hacks had a bet on whether they could get the name of Socrates into the paper:
Someone bet me that I could not get the word Socrates into the Sun. I took the bet. We agreed that it would not count if it was the name of a racehorse. One night, Enoch Powell advocated "a Socratic dialogue". The next morning the Sun reported: "Enoch Powell last night backed top Greek philosopher Socrates . . ." [emphasis mine]
(Presumably, they weren't counting mentions of the then-contemporary Brazilian footballer either.)
posted by Len at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2013


Dean Koontz has given me several opportunities to drown his work in the bath, none of which I've taken.

Hell, even Atlas Shrugged escaped unsunk.
posted by flabdablet at 8:39 PM on May 11, 2013


Never drop a book on the bath again.
posted by homunculus at 8:46 PM on May 11, 2013


Re: Beware the majority:

Great stuff tends to be popular, but not the other way around.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:39 PM on May 11, 2013


Brown may be bad, but another coworker tried to get me to read Eragon. I couldn't get past the first chapter. It made Brown look like Michael Chabon.

To be fair, the author of 'Eragon' was literally sixteen when he wrote it.
posted by lullaby at 10:56 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It wasn't the style that made me hurl the Da Vinci Code across the room after turning a few pages, it was "What, they have no experts in France, so of course they must call in an American? French girl's French grandfather leaves her a literary clue ... in English?"
posted by Catch at 12:43 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the author of 'Eragon' was literally sixteen when he wrote it.

Right, but that led to an even worse phenomenon, which was Middle And High School Teachers Using Eragon To Belittle Their Students.

In eighth grade I had a teacher for whom Eragon was PROOF that we were all underachievers who didn't appreciate Johnny Tremain nearly enough. If only we gave a shit about her class!, she would argue. Then maybe WE could publish books when WE were sixteen! Never mind you that Paolini was homeschooled and had parents who conveniently owned a publishing company. That kind of removes every goddamn bar from publishing your stupid novel.

When I tried to argue this with her (being an even greater jackass at thirteen than I am now), she responded with the absolutely awful, "Well, Rory, if YOU write a novel at that age, maybe THEN you can tell me what's good and what's bad."

So I did.

Wrote it senior year at a movie theater, and published it through Amazon's CreateSpace, which conveniently puts your book right on Amazon next to all the "real" books. Sent her a copy saying "Than you for the inspiration; Eragon [is a bad book]." (The actual phrasing, from my recollection, was shamefully rude – I was a worse jackass at seventeen than I was at thirteen.)

It's a bad novel, but a small stubborn part of me will forever insist that at least it's better than goddamn Eragon. Also that middle schoolers, idiots as they may be, sometimes at least have enough understanding of aesthetic and plot to know when a shitheap stinks. Again, my favorite writer at thirteen was Dean Koontz, and Eragon stank even to me.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:25 AM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


What, they have no experts in France, so of course they must call in an American? French girl's French grandfather leaves her a literary clue ... in English?
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in a moment of reasoned lucidity which is almost unique among it current tally of 5,975,509 pages, says of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation products that "it is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words -- and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded -- their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."
-- Douglas Adams, from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 AM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


homunculus: "Never drop a book on the bath again."

"On" the bath?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2013


I think it's not Dan Brown, and it's not the unknown masses who read him; I think it's the people who *press* books upon you with a fervent "you must read this!". You want to be polite, and you want to share things with them so you can be better friends. But then there you are reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon". Or "Atlas Shrugged". These are long books, and you spend the time reading them avoiding the gaze of your friend, who wants a report as soon as you finish. You can't say "You are crazy and cannot be my friend any more". At least with Dan Brown I could deflect my real despair at having Christian friends who knew nothing about their own religion by merely saying "That was horrible writing!"
posted by acrasis at 9:41 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Again, my favorite writer at thirteen was Dean Koontz...

Yeah, when I was young I was a fan of Dean's early books which were pretty straight sci-fi, then I gradually lost interest. The movie version of 'Demon Seed' was hilarious.
posted by ovvl at 9:42 AM on May 12, 2013


He knows absolute fuck all about the things at the heart of his model of history, and people perceive him as putting forth this really daring, shocking critique of the Church, or the oppression of women, or whatever it is, and ignore the way he is just completely making shit up (well, much of it is copying other people's made up shit, but whatever).

So he's a liar?

Maybe the value in all this is that the DB believers will take their ministers to task over the way they read the bible, and they'll all learn something. (who says writing fantasy is difficult?)
posted by sneebler at 9:45 AM on May 12, 2013


Rory Marinich: "A good book lays out its themes, so I'm told, right from the very beginning; this unfortunately leads to a lot of books where you can get to the end and say, "What the fuck was the point of that? Pretty much nothing happened." Moby-Dick and Ulysses and The Sun Also Rises are prime examples of this, as is every Shakespeare/Greek play in existence. (If you disagree with me that nothing happens in Shakespeare plays, then you are playing into precisely the contemporary narrative that states that literature is bullshit pretentious ivory tower nonsense. "

Call me a simpleton, but I'm not sure how to react to this.

Isn't it possible to label much of modern literature as pretentious ivory tower nonsense, but still demand books that are well-written and entertaining to us? I still don't understand the appeal of Virginia Woolf, and I've tried from almost every angle imaginable. The prose is great, but I've read legal contracts that were more engaging than To the Lighthouse.

I feel like we should be allowed to reject the Dan Browns and Thomas Kinkades of the world, while also believing that the bulk of the output of the literary establishment is dry, boring, and completely out of touch with mainstream modern society.
posted by schmod at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2013


(If you disagree with me that nothing happens in Shakespeare plays, then you are playing into precisely the contemporary narrative that states that literature is bullshit pretentious ivory tower nonsense.)

I'd like some elaboration on this point, too, though for different reasons than schmod. I think plenty happens in Shakespeare's plays; I think plenty happens in Chekhov's plays. Somehow I don't believe literature to be bullshit pretentious ivory-tower nonsense. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a reader who finishes Moby-Dick or Ulysses and says that nothing actually happened in them. I've met people who hated "Cetology," who complained about Ishmael's disappearance, and who wanted to skip all the whaling minutiae so they could return to the story of Ahab, but even they acknowledged the eventfulness of the plotted material.

If you mean that everything in a good book follows, thematically if not mechanically, from its beginning, and therefore is easy to predict, making the plot seem uneventful, then I'm still not sure I agree. Even when I can see King Lear's crisis coming from an act away, it still registers as a crisis. Maybe this amounts to a difference in temperament.

Still, you say that "even Hamlet's body count doesn't pass the bar because from the crude layperson perspective there's seemingly no good moral reason for everybody to die," which makes me think you intended to write something slightly different from what you wrote. "And then they all died" is still an event, whether I think it was artistically satisfying or not. But I think I've wandered off the path you're trying to beat.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:18 AM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The only book I remember angering me upon finishing was The Celestine Prophecy. I was mad at the author, mad at everyone who blurbed it, and mostly mad at my co-workers who cheerily endorsed it's profundity and wisdom, telling me it changed their lives.

The Celestine Prophecy is on of those weird bits of cultural phenomena that it seems everyone takes part in for a short while, but is happily forgotten as ever having been a thing. Like pagers and Limp Bizkit.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you disagree with me that nothing happens in Shakespeare plays, then you are playing into precisely the contemporary narrative that states that literature is bullshit pretentious ivory tower nonsense.

This is pretty … well, puzzling, Rory. Can you please explain how thinking that several things happen in, say, Romeo and Juliet leads me to play into that narrative? Mind, I like lots of novels which have a much stronger claim to have nothing happening in them than R&J does: Barley Patch, This is Not a Novel (and several other Markson novels), A Man Asleep.

You're confusing an interpretive issue—does anything, or much of anything, happen in Shakespeare's plays?—with one which is totally orthogonal to it, a person's allegiance to anti-intellectualism. These are really phenomenally different things.

The only sort of argument for this that I can reconstruct is:

In lots of great literature, nothing much happens. In fact, that's pretty much the defining feature of great literature. Someone who doesn't think literature is bullshit must be prepared to defend that. If you think that in Shakespeare something much does happen, you must think that if nothing much did happen in Shakespeare's plays, they'd be ivory tower nonsense, and that's why you want to claim that stuff does happen in them—so you can have your anti-intellectual cake and eat your Shakespeare too.

Stated like that, though, the argument is transparently awful. Is that the train of thought you intended? What did you intend?
posted by kenko at 12:16 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still, you say that "even Hamlet's body count doesn't pass the bar because from the crude layperson perspective there's seemingly no good moral reason for everybody to die," which makes me think you intended to write something slightly different from what you wrote. "And then they all died" is still an event, whether I think it was artistically satisfying or not.

I've always maintained that Hamlet was actually about a fiendish Norwegian plot to destabilize the Danish monarchy: notice how Prince Fortinbras conveniently swoops in at the very end to take control of Denmark because all of the local claimants have killed each other? All it took was some convincing smoke and mirrors and ventriloquism to upset a grieving son with mental and emotional problems. And how in Romeo and Juliet, the Prince of Verona was able to force a peace between the two feuding families with a body count of only four? (The lovers, Mercutio, and Tybalt, of course.)

The Shakespeare Coup, here we go!
posted by Apocryphon at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2013


I know someone who has an argument—which I've never heard, but he's a very smart guy—that all along Hamlet's just waiting for the opportune moment to take revenge. Not crazy, not unable to take action, just planning.
posted by kenko at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2013


Eh, I think he's better than Tom Clancy, which I guess isn't saying much.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:56 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always maintained that Hamlet was actually about a fiendish Norwegian plot to destabilize the Danish monarchy: notice how Prince Fortinbras conveniently swoops in at the very end to take control of Denmark because all of the local claimants have killed each other? All it took was some convincing smoke and mirrors and ventriloquism to upset a grieving son with mental and emotional problems.

One chapter of Bend Sinister brutally mocks a similar argument. Some German in the nineteenth century wrote that Fortinbras was the real hero of the play, a hale hearty come to liberate Denmark from the clutches of its decadent court. A pair of characters, both scholars, punch holes in the argument's drywall. It's a dense passage, but it's one of the book's better parts.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:09 PM on May 12, 2013


Exhibit A -- The completely deranged plot of "Pericles, Prince of Tyre", by William Shakespeare:

Antiochus, king of Antioch, offers the hand of his daughter to any man who answers his riddle, while those who fail will die. Pericles, the prince of Tyre, figures out that the riddle means that Antiochus is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Antiochus sends an assassin to kill Pericles, who flees to Tyre, where his friend Helicanus tells him to keep fleeing because Antiochus will hunt him down. Pericles sails to Tarsus, a city beset by famine, and ends the famine by giving them grain from his ship, earning the gratitude of the governor, Cleon, and his wife Dionyza. Pericles sails on.

Then a storm wrecks Pericles' ship and he washes up on the shores of Pentapolis, where he is rescued by a group of fishermen who tell him that Simonedes, King of Pentapolis, is holding a tournament the next day and that the winner will receive the hand of his daughter Thaisa in marriage. Although his armor is rusty from being dunked in the sea after the shipwreck, Pericles wins the tournament and the hand of Thaisa.

Some months later, Pericles decides to return to Tyre with the pregnant Thaisa after getting a letter telling him it's safe to come home, but another storm arises while at sea, and Thaisa dies giving birth to her child, Marina. The sailors insist that Thaisa's body be tossed overboard in order to calm the storm. Thaisa's casket washes ashore at Ephesus near the home of Lord Cerimon, a physician who brings her back to life. Thinking that Pericles died in the storm, Thaisa becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana. Meanwhile, Pericles stops at Tarsus because he fears that Marina may not survive the storm, then departs to rule Tyre, leaving Marina in the care of Cleon and Dionyza.

Years pass, and Marina grows up to be more beautiful than Philoten, the daughter of Cleon and Dionyza, so Dionyza plots Marina's murder. But her plan is thwarted when instead pirates kidnap Marina and then sell her to a brothel in Mytilene. Marina manages to keep her virginity by convincing the men that they should seek virtue. The brothel, worried that she is ruining their market, rents her out as a tutor to respectable young ladies. She becomes a famous musician. When Pericles returns to Tarsus for his daughter, Cleon and Dionyza say she has died; in grief, he takes to the sea.

Pericles' wanderings eventually bring him to Mytilene where the governor Lysimachus, seeking to cheer him up, brings in Marina. They compare their sad stories and realize they are father and daughter. Then the goddess Diana appears in a dream to Pericles, and tells him to come to the temple where he finds Thaisa. The wicked Cleon and Dionyza are killed when their people revolt against their crimes. Lysimachus marries Marina. The end.

... Nope, NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENS in a Shakespeare play.
posted by kyrademon at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Truly, if I had an Old English Sheepdog, I would name him Shakespeare.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2013


I've always maintained that Hamlet was actually about a fiendish Norwegian plot to destabilize the Danish monarchy: notice how Prince Fortinbras conveniently swoops in at the very end to take control of Denmark because all of the local claimants have killed each other?

There's actually an explanation for that.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:51 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


i met dan brown at a book signing for digital fortress. he gave me more time than i deserved, as i was a hyperactive teen at the time. nice convo. bought a copy, got it signed, still have it.

i read digital fortress, and remember thinking: this is horrible. brown's understanding of technology (then, at least) suffered from severe hollywood-itus; the book climaxing with (spoiler) a hashcracking supercomputer overheating because of a virus creating a feedback loop (or something). the prose, while serviceable, was completely unmemorable. i found the characters flat and impossible to empathize with, with the exception of the deaf guy and the guy who died before the book starts. in short, i hated it. "oh well, at least the book signing was nice," i thought.

a year or three later, my neighbor was blathering about THE DA VINCI CODE, which was still just a book. i saw the name: dan brown.

"that seems familiar," i said to myself.

it wasn't until the movie -- another year or so -- that i realized.... ohhh, shiii, it was THAT GUY.

Dan Brown.
posted by RTQP at 5:07 PM on May 12, 2013


My one weird literary tip: if you're reading a novel, and a character saunters, stop reading and find another book. Works for me.

My tip: if a character "chuckles," stop reading and find another book. If the author is so inept that they cannot write genuinely chuckle-worth dialogue without feeling obligated to clue you in with a verb like "chuckle," then everything else is sure to be shit, too.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:00 PM on May 12, 2013


Around 10 years ago I was living in a worn studio apartment in pre-gentrification Prospect Heights, shortly after my first big break-up and not too long out of college and in kind of a dark place generally.

For reasons I still don't know, when I came home one night, I found an amazon package in my name, which I had not ordered, with The Da Vinci Code inside. I surmised that my mother had sent it to me because she'd thought I would enjoy it.

And man, did I ever.

I wasn't really in a state to be thinking about the prose or proper imagery or homogeny of metaphors, but I fucking loved how quickly the story moved, how easily I could read it on the subway and not lose my train of thought (as it were) during transfers, and I especially loved the way it taught me things I'd always been vaguely curious about, but never quite so curious as to bother to look them up.

I knew the Knights Templar were a thing, and the apocrypha and gnostic gospels, but I didn't know the background, and I knew enough from being an aimless rebel in my old youth group in Oklahoma that those things which I was most curious about (i.e. how were the books of the bible, apparently the Absolute Truth, actually determined) were those that we didn't discuss because to do so was to question the Will of God.

And the things I learned were fascinating, and the twists of the story were fun, even though they didn't make a lot of sense in retrospect (why did Teabing reveal himself seemingly at random when it served him no purpose, and then come back a few chapters later to try to force the heroes into giving him what he needed, when he could have just continued to pretend to be their ally and get it without an issue?) but the important thing was that I learned some obscure history in an entertaining way.

And really, that's what Dan Brown is about. I continued the process with Angels & Demons, which I thought was actually better and, in that true sense of what Dan Brown is going for, more naturally cinematic. I learned about papal conclaves and vatican hierarchy and a lot of other great stuff, and in a fun package. The Camerlengo was a fun red-herring of a possible hero, and there was a good climax, and if the prose was pedestrian, well, that only made the story that much swifter.

At around this point I started to get into an argument about Christianity with one of my roommates (I was living in Williamsburg now) and it became clear enough for him to call me out on clearly drawing my facts from Dan Brown, and he totally schooled me. I read Digital Fortress and found that the plot, written with so much certainty in its details, went squarely against Bruce Schneier's work in cryptography. And I saw the repeated patterns of cliches in all of his stories.

Years later, I'm living in DC, but on a trip to see family, and I've got a five-hour wait for my plane in order to return, and nothing at all to do in this empty satellite terminal. But there's a bookstore, and they are selling The Lost Symbol, and I knew from my history that a Dan Brown book could at least act as the literary equivalent of a time-killing, somewhat satisfying nap.

I knew by this point that he was a bad writer. I knew that Da Vinci Code had been cribbed from Holy Bood, Holy Grail. I knew how predictable his stories were.

But because I'd never read a work of his that centered upon a subject and/or place which I knew intimately well, I'd never realized how 100% completely full of shit he is.

Reading him write about DC, at the time my home, was an exercise in wanting to mark up every single page with everything he'd gotten sloppily, fundamentally, and intentionally wrong. From not knowing even the simplest things about the geography (while speaking about them authoritatively, of course) to not knowing anything about the history (though, again, speaking authoritatively) to claiming that the city was empty of pedestrians because everyone was locked inside watching the Redskins game (not even close to a thing which has ever or will ever happen there) to hinging his plot on Noetics as the future of science, with of course established scientists resorting to extreme measures to shut it all down, the entire experience was just embarrassing to me, personally, for ever having given him even the smallest benefit of the doubt previously.

He knows nothing. Nothing at fucking all. The entire excuse for his turgid books is that they are at least teaching you something, and none of it is true. He doesn't know a goddamn thing - he just makes it up. You want interesting facts about the world in an entertaining package? Read cracked.com, because at least they cite their sources. Dan Brown just pulls it right from his ass and then puts a sort of anti-disclaimer at the beginning of each book saying that while the story is fictional, all of the travelogue stuff is researched and accurate. But it's not. He's just a liar.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this tendency was in The Lost Symbol, a book about Masonic Influences in Washington, DC. Presumably knowing the big fact that anyone interested in such a subject would be aware of - that the L'Enfant Plan for DC involved a ton of Masonic influences and symbols - he deals with this question near the beginning, saying that one could find similar patterns in any major city map and that laymen simply looked too deeply into finding something that wasn't there in that case.

Mind you that L'Enfant wore his Masonic influences on his sleeve and that they are kind of a matter of public record, less conspiracy theory than fact. This doesn't matter to Dan Brown, whose stock in trade is telling you what you didn't know (easier to do when you just make it up) rather than letting you bring anything to the table yourself. This is when I knew he wasn't just incompetent, but insidious. He doesn't just make stuff up, but lies about the stuff a reader might know because the facts have to come from him. And that's fucking awful.

I got to my layover in Dallas while still trying to stomach my way through the book, and a woman on the train took notice and asked me if I was reading Dan Brown. I looked up to find an honest-to-god nun. Trying to be polite, I said I was reading it, wasn't sure what I thought of it. She was excited though. SHe hadn't read The Lost Symbol yet, but she was a fan, having red Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. She said they were eye-opening. There were just so many things she didn't know before, she said.

And that's why I hate Dan Brown.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:25 PM on May 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


Where are the Crichtons of yesteryear?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:36 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


My old housemate was talking about Da Vinci Code around the time it was huge. 'I'm not sure I can be bothered to read it', I said. Housemate and friend reassured me that, actually, it was a really easy read, I shouldn't be intimidated by it, and even her autistic brother managed to finish it.

I've been able to read fluently since I was two and read three or so books a week. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this.
posted by mippy at 1:57 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know someone who drowned her copy of The Da Vinci Code in a bucket of water. I find the photos strangely soothing.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:20 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The 8 worst sentences in the first 8 chapters of Inferno.
posted by jeather at 5:52 AM on May 14, 2013


If a character "chuckles," stop reading and find another book.
"Have you ever actually heard someone laughing and talking at the same time?" he chuckled.

(I remember inordinate amounts of chuckling in The Lost Symbol.)
posted by usonian at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2013


I've spoken about my Friend The Erstwhile Seminarian before. He is also a great reader and lover of literature - the "read the Canterbury Tales in old English and can still recite some sometimes" kind.

It is really fun to ask him what he thinks of Dan Brown.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 AM on May 16, 2013


I know someone who drowned her copy of The Da Vinci Code in a bucket of water. I find the photos strangely soothing.


I like how the devil's witchcraft in it makes it float.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:12 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


the "read the Canterbury Tales in old English

NO NO NO NO NO

NOBODY HAS EVER READ THE CANTERBURY TALES IN OLD ENGLISH

IT'S WRITTEN IN MIDDLE ENGLISH WHICH IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT

NO NO NO!!
posted by grubi at 9:35 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


sorry, that sort of thing gnaws at me
posted by grubi at 9:35 AM on May 16, 2013


:-) I'd introduce you to this guy because that would have been his exact reaction to my mistake too.

When they were doing the electing-the-pope thing, I made the mistake of blurting out - when he referred to something about the process -- that "oh yeah, I remember that from seeing Angels and Demons on cable", and OH the look he gave me then....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on May 16, 2013


HWÆT, WE Aprille in shoures soote,
þeodcyninga of Marche þrym gefrunon the roote,
hu ða bathed every veyne ellen fremedon!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


bless you, shakespeherian.
posted by grubi at 9:43 AM on May 16, 2013


Why are people suddenly talking in Elven?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:07 AM on May 16, 2013


GAH
posted by grubi at 10:12 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Elven, twelve
Dig and delve
posted by shakespeherian at 10:18 AM on May 16, 2013


While reading The Lord of the Rings to my wife, I will make jokes about the "Elvish accent" by reading the passage in a voice not unlike Mr Presley's. "Uh-huh, mae g'ovannen, uh, Mister Bilbo."
posted by grubi at 10:22 AM on May 16, 2013


Dan Brown is reading this thread, wiping his tears away with a handful of jillion dollar bills. While eating a jillion dollar-bill sandwich. And drinking a Fresca.
posted by starman at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2013


Too bad for him, because money can't make him any happier than I am, penniless and laughing at him.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:27 PM on May 16, 2013


Y'know, as much as even just the quotes from the book are making me shudder, the movies they make from the books are actually...kinda okay. Not Oscar calibre, but okay. For two reasons -

* It's film, so you don't get the Onslaught Of InfraPurple that the prose tends to be. All you have is plot and Brown does do plot kinda okay, in the sense that he makes you want to know what happens next.

* Ron Howard is smart enough to throw out the ridiculous "Robert Langdon ends up hooking up with whichever random woman is tagging along with him" element that Brown puts into his books. That bit just smacks of Author wish fulfillment.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2013


* Ron Howard is smart enough to throw out the ridiculous "Robert Langdon ends up hooking up with whichever random woman is tagging along with him" element that Brown puts into his books. That bit just smacks of Author wish fulfillment.

It also reveals that he can't keep his characters straight. Langdon goes from unattractive schlub to athletic ladies' man within a day, if I remember right.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2013


"Robert Langdon ends up hooking up with whichever random woman is tagging along with him" element that Brown puts into his books. That bit just smacks of Author wish fulfillment.

No, it smacks of his knowing that women buy more books than men.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2013


What the Hell: Dante in translation and in Dan Brown’s new novel.
posted by homunculus at 9:13 PM on May 21, 2013


I liked this piece in Reason about the glorious weirdness of Brown'a new book. This piece really nails the so-bad-it's-good quality.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:32 PM on May 22, 2013


I liked that New Yorker piece on the translations, though I didn't get the complaint about the strained rhymes. "Rainbow" and "seashell" are both stressed on their first syllables: How are those rhymes any less strained than the "keening sound" that Acocella singles out? The stanza she praises sounds ghoulish in the context of James's otherwise regular meter.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:37 PM on May 22, 2013


I actually was at the Uffizi gallery in Florence yesterday, and saw Inferno in the gift shop. Along with Under the Tuscan Sun and several other different copycat "rich American lady buys a Tuscan villa and finds herself" memoirs. I was amused to note that those were the only books that were only offered in English, whereas books about all the artists were offered in multiple translations.

The Florentinians know where their bread is buttered, it seems.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 PM on May 22, 2013


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