Deionized Essence of Dan Brown
September 17, 2009 4:19 PM   Subscribe

"Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow." Dan Brown's 20 Worst Sentences
posted by Secret Life of Gravy (228 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Five months ago, the kaleidoscope pinata of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow."

FTFY
posted by selfnoise at 4:27 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


You could fill a book with those...

oh wait...
posted by el io at 4:27 PM on September 17, 2009 [26 favorites]


Dan Brown is a dick. (Conclusion mine.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:32 PM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


And the Manurhin MR-93? Not the MR-92? You’re sure? Thanks.

Well, the Manurhin MR-93 is kind of cool looking...
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The garrulous purity of his philandering prose echoes through the labyrinthine corridors of my cortical ramparts, bleeding the sweetness from the sharp night air and filling the motes of my humors with eels of indignity.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:35 PM on September 17, 2009 [47 favorites]


This is kinda low-hanging fruit, isn't it?
posted by Joe Beese at 4:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read something about Brown the other day, an article entitled "I edited Dan Brown’s writing, slowly" by one Brian Joseph Davis. The linked page includes two downloadable documents, each a short excert from Brown's writings with Davis's suggested corrections overlayed. I agree that Brown is a weak writer, but I'm not sure Davis's changes improve the product all that much.
posted by Clay201 at 4:39 PM on September 17, 2009


Dan Brown is a dick.

Fuck. Dan. Brown.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:40 PM on September 17, 2009


Man...I'd like to reel from a blow.

Dan Brown tends to take the reins of the horse by the horns. I mean, no one wants to say the sky is falling, but in this instance I am afraid the emperor has no clothes. I think we're on the same page when we get driven up the creek.
Anyway, that's the whole kettle of fish in a nutshell.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [38 favorites]


EELS OF INDIGNITY!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:42 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dan Brown has good blow?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:42 PM on September 17, 2009


Anyone make it though all 20?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:42 PM on September 17, 2009


First ya'll tell the common folk to turn off the TV and read a book. Now the common folk are finally reading a book and you're gonna make fun of that too.

Sure, he's the fucking Katrina and the Waves of books, but so what? Sometimes it's fun to turn the brightness down to 2 and just rock out to a little Walkin' on Sunshine. Plus, he makes the Catholics get their unsoiled cotton briefs all in a bunch, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

HI I'M METAFILTER AND I WILL MAKE FUN OF WHATEVER BEANS YOU'RE EATING BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT INFUSED WITH SAFRON OIL THE WAY MINE ARE!

For fuck's sake, Metafilter, you've got me defending Dan Brown. Cut it out.
posted by bondcliff at 4:42 PM on September 17, 2009 [52 favorites]


This is kinda low-hanging fruit, isn't it?

Yes. Yes it is. But it is still sweet and delicious.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:43 PM on September 17, 2009 [13 favorites]


bondcliff: "Sure, he's the fucking Katrina and the Waves of books, but so what?"

Katrina and the Waves included Kimberley Rew. Mr. Rew wrote "Going Down To Liverpool".

So a little respect, please.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is just to say

I have eaten
the low-hanging fruit
that was in
the supermarket discount book rack

and which
you were probably
rocking out to
all hopped up on sunshine

Forgive me
I am a MeFite
and Dan Brown
is a hack
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [88 favorites]


I love Katrina and the Waves. Dan Brown, not so much. I love the part where it's pointed out that calling Leonardo "Da Vinci" is like calling Lawrence "Mr. of Arabia." But try convincing the world of that NOW.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:52 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Gawd, it's been a long arduous day. I sure hope when I get home and fire up MeFi, there's a nice, relaxing, low-hanging eel-and-fruit-filled pinata for me to whack with my kaleidoscope. . . ."

HOORAY!
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


Langdon's balls slapped against the rim of the toilet as he sat down, like two-tea infusers left to molder on the kitchen windowsill, calling out to the waiting prostitute in the seedy D.C. motel, "Erudite. You find my charms 'erudite'". The hooker wheezed out a Camels-tinged snarl, snapping clearly at him.
posted by boo_radley at 4:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [27 favorites]


I'd like to spread some blame on Jason Kaufman, Brown's editor. Kaufman, talking about his own manuscript for a "mystery thriller" (vs. those mysteriously dull mysteries?)
"I took the manuscript out of my drawer a few years ago and decided to skim through it as if I were reading a regular submission," Kaufman recalled. "To tell you the truth, I probably would have rejected it. I think editing suits me better than writing."
Shouldn't an editor -at some level- also be a writer? I guess this is a fine example against that.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:55 PM on September 17, 2009


I don't think Dan Brown is a good writer by any stretch, but that doesn't automatically validate the snarkiness of a lot of these examples. Number one is particularly annoying:

Leonardo’s surname was not Da Vinci. He was from Vinci, or of Vinci. As many critics have pointed out, calling it The Da Vinci Code is like saying Mr Of Arabia or asking What Would Of Nazareth Do?

The title of The Da Vinci Code should've been The Vinci Code? Really? Seems to me that if you say "da Vinci", most people would know what you're talking about. And I'd venture that there are plenty of "respectable" books, fiction and nonfiction, that use "Da Vinci" in the title and not "Vinci".
posted by zardoz at 4:56 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


To be fair, actually trying to edit Brown's writing would be like one of the seven labours of Sisyphus.
posted by Flashman at 4:58 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about Da Vinci's Code? It worked for his Inquest.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:01 PM on September 17, 2009


I'm thinking you could have picked 20 sentences at random from his work and created a comparable list.
posted by MikeMc at 5:02 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Listening to Katrina and the Waves is like wearing tambourines on your feet while you jump up and down on a trampoline.

Reading Dan Brown is like watching the village idiot play Myst.

Also, eating scungilli is like starring in the all plant version of Death Wish.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:03 PM on September 17, 2009 [20 favorites]


The title of The Da Vinci Code should've been The Vinci Code?

No, it should have been called the Leonardo Code. Actually, it should have been shortened to the the Leonardode. No, wait, actually it should never have been published and Dan Brown should have thrown himself into the propeller of a bi-plane.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 5:05 PM on September 17, 2009 [20 favorites]


Whoops, I mean to add the word portmanteau to my previous comment. You can use your discretion as to where.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 5:07 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is funny
posted by SLC Mom at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2009


I don't think Dan Brown is a good writer by any stretch, but that doesn't automatically validate the snarkiness of a lot of these examples.

I agree. Their examples seem to be quickly picked from the books. As for that title ...

Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense, "da Vinci" simply meaning "of Vinci": his full birth name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, son of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci."

And "Leonardo Code" sounds dumb. Everyone knows that.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dan Brown of Port Manteau (AKA Drown de Portmanteau) should have thrown himself into the propeller of a bi-plane, AKA death by diesel-powered fanfic.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:17 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Item No. 9 on this list:

9. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 32: The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen. "SmartCar," she said. "A hundred kilometers to the liter."

Pro tip: when fleeing from the police, take a moment to boast about your getaway vehicle’s fuel efficiency. And get it wrong by a factor of five. SmartCars do about 20km (12 miles) to the litre.


Pro tip: When correcting someone else's work, get your facts right. There is no such car as a "SmartCar," at least not as named. In addition, even if the aforementioned SmartCar does exist, well, I'm not sure what style guide they're using over at the Telegraph, but I would guess that "20km" isn't proper. Also: The "when" beginning the phrase "when fleeing from the police" should be capitalized, as it begins a complete sentence.
posted by limeonaire at 5:18 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I listened to the audiobook of The DaVinci Code (I had a long commute, so lay off) and between Dan Brown's awkward prose and the narrator's attempt at all the many accents, especially the female French Sophie Neveu, it was a fantastically entertaining comedy.
posted by tula at 5:20 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man...I'd like to reel from a blow.

You've never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?
posted by flabdablet at 5:23 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


First ya'll tell the common folk to turn off the TV and read a book. Now the common folk are finally reading a book and you're gonna make fun of that too.
I have never told the "Common folk" to do anything. I would be thrilled if everyone watched The Wire and Six Feet Under over shitty books. Whoosh.

Sure, he's the fucking Katrina and the Waves of books, but so what?
Katrina and the Waves were good solid pop music. Something that is light and fun can also be of good quality. Brown is just plain shitty. Swing and a miss. Strike two.

[plate of beans "joke" reference, still.]
Next batter, please.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:24 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So CERN has a particle accelerator? Langdon thought, as the elevator dropped. A circular tube for smashing particles. He wondered why they had buried it underground.
posted by hindmost at 5:27 PM on September 17, 2009


Ok, it is late and I am tired because I have only just now stopped working at 8:30 at night, so would someone please explain to me the second half of #14:
The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

A keen eye indeed.
Is it because "those" is a plural pronoun and "eye" is singular? I AM MISSING THE SNARK, DAMMIT.

The rest of the list was pretty hilarious, though.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:29 PM on September 17, 2009


Actually it's spelled "saffron".

Low hanging fruit, indeed.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:29 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


shiu mai, I assumed they were referring to what sounds like a pretty attention getting ring. Like saying only those with a keen eye would notice the large clock hanging around Flavor Flav's neck on a gold chain the thickness of your thumb.
posted by snofoam at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


drjimmy11: "I have never told the "Common folk" to do anything. I would be thrilled if everyone watched The Wire and Six Feet Under over shitty books. Whoosh."

Thank you. Reading a terrible book, and worse a book that mangles the English language with countless misuses of words and phrases, is not better than watching Discovery Sunday just because it's a book. I may be a total bibliophile and fountain pen-using paper snob, but any medium is only as worthwhile as what you choose to consume from it.
posted by Roman Graves at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


IF IT'S NOT THOMAS BERNHARD IT'S SCHEIß*

*Actual bumper sticker on my car.(1)

(1) This is not true.
posted by everichon at 5:38 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Brown is an awful writer, but Tom Chivers, in pointing it out, says this:

They say the first rule of fiction is "show, don’t tell". This fails that rule.

"Fails that rule"???

I say the first rule of pointing out shitty writing is don't write shittily.

Damn! And there I just went and wrote "shittily."
posted by ericost at 5:40 PM on September 17, 2009


Is it because "those" is a plural pronoun and "eye" is singular? I AM MISSING THE SNARK, DAMMIT.

Nah, 'cause that's fairly acceptable, grammar-wise. My guess would be that the writer is making fun of Dan Brown for adding more of what he considers to be insignificant details.
posted by limeonaire at 5:40 PM on September 17, 2009


16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. 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.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?


Not to mention, your character can't both freeze and also turn his head slowly. You gotta pick! Pick, Dan Brown!

And... uh... the silhouette stared? No. No. No. Silhouettes also do not have observable ghost-pale skin.

In fact, I'll even take issue with "A voice spoke."

posted by taz at 5:43 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks, that was hilarious!
posted by sneebler at 5:46 PM on September 17, 2009


Is it because "those" is a plural pronoun and "eye" is singular?
-------
Nah, 'cause that's fairly acceptable, grammar-wise.


That doesn't prevent its stylistic sloppiness from bugging me in a way that many blatant usage errors don't. "This year's graduates are having trouble finding a job." Yecch.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:48 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, it's official, next time there's a Hurricane Dan I AM FUCKING EVACUATING.
posted by localroger at 5:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It takes a brave man to write such crappy books. Keep fucking that chicken!
posted by snofoam at 5:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

I kinda like that line, actually.

On a side note, I never saw the movie version of Angels & Demons... did it include the "jumping out of exploding helicopter, falling hundreds of feet, then landing safe and sound" scene? If not, why not? If so, did it play as totally absurd as it did in the book?
posted by brundlefly at 5:57 PM on September 17, 2009


It takes a brave man to write such crappy books. Keep fucking that chicken!

Man, I wish so hard sometimes that I had it in me to write just one such crappy book and then NEVER WORK ANOTHER FUCKING DAY IN MY LIFE . . . well, except for charitable pursuits, household chores, etc., but no gainful employment.

I simply can't grasp why all these horrible yet obscenely rich bestselling writers keep producing books. I guess that in the great talent Lotto, they were compensated for zero talent by getting shitloads of Protestant work ethic.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:11 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


On a lark I read The Da Vinci Code because everyone was going on and on about how good it was.

I hated the book; it was some of the worst writing I've ever seen. Every single event was telegraphed, not skillfully foreshadowed, and the prose was dreck.

The good news is it saved me from watching the movie, as much as I like Tom Hanks and the delectable Audrey Tautou.
posted by bwg at 6:11 PM on September 17, 2009


The critique was that all of the opening lines followed the same structure. Not necessarily that they're the worst lines, but that they pretty much diagram identically.

That said, the line you pulled is particularly clumsy. If your flesh is burning, you're probably in too much pain to even register scents.
posted by explosion at 6:13 PM on September 17, 2009


"Those with a keen eye" is sufficiently bad but perhaps not enough to be a standout in a book like this. I think the snark was also about the unnecessary detail of the ring and the fact that it didn't sound subdued enough to merit the "keen eye" clause in the first place.

Now "only those with a keen eye would have noticed the propeller beanie topping her radiant orange Dame Edna coif and sequined lime-green jersey" would be a damn fine sentence indeed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:14 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: an 'erudite' appeal
posted by bwg at 6:14 PM on September 17, 2009


Dan Brown gives me hope. I'm too am a crappy writer. And I'd like to be a crappy writer with a house in the south of France. A house in the south of France so big that I could fit my ski chalet in the Pyrenees inside of it.
posted by tkchrist at 6:17 PM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'd buy your book, tk. Seriously.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:19 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw this Dan Brown crap all over the airport this week. And then I saw a single person with a book that looked different to me, but I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't just that it wasn't Dan Brown, because several other people had non-Dan Brown books. I couldn't even see the cover, so what could be...oh, it's a library book.

Now *that's* sad.
posted by DU at 6:24 PM on September 17, 2009


None of this is as bad as a book a friend of mine made me read: The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks.
There's way worse than this throughout. I kept wondering, as I read, how shit like this could get published, but now that I see that this Dan Brown character writes bad Bazooka Joe comics, and sells millions, I guess I have my answer.

Upon finishing The Traveler, I swore I'd never read another "techno-thriller" again.

And yes, I read the whole thing. I don't know how or why. At least now I know that I was right not to waste my time with Dan "The Erudite Dick" Brown.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2009


I'm with taz here. #16 is so messed up it takes several readings to scour it for all its breathtaking "my christ did he have an editor at all?" fucked-uppedness. That is some serious shite.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:28 PM on September 17, 2009


16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. 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.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?


Oooh, I know! That's actually six sentences!
posted by DU at 6:33 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for helping my addled brain, folks. I overthunk it, as usual.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2009


But wait, there's more! The "attacker" is described as being outside a "sealed gate". Amidst all this improbable detail that manages to describe even the pupils of a silhouette, he neglects to mention the presence of something that would make this scenario threatening. Like, say, a gun?
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

I saw them open for Godspeed You Black Emperor. They were OK.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:54 PM on September 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Barbs dipped in envy, every one of'em ...

/hehhe-he
posted by RavinDave at 6:56 PM on September 17, 2009


Ha, I didn't read the book or the article. Who's smrt now? Electroboy, that's who.
posted by electroboy at 7:02 PM on September 17, 2009


Branding is a real call-out of bad writing to me - possible the most unambigious.

When someone wears Reeboks, not shoes; drinks from Krosno, not a glass; smells of CK, not perfume and rides in a Bell 206, not a helicopter, you know you're in real trouble.
posted by smoke at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Personally I'm stuck on "On his hands and knees, the curator froze". Leaving aside the issue that he froze AND turned his head, picture someone on their hands and knees. Particularly a middle-aged to elderly man, as I imagine this "curator" to be.

Now tell me: what is the difference between that man you are now imagining, and one who "froze"?

Was he frisking around on his hands and knees before "the voice spoke"?

But I agree - anything that gets people to read is a good thing, if you ask me. It's fun to mock, but hey.
posted by ErikaB at 7:10 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before we get too carried away on bad writing, let us all remember a book that makes Dan Brown's look like Shakespeare. I'm of course talking about the previously mentioned Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate. Sure he doesn't have the sales that Dan Brown has, but he has heart.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:12 PM on September 17, 2009


Branding is a real call-out of bad writing to me - possible the most unambigious.

When someone wears Reeboks, not shoes; drinks from Krosno, not a glass; smells of CK, not perfume and rides in a Bell 206, not a helicopter, you know you're in real trouble.


Certain branding is evocative. Perfume scents are distinctive. We all know James Bond drives an Aston-Martin, and not just "a car." It's mostly distracting in a TV show when someone drinks "Cola" instead of "Coke."
posted by explosion at 7:15 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


the seven labours of Sisyphus

Awesome. Just the right level of subtle.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on September 17, 2009


Barbs dipped in envy, every one of'em ...

Yes I am envious of Dan Brown's piles and piles of money.

But he still is a shitty writer.
posted by afu at 7:18 PM on September 17, 2009


Yep, Dan Brown is bad but if you really want to see the depths to which English can sink see "A Wanderer's Tale" by David Bilsborough. It reeks even by the low standards of cheap fantasy paperbacks.

Here is the start of chapter 6:
So they continued doggedly, pacing out the most painful steps upon that darkest stretch of their road so far. The Peladane’s mood was black and leaden, and emanated from him like a cloud of necrotizing spores to the others of the company, infecting them with its bane. Few words were uttered, the name of Methuselech mentioned not once, and only Whitehorse – lightened of his burden but darkened of heart – dared glance back toward those evil heights wherein still lay his master.
It is the second worst book I have ever finished.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:21 PM on September 17, 2009


all its breathtaking "my christ did he have an editor at all?" fucked-uppedness

No, he did not have an editor at all. When you (and by "you" I mean "me" here) work at a publishing house, you (me) learn that blockbuster bestseller authors generally can't be bothered with paying attention to the corrections offered by someone who earns less per annum than their poolboy.

And the People Upstairs (by which I mean management, not an international conspiracy of Knights Templar) could not care less about whether these books consist entirely of word salad, as long as they sell.

Dan Brown has a great gift for coming up with page-turning plots that captivate readers. Basic English grammar, not so much.

The fun thing is checking Dan Brown against Mark Twain's list of Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. Accept no substitutes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 PM on September 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


Being an English major snob has kind of held me back in a lot of ways.

But not when it comes to thinking Dan Brown and people who like him are shitheads.
posted by bardic at 7:23 PM on September 17, 2009


That said, the line you pulled is particularly clumsy. If your flesh is burning, you're probably in too much pain to even register scents.

That's pretty much what I like about it. It's like a bad horror movie.
posted by brundlefly at 7:24 PM on September 17, 2009


Wow. From his wiki page John TWelve Hawks sounds like a mega-scale twat.
posted by Artw at 7:24 PM on September 17, 2009


Aringarosa always sounded like a joke name to me, like Pat McGroyn or Robin Banks. It's too close to "ring a ring a rosie".
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:35 PM on September 17, 2009


Some of this has already been quoted. But I simply have to copy the whole passage (from Language Log's Geoffrey Pullman - i.e. the same brilliant guy cited by The Telegraph in the post). It's given me so much pleasure.


"Unfortunately I had no better idea of what to do with my time, so I opened The Da Vinci Code.

I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:

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.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing an event in a narrative. So this might be reasonable text for the opening of a newspaper report the next day:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière died last night in the Louvre at the age of 76.

But Brown packs such details into the first two words of an action sequence — details of not only his protagonist's profession but also his prestige in the field. It doesn't work here. It has the ring of utter ineptitude. The details have no relevance, of course, to what is being narrated (Saunière is fleeing an attacker and pulls down the painting to trigger the alarm system and the security gates). We could have deduced that he would be fairly well known in the museum trade from the fact that he was curating at the Louvre.
The writing goes on in similar vein, committing style and word choice blunders in almost every paragraph (sometimes every line). Look at the phrase "the seventy-six-year-old man". It's a complete let-down: we knew he was a man — the anaphoric pronoun "he" had just been used to refer to him. (This is perhaps where "curator" could have been slipped in for the first time, without "renowned", if the passage were rewritten.) Look at "heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas." We don't need to know it's a masterpiece (it's a Caravaggio hanging in the Louvre, that should be enough in the way of credentials, for heaven's sake). Surely "toward him" feels better than "toward himself" (though I guess both are grammatical here). Surely "tore from the wall" should be "tore away from the wall". Surely a single man can't fall into a heap (there's only him, that's not a heap). And why repeat the name "Saunière" here instead of the pronoun "he"? Who else is around? (Caravaggio hasn't been mentioned; "a Caravaggio" uses the name as an attributive modifier with conventionally elided head noun "painting". That isn't a mention of the man.)

Well, actually, there is someone else around, but we only learn that three paragraphs down, after "a thundering iron gate" has fallen (by the way, it's the fall that makes a thundering noise: there's no such thing as a thundering gate). "The curator" (his profession is now named a second time in case you missed it) "...crawled out from under the canvas and scanned the cavernous space for someplace to hide" (the colloquial American "someplace" seems very odd here as compared with standard "somewhere"). Then:

A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move."

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

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.

Just count the infelicities here. A voice doesn't speak —a person speaks; a voice is what a person speaks with. "Chillingly close" would be right in your ear, whereas this voice is fifteen feet away behind the thundering gate. The curator (do we really need to be told his profession a third time?) cannot slowly turn his head if he has frozen; freezing (as a voluntary human action) means temporarily ceasing all muscular movements. And crucially, a silhouette does not stare! A silhouette is a shadow. If Saunière can see the man's pale skin, thinning hair, iris color, and red pupils (all at fifteen feet), the man cannot possibly be in silhouette.

Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better. Why did I keep reading? Because London Heathrow is a long way from San Francisco International, and airline magazines are thin, and two-month-old Hollywood drivel on a small screen hanging two seats in front of my row did not appeal, that's why. And why did I keep the book instead of dropping it into a Heathrow trash bin? Because it seemed to me to be such a fund of lessons in how not to write."

posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:35 PM on September 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


Kaufman, talking about his own manuscript for a "mystery thriller" (vs. those mysteriously dull mysteries?)

"Mystery thriller" is a term of art used in the publishing world. It distinguishes a certain subset of mysteries--the ones where, generally, a series of cardboard cutouts careen through a Giant International Conspiracy of EEEEVIL for 600+ pages--from the other mysteries, where some kindly old knitting instructor/poodle groomer/tea-shop owner or a hard-bitten/opera-loving/ready to love again homicide detective figures out who killed someone in 300 pages or less, possibly with recipes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:36 PM on September 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


When The Da Vinci Code came out, everybody around me raved about how awesome it was, how gripping and fascinating the plot was. Also, my then-92-year-old grandfather was reading it, and there's not much overlap in our reading habits, so I was all about trying something I could chat with him about.

I realized about halfway through that, clearly, most people had never heard of conspiracy-theory standbys like the Priory of Scion or, for that matter, the whole Jesus-had-a-child notion. If that's a novel notion to you, I can see how the whole business could actually get interesting. As it was, I couldn't treat it as a fun schlocky romp; it was just a crappy, poorly-written, awfully-plotted, retread of shit I read on Wikipedia years before.

There's nothing wrong with popularity, but plenty of good books get popular and widely-read - not that everything she's featured is the best books evar, but Oprah's Book Club does result in an awful lot of solid literature selling like gangbusters. You may disagree, but I think even Stephen King is a pretty good writer, "despite" being extremely mass-market and selling oodles of everything. Fuck, even Michael "I'm qualified to say that Global Warming is a hoax!" Chrichton was a far sight better writer than Dan Brown is on his best day. So, yeah, I don't think there's any excuses to be had here; Dan Brown just... sucks.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:39 PM on September 17, 2009


On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

I saw them open for Godspeed You Black Emperor. They were OK.

No, no...you're confused. That's an A Silver Mt. Zion song title, duh.
posted by nosila at 7:49 PM on September 17, 2009


I'd buy your book, tk. Seriously.

I'll give you one free. And then you can come to my house in the south of France and my valet will sing us to sleep with all the grammatical errors set to verse and harp music. After we ride my gold plated Vespa collection into our whiskey filled swimming pool, naturally.
posted by tkchrist at 7:52 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a date.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:54 PM on September 17, 2009


Wow. I thought it was difficult to whittle lists of favorite books or albums down to just five, but this almost seems like an exercise in futility!
posted by Mael Oui at 7:56 PM on September 17, 2009


When someone wears Reeboks, not shoes; drinks from Krosno, not a glass; smells of CK, not perfume and rides in a Bell 206, not a helicopter, you know you're in real trouble.

Certain branding is evocative. Perfume scents are distinctive. We all know James Bond drives an Aston-Martin, and not just "a car." It's mostly distracting in a TV show when someone drinks "Cola" instead of "Coke."


Still, it helps if you are putting enough work into imagining someone's world that you can come up with details about them that are unusual or interesting. Brands are sometimes unavoidable, but mostly they're just lazy.

Take this woman, for example. As soon as she enters the bar, she realizes that she's worn too much perfume, and that it's triggering an allergy attack. (The cigarette smoke from the crowd of Hell's Angels over by the pool table isn't helping.) She looks around with watery eyes to see if anyone here looks like the photo that the dating service sent her. Looks like she got here first, so if she takes some of her prescription allergy pills right away, they'll probably kick in before he even gets there! She takes two, just in case. They make her a little bit loopy sometimes, but if she restricts herself to just one drink, just to wash down the pills she should be fine. She orders a strawberry daquiri; the bartender seems friendly, so she confides in him that this will be the first date she's been on since her divorce last year.

Noticing how nervous she seems, he sympathetically throws a few extra jiggers of white rum in the mixture. Then a few more. What the hell, he thinks, the bottle was almost empty anyway, and she looks like she needs it...

In the scenario above, there are lots of opportunities to throw in brands, but unless they say something very specific, they just get in the way, they pull focus, distracting the reader by intruding on his or her imagination. The problem is, a lot of writers think details like brands are really important for creating detailed sketches of people and situations. And almost always, they're really just wrong. You have to trust the reader's mind to fill in all the little gaps. That's what the mind wants to do. Anyway, including a lot of brand references just increases the risk of your work becoming obviously dated.
posted by hermitosis at 7:57 PM on September 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


It takes a brave man to write such crappy books. Keep fucking that chicken!
posted by snofoam at 8:49 PM on September 17 [+] [!]


A man ahead of his times!
posted by xorry at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2009


Sweet, this gives me an opportunity to steal share something great, from Something Awful user appropriatemetaphor: the Dan Brown book template.
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posted by graventy at 8:10 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's Dan Brown's fault I made my mom feel bad. She reads about one book a decade, and this decade it was The Da Vinci Code. Shortly after she finished it she lent it to me, and excitedly told me how great it was, how I'd probably finish it in a day because I wouldn't be able to put it down. Well, in a way she was right...I finished reading it in well under a day because I was only able to get through about 50 pages before I couldn't stand it any more. When she asked me what I thought I flashed back to all the times I told her I thought the terrible, terrible movies she likes (God bless her) were "pretty good" or at least "okay" and tried, really tried to bite down and tell her I liked it. But I just couldn't do it. I told her I didn't finish it and tried to sugarcoat the news by saying it "just wasn't my thing," but I guess I didn't do a very good job at selling the lie because she looked absolutely crestfallen.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that every time I think of Dan Brown I feel a bit like crying.
posted by you just lost the game at 8:16 PM on September 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


On a side note, I never saw the movie version of Angels & Demons... did it include the "jumping out of exploding helicopter, falling hundreds of feet, then landing safe and sound" scene? If not, why not? If so, did it play as totally absurd as it did in the book?

It did! My sister claims that the book had Langdon up there in the helicopter too, which is just....no, but in the movie it's only Heroic Ewan McGregor who parachutes out and tears up a bunch of stonework on his way down to safety. Did it come off as absurd? It was fucking Angels and Demons, it all came off as absurd!

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

I feel bad that people keep harping on this line. It's so close to being a viable image -- he hears the voice, freezes with fear, then slowly turns his head -- that mentioning it feels kind of petty.
posted by brookedel at 8:26 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a notorious cheap bastard. I fly on Buddy Passes. My brother-in-law is a pilot. The trick is I'm not only cheap but also a snob. So if I fly I want to go fly First Class. And it's get's more complicated than that. I fly poorly so I require that I'm ripped to the gills. Dancing a dance with that sweet bitch-godess Valium and Makers Mark. And one further complication. I'm lazy.

So all tolled I end up in the magazine kiosk at the last minute, vision blurring, swatting at semi-opaque valium goblins, while I snag what ever piece of shit novel has bright pretty colors.

And three separate times. THREE. That has been a god damned Dan Brown novel. And two of those times it was the Da Vinci Code. HARD BACK. Even flying on valium when I'm in love the world these books fail to do much for me. Plus thier heavy and I usually purposely leave them on the plane or give them, earnestly and with great appreciation, to the flight attendants.

This is my theory. The popularity of Dan Brown is almost entirely dependent upon drunks at the airport and flight attendants. Them, and Mormons. That's my theory.
posted by tkchrist at 8:31 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So is Dan Brown the male version of Stephenie Meyer?

Or is Stephenie Meyer the female version of Dan Brown?
posted by CarolynG at 8:35 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of jealous people not writing shitty bestsellers in this thread
posted by clockzero at 8:39 PM on September 17, 2009


So is Dan Brown the male version of Stephenie Meyer?

Or is Stephenie Meyer the female version of Dan Brown?


Having read The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons and Twilight, I think I can definitively say that they are one in the same person. specifically Morgoth Bauglir, Lord of the Dark.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:54 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Good point made above: King, Grisham, Clancy and the other airport novelists are pretty good writers. Dan Brown is a terrible writer. I tried reading it, even after been warned by Pullum in his classic evisceration of bad prose, because a friend of mine lent it to me. But I couldn't make it past page three. It hurt.

Low-hanging fruit, but, although, as Trini Lopez put it, "the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat," many find Dan Brown quite delicious.
posted by kozad at 8:54 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sure, he's the fucking Katrina and the Waves of books

katrina and the waves' first american album was one of the best pop albums of the 80s - walking on sunshine is the WORST song on that album - going down to liverpool and red wine and whiskey are classic songs

you have been corrected
posted by pyramid termite at 8:55 PM on September 17, 2009


So is Dan Brown the male version of Stephenie Meyer?

Or is Stephenie Meyer the female version of Dan Brown?


As their careers continue, they become worse than each other with each successive book. It's a race to the bottom - their reward: millions of dollars.
posted by crossoverman at 8:55 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: He could taste the familiar tang of museum air - an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon - the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

What the Hell are you on about, Dan Brown?

Museum air does not have a "tang."

It had better not have a "tang." Do you know how many phone calls I have to make if it does?
posted by louche mustachio at 9:01 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Museum air does not have a "tang."

do they still sell that stuff or do you have to go to the NASA museum to get some?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:04 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I kind of like it when the internet abritrarily decides to pick on something popular. Not like like it, but I'm amused.
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:23 PM on September 17, 2009


I see a lot of jealous people not writing shitty bestsellers in this thread
posted by clockzero at 8:39 PM on September 17 [+] [!]


That standard wheeze has already been used in this thread. But thanks for being the person who comes in and says what somebody always says, you never know when you might need a spare.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:24 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


King, Grisham, Clancy and the other airport novelists are pretty good writers.

Grisham is pretty bad. His was some of the first "bad writing" that I ever consciously noticed, particularly his overuse of the word "devoured." No one ever "ate" anything in The Firm.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2009


After a very little reflection, my apologies for the snideness of my previous comment. That sort of thing really is just best left alone.

On the subject of airport reading, I have to confess I've read and actually enjoyed a few of Clive Cussler's "Dirk Pitt™" potboilers. I even became fond of the way he always gives a cameo to his latest vintage car acquisition.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:35 PM on September 17, 2009


So I'm sympathetic with the idea that attacking popular fiction is problematic, however, I found this list funny. My favorite example:

Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow's peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.

Does Dan Brown pull his material straight from the recycling bins of private school English teachers? Because that paragraph looks like it was written by a cheeky and over-educated sixth-grader.
posted by serazin at 9:40 PM on September 17, 2009


I've enjoyed some John Grisham. The Pelican Brief was totally entertaining.
posted by serazin at 9:41 PM on September 17, 2009


People who like terrible books like to think having standards is an act of snark, but it's not. The argument that any reading is better than none is...weird.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:42 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think I could ever bring myself to read one of his books, nor have I read the list from the FPP, but damn, this thread is really funny so dan brown is not an utter waste of protoplasm after all!
posted by supermedusa at 10:41 PM on September 17, 2009


No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft. - H. G. Wells

That's why all these people like Dan Brown's books. They know they could do it better. How many published works could give so many people that happy conviction?
posted by Methylviolet at 11:02 PM on September 17, 2009


Can I just say that I don't even own a bookshelf?

What, people do this with TV threads all of the time. Why not books?
posted by mmoncur at 11:12 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter : I'm too am a crappy writer
posted by mannequito at 11:13 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


low hanging fruit

ENOUGH WITH THE TRANSGENDERING
posted by fleacircus at 11:23 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


At least my crappy writing will never make much money, which is it's rightful place in the order of things.
posted by Artw at 11:27 PM on September 17, 2009


I read the "Da Vinci Code", and I found it entertaining, if clumsily written (of course, I didn't know that much of the plot was lifted from elsewhere). Then I made a huge mistake: I read Mr. Brown's other books. Every single one of then (front-to-back too, I'm a voracious reader). The horror, the horror. Say what you will about the "Da Vinci Code", it's still a fucking literary masterpiece compared with Brown's other swill. At least he came out with (read: stole) a somewhat plausible, entertaining plot there. "Angels & Demons" doesn't even had that saving grace. And if "Angels & Demons" is beyond ridiculous, "Deception Point" and "Digital Fortress" are the worst sub-Clancy garbage I've ever had the misfortune of reading.
posted by Skeptic at 12:19 AM on September 18, 2009


Gamien Boffenburg: "People who like terrible books like to think having standards is an act of snark, but it's not."

So anyone who disagrees with you about the value of vapid snark "likes terrible books"?

Oh, OK.
posted by kathrineg at 12:40 AM on September 18, 2009


Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

It is doubtful that this phrase will ever reach equilibrium.
posted by clorox at 12:48 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


The author of this article couldn't go 1000 words without looking like a jackass. I'd like to see him try an entire novel.
posted by kathrineg at 12:49 AM on September 18, 2009


hermitosis: "Anyway, including a lot of brand references just increases the risk of your work becoming obviously dated."

If branding is to be used in a book, it has to fulfill a purpose other than to show-off the author's coolness (or perfunctory research skills). The king of "brand brandishing books", American Psycho, over-used branding to mirror Bateman's anally-obsessive character and also to firmly bed the book in a very specific time (that we all recognise anyway, and which the constant references only serve to reinforce).

It can be a good thing, reference brands. If done by a good writer...
posted by benzo8 at 1:05 AM on September 18, 2009


Everybody born after 1980's response to American Psycho: What the hell is a Bellini?
posted by minifigs at 1:28 AM on September 18, 2009


If branding is to be used in a book, it has to fulfill a purpose other than to show-off the author's coolness

Product placement?
posted by Skeptic at 1:30 AM on September 18, 2009


When correcting someone else's work, get your facts right. There is no such car as a "SmartCar

Maybe not now, but have you considered that Smart have rebranded since they expanded their range? Or that SmartCar is the common designation if one isn't working for their marketing department?
posted by biffa at 1:38 AM on September 18, 2009


Guardian Readers Prepare For Dan Brown Sneerathon:
From Islington to Primrose Hill people who think they are better than you because you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code will be sneering at his new book in a bid to raise money for George Monbiot's psychiatrist.

Cafes and galleries will host a series of events including the popular North London parlour game 'I Sat Next to a Dan Brown Fan at a Dinner Party and This is What He Said'...

Stephen Malley, a Guardian reader from Highgate, said: "All he does is write books where lots of things happen. Novels should be a series of stilted conversations and semi-internalised dream sequences that reveal a series of interwoven themes about the need to rebalance globalisation in favour of the developing world."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dan Brown is like the Rob Liefeld of books. He's a lot of fun to read, but for all the wrong reasons.
posted by stavrogin at 2:15 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So anyone who disagrees with you about the value of vapid snark "likes terrible books"?

Are we talking about Dan Brown? Because that's key.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:19 AM on September 18, 2009


I'l try that again:

"So anyone who disagrees with you about the value of vapid snark "likes terrible books"?"

Are we talking about Dan Brown? Because that's key.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:25 AM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, serazin. You kind of translate it as you go:

Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest.

(Piles acting up.)

His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow's peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship.

(Hair Club for Men.)

As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.

(Piles acting up some more.)

Etc.
posted by metagnathous at 2:32 AM on September 18, 2009


Just to labour the point already made by zardoz and filthy light thief.

The fact that "Da Vinci" literally means "Of Vinci" does not mean it isn't also a name. Moreover, the fact that a literal translation into English such as 'Mr Of Vinci' sounds silly is not much of an argument for the original being poor Italian. Most literal translations sound silly. It's English that is the odd man out: names beginning with 'Da', 'De', 'Von', and equivalents are common enough in other European languages: I imagine the fact that 'Of' names don't occur in English is a result of the Norman Conquest, which lumbered us with the French 'De' instead. "Mr De Nazareth" doesn't sound strange to me.

This kind of thing does fall along a spectrum. At one end, we have people like Heraclitus of Ephesus. 'Of Ephesus' is clearly not a name in itself: you wouldn't actually be able to tell who it referred to. It merely serves to distinguish him from the other Heraclitus. At the other end of the spectrum, we have D'Artagnan, which although it still means 'Of Artagnan' is clearly the name of the Musketeers' friend.

So is "Da Vinci" more like Heraclitus than D'Artagnan? I don't think so: surely when people called Lorenzo "Di Medici", they weren't just (or even) letting you know where he came from? Leonardo, it's true, was born near (not quite in) Vinci, but his family had lived there for some time: all his male ancestors back to his great great grandfather had apparently been called "Da Vinci". In legal documents Leonardo was referred to as "Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci" ("Leonardo the son of Master Piero of Vinci"), or even longer versions - "Leonardo di Ser Piero d'Antonio di Ser Piero di Ser Guido da Vinci" . It looks as though, on the whole, the reference identified him with a particular family rather than primarily with a particular location: you surely can't say, at any rate, that "Da Vinci" was simply the identifier of his town of origin.

Modern Italians, at any rate, seem ready to accept "Da Vinci" as a name: the Italian title of the novel is "Il Codice Da Vinci". The translator seems to have been happy with this, and so far as I know the readership are not puzzled or outraged either.

More fundamentally, we have to remember that "The Da Vinci Code" was written, in the main, for modern Americans, not Renaissance Italians. There is no law which says we must refer to people in exactly the way their peers would have done, and indeed sometimes there are grammatical issues about doing so - is Anna's surname Karenina or Karenin? Fine art students and experts certainly speak of the artist as "Leonardo": but in modern English that does make a claim to familliarity which sounds odd and faintly pretentious in most contexts. It could be argued that normal English usage requires us to treat "Da Vinci" as a name even if it wasn't strictly one to begin with, or invent some other less cosy nickname.

I don't mean it's wrong to call him "Leonardo"of course: I just don't really think you can say that Dan Brown, in this instance, was wrong either.
posted by Phanx at 2:41 AM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


hermitosis: Anyway, including a lot of brand references just increases the risk of your work becoming obviously dated.

And yet the Ian Fleming/James Bond comparison is more than apt - those novels are pulp thrillers littered with brand names, but I think they are more dated by their style and their attitude (rampant sexism, racism, etc) than they are by the fact Fleming references brand names that now no longer exist or are irrelevant. I'm not saying I'd want to see this style injected into novels in general, but I think a strong writer can make the references to real products work. Stephen King is another whose use of brand names triggers recognition in the reader rather than repulsion from the narrative.

katherineg: The author of this article couldn't go 1000 words without looking like a jackass. I'd like to see him try an entire novel.

As has been pointed out, Dan Brown can't even write an opening sentence without revealing himself to be a hack. There's no revelation in pointing out that most people cannot write an entire novel; the point of this thread is, even if you do write a novel and make millions of dollars from it, doesn't mean you are any good at it.

The same principal applies to Megan Fox, who is allegedly paid to act.
posted by crossoverman at 2:53 AM on September 18, 2009


the point of this thread is, even if you do write a novel and make millions of dollars from it, doesn't mean you are any good at it.

Depends on your definition of good. Obviously, millions of people enjoyed it. If I wrote a book that millions of people enjoyed (that wasn't like, Mein Kampf) I would be very pleased with myself.
posted by kathrineg at 3:04 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The same principal applies to Megan Fox, who is allegedly paid to act.

Again, people like her, that's her job, she's doing it even if she's not Bette Davis.
posted by kathrineg at 3:05 AM on September 18, 2009


When correcting someone else's work, get your facts right. There is no such car as a "SmartCar"

Maybe not now, but have you considered that Smart have rebranded since they expanded their range? Or that SmartCar is the common designation if one isn't working for their marketing department?


Well, Smart was always Smart, before they expanded the range and after they shrank it again. If Brown writes about a "SmartCar" in his book, I think it's merely because at the time the brand was totally unknown in the US. If Brown had just written "Smart", most of his readers would have been nonplussed.

But it's certainly double-pedantic to blame the reviewer for not "getting the facts right", when Brown was the one who mangled the brand name in the first place...
posted by Skeptic at 3:18 AM on September 18, 2009


"If I wrote a book that millions of people enjoyed (that wasn't like, Mein Kampf) I would be very pleased with myself."

Who needs standards? Success wins!
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 3:29 AM on September 18, 2009


So...making millions of people happy sucks unless the book meets some random person's standards, which are probably classist.

Cool!
posted by kathrineg at 3:51 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


130 comments and nobody has mentioned The Eye of Argon yet? For shame!
posted by acb at 4:02 AM on September 18, 2009


For really good English sentences, consider Stephen Fry's comments about The Da Vinci Code on the British TV show QI: "I hesitate to call it a 'book'. It is complete loose stool-water. It is arse gravy of the worst kind." It probably has been quoted in previous threads on Dan Brown, but bears repeating.
posted by infobomb at 5:34 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


So...making millions of people happy sucks unless the book meets some random person's standards, which are probably classist.

The small, independent publishers are dropping like flies.

The large publishing houses are cutting their mid-list titles.

Authors are encouraged to hone their appearances and work with publicists rather than hone their prose and work with editors.

My library spends most of their meager resources on purchasing bestsellers such as the latest from Jodi Picault, Nora Roberts, and Dan Brown. What money they have left over is spent on mystery series-- the 8th book about the cleaning lady who solves crimes or the 4th book about the scrapbook club members who keep stumbling over dead bodies.

It's no secret that the world of literature has succumbed to the lure of the almighty dollar and something has been lost in the mad stampede to cater to the lowest common denominator: the desire to write or publish or sell well-crafted literature. Yes, the penny dreadfuls have always been with us, but in the past they did not run the show, they were the side show-- now the two-headed cows and the belly dancers are the only thing on offer. This isn't about low class versus high class because even the poorest of the poor can educate themselves and having money does not guarantee having good taste, rather this is a passionate plea for a return to standards in writing.

As for the idea that only those with impeccable prose may mock Dan Brown and his ilk, that is nonsense. That's like saying I have to play tennis at a professional level before I may criticize Venus Williams.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:47 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Check out this recent NPR interview with Dan Brown. It's hilarious. It's so obvious that the host can't stand Dan Brown's writing. He pretty much openly mocks him.
posted by diogenes at 6:01 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Islington to Primrose Hill people who think they are better than you because you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code will be sneering at his new book in a bid to raise money for George Monbiot's psychiatrist.

Cafes and galleries will host a series of events including the popular North London parlour game 'I Sat Next to a Dan Brown Fan at a Dinner Party and This is What He Said'...

Stephen Malley, a Guardian reader from Highgate, said: "All he does is write books where lots of things happen. Novels should be a series of stilted conversations and semi-internalised dream sequences that reveal a series of interwoven themes about the need to rebalance globalisation in favour of the developing world."


The 'North London Guardian readers are all pretentious nobs' idea is getting really tired - much more tired than the idea that Dan Brown is a shit writer.
posted by Summer at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2009


But it's certainly double-pedantic to blame the reviewer for not "getting the facts right", when Brown was the one who mangled the brand name in the first place...

The reviewer should've corrected it—esp. since the whole point of item No. 9 was that Brown's facts about the car were inaccurate.

Regarding the other point made above, that perhaps they were clarifying the name for American readership by adding the -Car ending, well, there are other ways of doing that. Like, say, using the phrase "Smart car."

I know, I know, then someone might think the capital-S Smart was a typo. Still, that's better than making up an entirely new brand name for the cars. 'Cause contrary to what someone said above, it's not just marketers who care about accuracy in product naming.
posted by limeonaire at 6:08 AM on September 18, 2009


The same principal applies to Megan Fox, who is allegedly paid to act.

I thought she was paid to be hawt.
And, since we're being all pedantic, "principle."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:16 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Aringarosa always sounded like a joke name to me, like Pat McGroyn or Robin Banks."

Or Hugh Jackman...
posted by Naberius at 6:43 AM on September 18, 2009


Regarding the other point made above, that perhaps they were clarifying the name for American readership by adding the -Car ending, well, there are other ways of doing that. Like, say, using the phrase "Smart car."

Which would have made Brown's already appalling prose even clunkier. I sympathise with his brand recognition problem there: I remember how American contributors in another Internet forum were once equally nonplussed by the mention of a "Metro", referring to this tinny, unreliable product of British car manufacturing of the '80s.
Still, if Brown wanted to avoid that problem, the best solution would have been to dump the whole unnecessary and implausible sentence around the "SmartCar". Anyway, as a low-ranking French policewoman, Sophie Neveu would have been far more likely to own something like an old Citroën AX, more practical and economical than that overpriced wheeled fridge.
posted by Skeptic at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2009


Any time I hear someone mention Dan Brown or his novels, I get this uncontrollable urge to start yelling about Umberto Eco and "Foucault's Pendulum" until I lose consciousness from banging my head against the mainframe in my basement that is running the program I wrote to enumerate all the permutations of the name of God. I call this computer "Deep Abulafia".
posted by the painkiller at 6:59 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


^
Eponysterical?

Seriously, Eco and "Foucault's Pendulum" (from which a lot of...er..."inspiration" was doubtlessly drawn into "The Da Vinci Code") are far too superior to be mentioned anywhere near Dan Brown.
posted by Skeptic at 7:16 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is low hanging fruit. A bigger challenge would be to find his 20 best sentences.
posted by scunning at 7:25 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravy: "It's no secret that the world of literature has succumbed to the lure of the almighty dollar and something has been lost in the mad stampede to cater to the lowest common denominator: the desire to write or publish or sell well-crafted literature. "

What does that have to do with Dan Brown?

This isn't about low class versus high class because even the poorest of the poor can educate themselves and having money does not guarantee having good taste, rather this is a passionate plea for a return to standards in writing.


Guess who gets to decide what those standards are?
posted by kathrineg at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


What does that have to do with Dan Brown?

Dan Brown is the Cheetohs of literature: cheesy, greasy, artificial, and non-nutritious. Sure to some readers he is irresistible but does reading his books gain you any insight to the human condition? Does it teach you anything about the English language? Does he educate, inform, or inspire?

Guess who gets to decide what those standards are?

Gosh, I don't know...perhaps educated people? Would you allow music performers to be judged by the tone deaf? Dancers to be judged by the blind? Why should the we allow the standards to be set by people who can't read above a 9th grade level? What I keep hearing from his fans is that Brown can tell a story. Perhaps. To me he is more like a sculptor with very dull tools trying to carve garden gnomes out of soggy cardboard.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If branding is to be used in a book, it has to fulfill a purpose other than to show-off the author's coolness (or perfunctory research skills). The king of "brand brandishing books", American Psycho, over-used branding to mirror Bateman's anally-obsessive character and also to firmly bed the book in a very specific time (that we all recognise anyway, and which the constant references only serve to reinforce).

It can be a good thing, reference brands. If done by a good writer...
posted by benzo8


I loathed Gibson's Pattern Recognition (and I know I'm in the MeFi minority for that) for being a wall-to-wall brand-a-thon.
posted by COBRA! at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2009


Apparently, I have almost no standards when it comes to books. I don't mean that I have terrible standards, preferring trash to quality. I mean that I enjoy novels that literate folks respect, and I enjoy novels that literate folks despise, and you have to be a really, truly bad writer for me to actually notice it. I thought The Da Vinci Code was fine. Not great, not bad. The style didn't really jump out at me as bad, nor as good. It was just a pleasant read; not so good that I wanted to read anything else by Brown, but not so bad that I put it down without finishing it.
posted by Bugbread at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My only argument with loathing for Dan Brown is that it took too damn long to come to the forefront. I read the Da Vinci Code under duress (I was being held in an underground Fortress of Evil or a coworker pressed it on me with damp palms and pleading eyes, whichever) years ago and I couldn't believe how truly horrible it was. First off, the rechewed conspiracy theories were so old and familiar that it was tough to believe anyone thought they were shocking - news flash! Symbolism found in Renaissance painting! - and then the limping plot, the cardboard people and, oh god, the style. But at the time it was getting rave reviews and I thought perhaps something had gone finally, irrevocably wrong with my reading brain. I read dreck all the time and I like it; hell, I'll take a nice thick multi volume fantasy saga over Proust any day and hardly apologize, but Dan Brown is in a category all his own. It's good to find out I'm not the only person who thought that.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:06 AM on September 18, 2009


Very big of you to be defending the simple, honest working folk from the belletristic impositions of the plutocrats, kathrineg.
posted by everichon at 9:35 AM on September 18, 2009


I loathed Gibson's Pattern Recognition (and I know I'm in the MeFi minority for that) for being a wall-to-wall brand-a-thon.

I'm not a fan of any of his work after his cyberpunk trilogy. When he started to engage with the "real world", his works became an indistinguishable blur of grizzled tech-mercenaries, butt-kicking teenage girls with cool names, oddly ineffectual Russian mafiosi and LOLJAPAN.
posted by acb at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2009


This isn't about low class versus high class because even the poorest of the poor can educate themselves and having money does not guarantee having good taste, rather this is a passionate plea for a return to standards in writing.

Guess who gets to decide what those standards are?


languagehat?

I've read Dan Brown's books, and I think the article did a good job pointing out his worst sentences, as I distinctly remember reading some of them. That one about the kaleidoscope actually stopped me in my tracks, and those contrived character descriptions, where Brown just tries to cram all this information into a sentence or two, most of it irrelevant to the plot, had me wincing as I read.

I did enjoy Angels and Demons (despite its predictability), though, because I was preparing for a trip to Italy to visit some of the pivotal places in the book and Brown really does seem to love the setting.

Similarly, Hannibal (Thomas Harris) was a horrible book, floundering and grotesque--but the descriptions of Florence were lovely.
posted by misha at 10:00 AM on September 18, 2009


Dan Brown is the Tom Friedman of fiction.

http://www.nypress.com/article-11419-flathead.html

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

posted by leonard horner at 10:03 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to wonder if part of it isn't a disconnect between the author's perception of whether an expression is metaphor versus the readers'. In other words, a writer may use the word "brouhaha" without thinking of its etymology as "the cry of the devil disguised as clergy". But if a reader approaches it with that background in mind, it would be really incongruous to have it used in a sentence, for example, about an argument among atheists.

The same with the "herd...hunt" example above. When I think of "hunting for space", I don't picture anything like hunting animals, I think of treasure hunting...which, again, I don't associate with shooting arrows at animals. So there was no disconnect for me between the expression "to be herded" (which I did perceive as a metaphor for the herding of animals) and "hunt[ing] for space", which I took to be a straightforward term, not a metaphor.

Again, I'm not saying that this gets Friedman off the hook. Maybe the sign of a good author is that they scrupulously avoid any possible metaphorical conflict, even if the original meaning is so lost in time that only languagehat would notice it.
posted by Bugbread at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2009


First off, the rechewed conspiracy theories were so old and familiar that it was tough to believe anyone thought they were shocking - news flash! Symbolism found in Renaissance painting! - and then the limping plot, the cardboard people and, oh god, the style.

Don't forget the interminable, gaggy, sophomoric, patronizing "chalice and the blade" "Sacred Feminine" hogwash the characters keep spouting as if they're clove-cigarette-smoking Kerouac-reading dorm dwellers desperately hoping it'll provide a more efficacious route into bookish girls' knickers than quoting the smarmier bits of The Bridges of Madison County did.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2009


"It's no secret that the world of literature has succumbed to the lure of the almighty dollar and something has been lost in the mad stampede to cater to the lowest common denominator: the desire to write or publish or sell well-crafted literature. "

Sorry, when was this not true?
posted by electroboy at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Secret Life of Gravy: "Gosh, I don't know...perhaps educated people? Would you allow music performers to be judged by the tone deaf? Dancers to be judged by the blind? Why should the we allow the standards to be set by people who can't read above a 9th grade level? "

My question is, why does it bother you if people who can't read above a 9th grade level like Dan Brown? How does it hurt you? How is it setting some sort of standard, and what standard are you even talking about? Do you seriously think that a significant number of people read Ulysses and say "well, this is pretty good, but this Joyce fellow is no Dan Brown!"
posted by kathrineg at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


everichon: "Very big of you to be defending the simple, honest working folk from the belletristic impositions of the plutocrats, kathrineg."

oh no, big words and irony, how will I respond

this is just like that scene in 8 mile where Eminem gets nervous and pukes on himself of something

not like I'd ever watch 8 mile, it might uphold a standard that could kill independent movies or something
posted by kathrineg at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2009


Would you allow music performers to be judged by the tone deaf?

Ahem.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:35 AM on September 18, 2009


"Sorry, when was this not true?"

"50 years before my birth", for any value of "my birth".

I never really understood the idea of declaring books, movies, plays, music, etc. "good" or "bad" as anything other than shorthand for "I like it" or "I hate it". Perhaps this thread is full of deists or believers in the Platonic ideals, but I assumed that MeFi was a bit more naturalistic on the whole.

Since I'm ambivalent about Dan Brown, I'll use an example from film (where my tastes are more pronounced): I really disliked the movie Armageddon. I will often refer to it as a "bad movie". But if push comes to shove, and someone is strongly arguing that it's a "good movie", I'll take a step back to reflect that it's just a series of moving pictures accompanied by sound, and there is no true "good" or "bad" about it. "Bad" just means "I really dislike it".

"Gosh, I don't know...perhaps educated people? Would you allow music performers to be judged by the tone deaf? Dancers to be judged by the blind?"

How, then, for example, does Harry Potter fare? There are plenty of people with higher than 9th grade reading levels who really enjoy Potter, but there are lots of literati who dislike it. If reading levels are the basis for determining who gets to judge, which of those groups gets to be the judge? Or is it by majority vote, where everyone with above-9th-grade reading levels gets to vote, and whichever side gets above 50% gets to make the decision? (note: I'm not trying to make a straw man argument where I put that up as a ridiculous proposition, it's an honest question).

And, not that anyone's suggesting it, but I would immediately reject any proposition that "good writers" get to decide what is good, as that would be circular.

Last, an example of why the "experts in a field get to decide what is good" argument is flawed: Back in the Edo period, the fatty cuts of tuna were the cheapest and least desired, and all the culinarily inclined agreed that the lean cuts were the best. Now, the situation is reversed, with the culinarily inclined agreeing that the fatty cuts are the best. The tuna itself didn't change, only the perception of what is good or what is bad.

Now you may be thinking "would you rather have an idiot yokel design your house or an architect", but note that I'm only talking about "good" and "bad", not "structurally sound", "easy to use", "efficient" or anything like that. Those kinds of fields are where experts shine.
posted by Bugbread at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh no, big words and irony

I am sorry that I used big words and irony. I meant that calling "classist" on those bashing Brown's prose seems like a tough argument to make. I would like to see you support the accusation with reasoning, examples, or maybe both.
posted by everichon at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2009


When I used the word "classist" I was intending to refer to responding to people who are bashing people who enjoy his books. Specifically, I was responding to the comments that stated that people who like Dan Brown have no standards. Other comments went on to imply that people who enjoy his books don't read well, are the lowest common denominator, and have bad taste.

Anyway, I regret saying classist, it sort of pisses people off and it's not entirely what I meant.

Taste is often used as an signifier of social position. There are people who read the New Yorker and people who read the Economist, they're both upper class for the most part but in different niches...and certainly different niches from people who read Time. Of course now I can't find the damn article.

If you've ever dated someone not in your class or otherwise been out of place class-wise (i.e. first generation college student) perhaps you can understand what I mean, and why I find it a bit distasteful when people are dismissive of people whose tastes differ from their own. You can't measure someone's IQ by looking at their bookshelf.
posted by kathrineg at 12:05 PM on September 18, 2009


...or in their pantry, for that matter.
posted by kathrineg at 12:06 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like junk food. I like pop culture. I like many things that are neither high art, nor particularly well crafted. Why do I like these things? For different reasons, each time. Because they please me in some specific way. But I refuse to apologize for them and pretend they are intrinsically better than they are just because I like them.

Because here's the thing: the examples above are actually objectively bad. Despite some of the protestations here, there are ways to judge good or bad art that have nothing to do with personal taste. A ballet dancer who miss-steps and falls has performed poorly. A musician who consistently sings out of key, forgets the words, writes nothing but overly derivative works, is a poor musician. Not because you do or don't like them, but because they have failed to meet the basic standards of the craft they have chosen. A broken metaphor is a real fault, and is not just a matter of opinion. Consistently contradicting yourself multiple times within a single paragraph, describing events that are clearly impossible within the framework of the universe that you have established, and frequent broken and misunderstood metaphors are all examples of bad writing style because they fail at the basic level of following the author's own rules. If I create a character who is blind, then write somewhere that he is watching me, this is an empirical example of bad writing (unless I later establish that something has changed to make this possible). Likewise, if I attempt to use metaphor, such as "His hair was a mischievous kitten, a manx Sphynx fuzzball manically bristling and twitching its tail down his neck," I have written a bad metaphor. Not simply because it is a stupid metaphor (which it is), but because Sphynx cats are hairless and manx cats have no tails. So I have exactly failed to make the point I was trying to make. That is objectively bad.

So to those of you who would argue that Dan Brown merits examination through a more populist lens, I urge you to read the examples in the article more closely, and see if his prose doesn't utterly fail to meet even the most basic standards of clarity and consistency within even the framework of the author's own devising.

Dan Brown is junk food. Literally. (See what I did there?) If you like his particular flavor of junk food, well, then I'm glad he's there for you. But make no mistake about it: he is junk food. Literally. And you can take that junk food to the bank. Apparently.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


..Since I'm ambivalent about Dan Brown..

bugbread,
If there is any point to criticism at all, it's when you read a persuasively-expressed opinion that opens your eyes to what you had previously failed to see.

(And it helps when the writer makes you laugh - and is charming to boot).

That's what I came away with the first time I read Pullman's criticism of Brown; the clarity of his argument disposed of any foggy ambivalence I might have had about whether Brown was really just a victim of snobbery.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:15 PM on September 18, 2009


So to those of you who would argue that Dan Brown merits examination through a more populist lens, I urge you to read the examples in the article more closely, and see if his prose doesn't utterly fail to meet even the most basic standards of clarity and consistency within even the framework of the author's own devising.

I honestly think it's awesome when mediocrity succeeds enormously. Most of us are mediocre even when we think we are at our best. And I was completely sincere when I said Brown gives me hope. Even though I don't particularly like his books. There are man, many, mediocrities out there I happen to enjoy.
posted by tkchrist at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2009


There are man, many, mediocrities out there I happen to enjoy.

Absolutely!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:31 PM on September 18, 2009


"the examples above are actually objectively bad."

How so? You can't use "objectively" to mean "subjectively but with emphasis" any more than you can use "literally" to mean "figuratively but with emphasis". How do you measure this badness? What is the unit of badness? How can multiple people run the same experimental procedure and come up with the same experimental results?

I do like the concept of "failing to achieve what you attempt via your writing" as a measure of good/bad (i.e. if an author is trying to be serious but his writing makes you laugh, it is "bad"), but here too there are problems: What if you achieve what you try to attempt, but only in the literati? Is that a failure or a success? Let's look at the "The Da Vinci Code" name. Apparently, that's a big no-no because that's not a last name. Perhaps "The Leonardo Code" would have been more accurate. That would have satisfied a small segment of readership, while alienating a far larger one. Does that count as a "failure" or a "success"?

The unstated assumption (not by you, necessarily, but by the list author) is that it would be a success, because smart people would appreciate the title more (or at least un-appreciate it less), but that just rests on the assumption that smart people are the meterstick of determination. So the "it doesn't matter who the judges are, what matters is whether the author communicates that which he is attempting to communicate, and thus it's objective" still ends up resting on the assumption that the author is, or should be, trying to communicate to the intelligent readers, and not the idiots.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not taking the populist approach, where I say the MTV pop idol of the day is a great musician because she sells a lot of albums. I'm saying "nobody is a good or bad musician. They may be a skilled or unskilled musician, but good and bad isn't in the musician or the music, it's in the intersection between the music and the listener. So good and bad will vary for each person. It's just slight shorthand for for 'I like it' and 'I dislike it".
posted by Bugbread at 1:35 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"the clarity of his argument disposed of any foggy ambivalence I might have had about whether Brown was really just a victim of snobbery."

I see what you're saying, and I agree that Brown mixes metaphors, adds extraneous information, puts his adjectives on the wrong nouns, and the like. However, I don't think that any of that impeded his success in conveying what he wanted to convey (both plotwise and atmospherewise) to his intended audience. If those mixed metaphors et al do not actually affect his writing for his intended audience, then they are neutral, neither improving nor whatever-the-antonym-of-improving-is his writing. They become no different than calling a character in your book "Fred" instead of "Scott".

Perhaps (I dunno, as I said, I don't particularly like Brown) they are seen as adding character, a certain je ne sais quoi, to his writing. Like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan's voices: I find them horrible and grating, but other folks positively love them. Brown's writing quirks are (to my eyes) a lot less egregious offenses to writing than what those singers vocal quirks (to my ears) are to singing.

But, and I'm sorry to repeat myself so much: I don't think Tom Waits or Bob Dylan are bad singers, or that Brown is a better writer than they are singers, or anything else like that. I hate their singing, but that's not because they're "bad", just because "I hate them". "Good" and "bad" has nothing to do with it.
posted by Bugbread at 1:46 PM on September 18, 2009


I'm saying "nobody is a good or bad musician. They may be a skilled or unskilled musician, but good and bad isn't in the musician or the music, it's in the intersection between the music and the listener. So good and bad will vary for each person. It's just slight shorthand for for 'I like it' and 'I dislike it".
I would disagree with you. I have played with many "bad" musicians (i.e. they had terrible intonation, or rhythm, or melodic sense, or any combination of the above - and more). Good or bad music can be left to the subjective opinion of the listener, but a good or bad musician can be judged by a set of fairly objective criteria.
posted by aerosolkid at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan's voices: I find them horrible and grating

Tom... Waits...horrible?

You are dead to me.

I SAID YOU ARE DEAD TO ME!
posted by tkchrist at 2:03 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno about that. This kind of argument came out when punk started getting big. There were musicians with terrible rhythm or technique, and yet there were a lot of fans who liked them precisely because of that sloppiness or energy or organicness or what have you. People who disliked them had certain standards for what made a good musician, and those musicians were on the "bad" end of that spectrum. But people who liked them had very different standards for what made a good musician, and those musicians were on the "good" end of that spectrum. You would hear diametrically opposed statements of "good" and "bad" ("Musician X is terrible, he has no soul, he plays like a robot" vs. "Musician Y is terrible, he has no technical skills, he's sloppy")

Does that mean you should be able to play with any musician, because there is no "good" or "bad"? No way. You've got your standards, and if they suck according to your standards, it makes total sense to put an ad on Craigslist saying "Looking for a new drummer, because, although he doesn't know it yet, the old drummer just got totally kicked out of the band" But that doesn't make them objectively bad, it makes them subjectively bad. And I totally believe that there is "good" and "bad", subjectively.
posted by Bugbread at 2:05 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


How so.... How do you measure this badness? What is the unit of badness? How can multiple people run the same experimental procedure and come up with the same experimental results?

I thought I provided the most generous unit of measure possible: If the attempt fails even within the context of the author's own work, then it is objectively bad.

Specific examples: "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." Silhouettes don't stare, nor do they have discernable skin, hair, and eye color. It was a silhouette, or it had discernable features. Not both. That is objectively bad because it directly - and unintentionally - contradicts itself.

"Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué." Only a keen eye would notice that it wouldn't require a keen eye to notice a 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué. Again - the author is disagreeing with his own statements. Again - writing so bad it actually tells you that it's wrong. Failure by his own criteria.

But I guess I don't really need to point that out, since you already admit that "Brown mixes metaphors, adds extraneous information, puts his adjectives on the wrong nouns, and the like." Which are all examples of bad writing.

So the "it doesn't matter who the judges are, what matters is whether the author communicates that which he is attempting to communicate, and thus it's objective" still ends up resting on the assumption that the author is, or should be, trying to communicate to the intelligent readers, and not the idiots.

No - it rests on the assumption that if the author, himself, insists on communicating that he is an idiot, that we should take him at his word.

As for punk rock, I was a big fan. But there were also many, many bad punk bands, who failed as punk bands, because they were neither good musicians, nor particularly punk. Failure on its own terms is true failure. Popular, or not.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"If the attempt fails even within the context of the author's own work, then it is objectively bad. ...[Silhouette example]...That is objectively bad because it directly - and unintentionally - contradicts itself."

And has that contradiction failed somehow? What was it attempting to do, and for whom? If he wrote the book for you, and he wanted to create something you approved of, then, yes, writing a self-contradiction failed. But was he writing for people for whom that self-contradiction caused problems? If not, he didn't fail. I totally agree he contradicted himself. And I would also consider that to be negative. But the reason I'm saying it's subjective is that self-contradiction is a minus in my book, and yours as well, but perhaps not everyone's. So the question becomes "who decides that self-contradiction is bad, and based on what objective stance?"

"Which are all examples of bad writing."

And here's, again, the nugget of our disagreement. According to me, that's bad writing. According to you, that's bad writing. According to most people in this thread (perhaps even everyone in this thread), that's bad writing. But how is our appraisal of it objectively correct, while the mass-market's differing appraisal of it objectively incorrect? The minute one needs to say "to me", one is in subjective territory.

"No - it rests on the assumption that if the author, himself, insists on communicating that he is an idiot, that we should take him at his word."

I'll agree with that, too (skipping the 0.00001% likelihood that he's writing ironically or playing the idiot). But being an idiot doesn't make an author a bad author. It only does so if one assumes that an author must not be an idiot to be good, which, again, is a subjective decision.

I believe if "good" and "bad" were really objective, there probably wouldn't be so many damn arguments about bands.

(To be fair, I'm also a moral relativist, so we may be starting from vastly different base principles)
posted by Bugbread at 3:21 PM on September 18, 2009


There is no such thing as relativity.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2009


*rimshot*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2009


"130 comments and nobody has mentioned The Eye of Argon yet? For shame!"

Thank you, abc! I've been thinking about "that novel they read from at science fiction conventions" for this whole thread, but couldn't remember the title. Jim Theis should be proud... or something. Because his book certainly is memorable.


"Because here's the thing: the examples above are actually objectively bad. Despite some of the protestations here, there are ways to judge good or bad art that have nothing to do with personal taste."

Exactly, IRFH. It's like you said, there's art and then there's craft. Two metrics that a work can be judged by, that don't have to be correlated at all. You can have really well-crafted novels with no artistic merit, and very artistic novels that are badly crafted. Or most often something in between.

And sometimes it's just fun to mock bad craft, like in this thread. I wouldn't infer any higher purpose to the discussion than that.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:41 PM on September 18, 2009


Oh, me neither, I'm a big fan of mocking bad movies and the like. The only reason I got into this whole objective/subjective thing is that it came up as an argument between other folks. Otherwise, I usually just keep my mouth shut about that and enjoy mocking stuff (if I agree with the mockers) or go to some other thread (if I disagree).
posted by Bugbread at 3:50 PM on September 18, 2009


Well, if you're honestly arguing the absolute relativist position, then of course there can be no argument to persuade you that anything can ever be objectively bad, because your argument completely begs the question on objectivism. If, however, you grant that it is possible for something to be objectively bad, then judging something relative to its own system seems as valid a criteria as any.

On the other hand, if you are arguing the absolute relativist position, then I put forth the following additional argument: if all value judgements are relative, then every argument is equally valid relative to every other argument, including the argument that absolute relativism is bollocks. That being the case, absolute relativists should always concede every argument, because no matter what they believe, there is always at least a 50% probability within the givens of their own argument that they are wrong.

In which case I urge you to concede that in all probability, Dan Brown is an objectively bad writer.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only reason I got into this whole objective/subjective thing is that it came up as an argument between other folks.

And I'm just arguing because I find it an interesting argument, and bugbread is arguing the position well.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:06 PM on September 18, 2009


I am an absolute relativist, so I don't think it's possible for anything to be objectively bad. That doesn't prevent me from taking positions, because subjectively, I can hate stuff like the best of 'em. I can be moral and vote for lawmakers that try to make society "better" (as in a society I like more, with more equal rights, more freedom, less sexism and racism, etc.). Being morally relativist doesn't make me morally bankrupt. I just realize that my moral convictions, strong as they are, aren't objective. That doesn't weaken them.

But I don't think relativism means belief in nothing, just that value judgements are all relative because they cannot be objectively measured.

So in an argument like "Mozart is better than Eminem", I wouldn't take a position (well, I probably would, but when push came to shove my reasoning would override my gut response and I'd probably cede the point). In an argument like "my LCD screen is brighter than the sun", I wouldn't concede the argument, because that can be objectively measured and determined to be false.

Sorry, I did like the way you wrapped things up, but you know me, I can't stop myself from clarifying my position
posted by Bugbread at 4:24 PM on September 18, 2009


Wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:28 PM on September 18, 2009


(Not that that's a bad thing)
posted by Bugbread at 4:33 PM on September 18, 2009


Well, who could really say for certain whether it was a bad thing or not?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:36 PM on September 18, 2009


That was the joke.
posted by Bugbread at 4:46 PM on September 18, 2009


Indeed. I was just underlining it. All this small font bonhomie has me feeling chatty. Good thing nobody else can see this. I'd look pretty dumb.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:57 PM on September 18, 2009


If I write small enough, it's almost as private as MeMail
posted by Bugbread at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"So...making millions of people happy sucks unless the book meets some random person's standards, which are probably classist."

Yeah, okay, let's not "class" books according to whether they're any good or not. Wouldn't want to otherize any of the disempowered. Of course, If Dan Brown gave a shit about bringing happiness into the world he'd learn how to write.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2009


"Guess who gets to decide what those standards are?"

People with no taste?
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:34 PM on September 18, 2009


"My question is, why does it bother you if people who can't read above a 9th grade level like Dan Brown? How does it hurt you?"

Being surrounded by simpletons HURTS!
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:47 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here's, again, the nugget of our disagreement. According to me, that's bad writing. According to you, that's bad writing. According to most people in this thread (perhaps even everyone in this thread), that's bad writing. But how is our appraisal of it objectively correct, while the mass-market's differing appraisal of it objectively incorrect?

Time will judge. In 50 years, Dan Brown will be as forgotten as Bulwer-Lytton (unless he also becomes a byword for horrible writing), Marie Corelli, Harold Bell Wright, E. Phillips Oppenheim, and all of the other mega-bestseller writers who used the English language only approximately but sold carload after carload of books in their day.

Compared to Corelli and Wright, Brown is a relatively competent stylist, so you can imagine how deeply horrible and semi-literate their writing is.

Best-sellerdom does not translate into lasting appeal, except for Dickens and Dumas père.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:50 PM on September 18, 2009


"I honestly think it's awesome when mediocrity succeeds enormously."

Since when did Dan Brown attain the high standard of mediocrity? Seriously. If he was only mediocre- but he's not. His books are where cardboard characters go to die.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:57 PM on September 18, 2009


Someone mentioned the first time they noticed bad writing. For me it was Timothy Zahn. Er, "Timothy Zahn," because at the time I read whichever Star Wars book it was, I was certain that it had been written by a piece of software, or at least, gone over with some kind of style-unification software.

How many times in a single book does someone "bite out" words instead of saying them? How many times can you get away with this? Once? Twice, maybe? I lost count. But I think everyone in "Heir to the Empire" or whatever it was did it at least once.


Also, I figured out the whole "details of the silhouette" thing. See, you can tell by the description that the guy is an albino (white hair, pink irises, red pupils), so then if he's pigment-deficient, then he doesn't cast a shadow! So you can see details in what passes for the "silhouette" of an albino. /kidding
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:26 PM on September 18, 2009


Depends on your definition of good. Obviously, millions of people enjoyed it. If I wrote a book that millions of people enjoyed (that wasn't like, Mein Kampf) I would be very pleased with myself.

I'm sure you would be. But that wouldn't make you a good writer. You might be a wealthy writer. You might be a well known writer. You might even be a popular writer. But it doesn't make you good with words.

There are plenty of other writers whose works are aimed at a wide audience and who have made as much or more money than Dan Brown - for example, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy. You know why people aren't publishing lists of their worst 20 sentences? Because they know how to write. They can author books that are easily read, easily digested and fun - without leaving people scratching their heads about what the hell they were trying to get at. Writing is about communication and Dan Brown fails at being clear.

Do you think there's a list of Dan Brown's worst sentences just because they found 20 sentences in his entire canon that were bad? No, there's a list like that because they are the worst of the worst - the ones that are so badly written that they are impossible to understand. They contradict themselves, they have trouble with tense, they tell and do not show.

I don't dislike Brown because he's popular and made millions of dollars and many people happy. But the fact he's done it with barely a shred of talent makes it all the more annoying. And I object to it because I hate the fact that millions of people read Dan Brown and actually think that's what good writing is - and your argument makes it sound like you don't care that the man can't put two words together as long as he's making people happy. That's just depressing.

It also leads other people to say "Hey, I'm better than Dan Brown! This makes me feel good about myself". Screw that. No writer should aim to be shit plus one. Saying you are a better writer than Dan Brown is no great feat. But because Dan Brown's empire is so pervasive and because, apparently, making people happy is all that is required, then we perpetuate a notion that badly written books have a place in the market. So we get fucking Stephanie Meyer.

Stephen King has called himself the McDonald's of literature. He's self-deprecating and it's funny. His books have sold millions worldwide and people enjoy devouring them. And it's easy to point at him and say you get what you expect from him without having to think. But the man doesn't have a formula, he crosses genres, he changes his style to suit whatever story he's telling and he can move from short story to novella to tome. (And JK Rowling might have a problem with structure or length, but at least she can paint a vivid picture.)

If King is the McDonald's of literature, Dan Brown is road kill scraped of the asphalt and cooked using warn out Zippo.
posted by crossoverman at 8:52 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't really understood how or why the Catholics were so bothered by Da Vinci Code / Angels and Demons. I mean, whatever, it's fiction, it's fun, nobody's taking this seriously...

...until I started reading Digital Fortress, a book about crypto and security and things I actually knew something about. At the point they created a crypto algorithm that "couldn't be broken" because the key "keeps changing" I quite literally launched the book into a nearby trashcan.
posted by effugas at 10:10 AM on September 19, 2009


If no one can be bothered rolling out the Dickins defence for you then you must be pretty awful.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2009


The Dicken's Defense???

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... "

How can something be the "best" AND the "worst"? Get a kloo, moran! And 'show -- don't tell'. Gawd, what a hack!
posted by RavinDave at 11:15 AM on September 19, 2009


I'm sure you would be. But that wouldn't make you a good writer. You might be a wealthy writer. You might be a well known writer. You might even be a popular writer. But it doesn't make you good with words.

Well, that's what you think. Obviously there is room for people to disagree on this point.

your argument makes it sound like you don't care that the man can't put two words together as long as he's making people happy. That's just depressing.

This is accurate, although I don't see how my lack of concern is depressing. Why should I care?

we perpetuate a notion that badly written books have a place in the market.

They do, or people wouldn't buy them.

I quite like Stephen King. Not sure why that's relevant, although he's another author who has been OMG LOWERING STANDARDS!!!!!! for years and years.
posted by kathrineg at 5:08 PM on September 19, 2009


It's Raining Florence Henderson: "I like junk food. I like pop culture. I like many things that are neither high art, nor particularly well crafted. Why do I like these things? For different reasons, each time. Because they please me in some specific way. But I refuse to apologize for them and pretend they are intrinsically better than they are just because I like them.

Because here's the thing: the examples above are actually objectively bad. Despite some of the protestations here, there are ways to judge good or bad art that have nothing to do with personal taste.

My objective measurement is more objective than your measurement! He sold millions of copies of his books to people who then recommended those books to their friends, presumably because they valued the books and thought their friends would value them enough to happily spend money on them.

People can disagree with you without having the deep-seated desire to avoid cognitive dissonance as a motive.


Consistently contradicting yourself multiple times within a single paragraph, describing events that are clearly impossible within the framework of the universe that you have established, and frequent broken and misunderstood metaphors are all examples of bad writing style because they fail at the basic level of following the author's own rules."

Oh boy, I bet you hate so much modernist poetry!
posted by kathrineg at 5:22 PM on September 19, 2009


Oh boy, I bet you hate so much modernist poetry!

The fact that there are noise musicians does not make every fart a symphony.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:29 PM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Looks like The Lost Symbol will not disappoint Brown's fans -- or his detractors:
The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms.

Mmm, beautiful. “Cradled in his palms”. One can feel the reverence with which the initiate is delicately holding this human skull. But tell us more about the skull, Mr Brown!

The skull was hollow,

That is useful information, for now I am no longer visualizing one of those solid skulls?

like a bowl,

Even better — hollow like a bowl, not hollow like, I don’t know, a syringe, or an asteroid hollowed out by aliens. The image is now irresistibly vivid! A human skull, hollow like a bowl!

But wait, Mr Brown, why are you telling us that this particular skull is “hollow, like a bowl”? Are you subtly setting up the idea that the skull contains some liquid?

filled with bloodred wine.

Ah — now this is why Dan Brown is Dan Brown. A lesser author would have been satisfied with a lesser liquid — having the human skull (hollow like a bowl) contain, I don’t know, some gazpacho soup or Ready Brek. No one but Dan Brown could have thought of filling the human skull (hollow like a bowl) with “bloodred wine”. It is an image of menacing ingenuity, through which Mr Brown is really beginning to establish a kind of superior Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom atmosphere.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:05 PM on September 19, 2009


I read his latest book today thanks to Toronto Library getting it to me really quick (it's very similar to DVC - mindless if you reflect on the plot but fast paced and entertaining, good lazily-sitting-in-the-sun stuff) and the last few pages bizarrely include a noetic scientist musing about what'll happen when "the twitterati" get a hold of her ideas and the differences between "to tweet" and "to twitter". Funny stuff.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:05 PM on September 20, 2009


kathrineg: "My objective measurement is more objective than your measurement! He sold millions of copies of his books to people who then recommended those books to their friends, presumably because they valued the books and thought their friends would value them enough to happily spend money on them."

Your objective measurement has nothing to do with the subect at hand, which is the quality of his writing. You appear to be under the mistaken impression that popularity signifies quality. It does not. Unless you actually intend to argue that McDonald's is the height of human achievement in cuisine, that the Harry Potter stories are among the finest novels and movies ever made, that Michael Jackson really is the best musician in human history, then your argument doesn't hold.

kathrineg: "Oh boy, I bet you hate so much modernist poetry!"

I'm guessing you don't really know much about modernist poetry. My training is actually in modernist poetry. Modernist poetry is not about writing without rules. Quite the contrary.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:29 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Your objective measurement has nothing to do with the subect at hand, which is the quality of his writing. You appear to be under the mistaken impression that popularity signifies quality. It does not.

You are not the sole arbiter of quality...sorry.
posted by kathrineg at 3:35 PM on September 20, 2009


I'm guessing you don't really know much about modernist poetry. My training is actually in modernist poetry. Modernist poetry is not about writing without rules. Quite the contrary.

Heh, isn't modernist poetry Pound and all of that? I do imagine you like it, then. My poetry professors would not be proud!
posted by kathrineg at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2009


You are not the sole arbiter of quality...sorry.

Well, it wasn't my article, the elements of style that Brown has been shown to routinely savage are not my rules, and the overwhelming majority of people in this thread who agree that Brown is a hack are not my sockpuppets, so no - apparently I am not the sole arbiter of quality. Nice straw man, though.

Oh boy, I bet you hate so much modernist poetry!

Heh, isn't modernist poetry Pound and all of that? I do imagine you like it, then.


So which is it? Does your expertise in modernist poetry and comparative literature tell you that someone who thinks that Dan Brown is a poor writer will hate modernist poetry or like modernist poetry? Are you saying that your poetry professors would be or would not be proud to find you defending Dan Brown? Actually, I think I'm beginning to see why you feel compelled to argue for Brown. The quality of your argumentation is pretty much on a par with the quality of his writing.

Your primary argument, however seems clear. You think that if something you like is popular, then it must also, by definition, be good. Well, honestly - I'm happy for you, because there will always be an endless supply of stuff for you to consume that meets your standards.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, it wasn't my article, the elements of style that Brown has been shown to routinely savage are not my rules, and the overwhelming majority of people in this thread who agree that Brown is a hack are not my sockpuppets, so no - apparently I am not the sole arbiter of quality. Nice straw man, though.

Ok, I will rephrase that, your shared opinion about what quality is and how it should be measured is in no way authoritative.

So which is it? Does your expertise in modernist poetry and comparative literature tell you that someone who thinks that Dan Brown is a poor writer will hate modernist poetry or like modernist poetry?

What expertise in modernist poetry? I would certainly not consider myself an expert which should be obvious from my comments. I've never even touched comparative lit with a 10-foot-pole.

Are you saying that your poetry professors would be or would not be proud to find you defending Dan Brown?


They would NOT be proud of my lackluster recall of the particulars of modernist poetry! I'm sure their reactions to my "defending Dan Brown" would range from slightly irritated to very amused. This would partly depend on the amount of alcohol involved.

Actually, I think I'm beginning to see why you feel compelled to argue for Brown. The quality of your argumentation is pretty much on a par with the quality of his writing.


You don't know that. My cat could be hateful. Or my weave might itch. Or I might simply disagree with you.

Your primary argument, however seems clear. You think that if something you like is popular, then it must also, by definition, be good.

When did I say that I like Dan Brown or use my "liking" something as a precondition for it being good? I am, in fact, arguing that individual taste is a poor way to measure quality. You seem to agree that objective measurement has value; at the same time you insist that the result of any objective measurement will necessarily agree with your personal taste.

Well, honestly - I'm happy for you, because there will always be an endless supply of stuff for you to consume that meets your standards.


Aw, thanks! And there will be plenty of things for you to dismiss as objectively bad because you don't like them.
posted by kathrineg at 6:33 PM on September 20, 2009


I quite like Stephen King. Not sure why that's relevant, although he's another author who has been OMG LOWERING STANDARDS!!!!!! for years and years.

Well, King is quite relevant because both King and Brown are wildly popular, have sold millions of books and have been accused of lowering standards.

King is attacked because he writes in the horror genre. For some reason this is considered a blight on good writing far worse than the fact he is popular. For Brown, he writes in the thriller/mystery genre and that somehow equates with it being closer to a tradition that people like to admit reading.

(Also, The DaVinci Code became popular for its pseudo history based on theories that didn't originate with Brown. People were more tempted into that book because of it supposedly revealing something about Jesus' life - stirred up some controversy that did!)

The reason I dismiss the King criticism is because of genre-bashing. Horror is as worthy a genre as any other. King writes brilliant horror novels. He's also great at other types of stories, too.

The reason I support the Brown criticism is that King can actually write a sentence worth a damn, where Brown's prose is awkward on a number of levels. King has his problems, too - editors won't cut his work down much. Brown has a similar problem - I don't think his editors actually read his stuff and I don't blame them!
posted by crossoverman at 8:22 PM on September 20, 2009


I think that the underlying debate in this thread is: "Is Brown a competent storyteller, even though he writes like shit?"
It is a worthy question. Mario Vargas-Llosa (who's both very competent at spinning a good tale and a stylistically sophisticated writer) has a long-standing fascination for popular forms of storytelling, from fireside yarns to Latin soaps. He's sometimes passionately defended such "trash", indeed it is one core subjects of one of his best novels, the semi-autobiographical "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter".
However, I have trouble picturing Vargas-Llosa defending Brown. Why? Because Brown is not only a bad writer, he's also a terrible storyteller, "Da Vince Code" excepted. And in the "Da Vinci Code", he blatantly cannibalises existing stories.
posted by Skeptic at 2:07 AM on September 21, 2009


You seem to agree that objective measurement has value; at the same time you insist that the result of any objective measurement will necessarily agree with your personal taste.

And there will be plenty of things for you to dismiss as objectively bad because you don't like them.


Again with the straw men. I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt and suggest that you must have missed where I pointed out that I personally like plenty of things that don't necessarily fall on the "good" side of an aesthetic analysis. Then I reread the thread and discovered that you actually quoted me explicitly stating that my personal tastes have nothing to do with objective measurement of quality:

It's Raining Florence Henderson: "I like junk food. I like pop culture. I like many things that are neither high art, nor particularly well crafted. Why do I like these things? For different reasons, each time. Because they please me in some specific way. But I refuse to apologize for them and pretend they are intrinsically better than they are just because I like them."

Yes, I believe that objective measurement has value. I make a pretty good living as a professional writer and editor precisely because I am expert at applying objective standards to the craft of writing. I did not create the standards, but I can sure as Hell spot the train wreck when they are inexpertly dispensed with. Yes, there are writers who can subvert the paradigm to exceptional ends, but such geniuses are exceptional in the truest sense of the word: they are exceptions. And they always, always know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. They aren't ignorant of the rules they break or indifferent to the impact of breaking them. On the contrary, those who successfully move past standard forms are usually masters of those forms. And they don't generally dispense with form altogether, either, they simply replace the standard form with a new set of rules. And then they pretty much stick to those rules. Which is why in my discussion with bugbread I insisted that a fair measure of an author's work should be within the context of that work.

Similarly, if there is a successful argument to be made for dismissing standard elements of style as a measure of quality in writing it is probably going to have to be made by someone who is, in fact, a master of that style, and therefore truly understands what they are dismissing.

As for the subject of whether popularity ought to be considered as a valid measure of quality, I think it's long past time that somebody finally Godwin this thread and put it out of its misery.

You know who else was a popular author? That's right: Hitler.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:25 AM on September 21, 2009


The King thing is useful as if someone starts dissing King in an offhand way I usually know not to bother listening to anything else they have to say.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on September 21, 2009


See, I like King. I do wish he were a tad less popular, though, so that he'd have to listen to his editors more and maybe write less often. He started repeating himself a bit too much 10 years ago or more, in my opinion. And I've often been disappointed with the endings of his books - even the ones I really liked. And I really, really wish that he would never again take a personal role in the development of one of his works into film. But the thing about King is - he can write.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2009


I think it's entirely valid to say that he suffers from some late career flabbiness. Me, I mainly have an interest in his short stories, and it's really begun to show in the last collection of those.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2009


/chuckles at liberal arts majors talking about objective measurements.
posted by electroboy at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2009


/chuckles at liberal arts majors talking about objective measurements.

If you're chuckling about me, I wasn't a liberal arts major. I'm a technical writer. Half of my major involved writing and English, so yes - I did have the occasional liberal arts class. But the other half of my study was in mathmatics, the physical sciences, and engineering.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:56 AM on September 21, 2009


mathmatics

And yes, I had courses in proofreading.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:58 AM on September 21, 2009


I thought you were trained in modernist poetry.
posted by electroboy at 11:15 AM on September 21, 2009


Half of my major involved writing and English

My English focus was in writing poetry, which means that most of my English electives were in that subject. I chose poetry both because I have always been interested in it as an art form, and also because I found that it helped to force my writing in the direction of concise precision. Which is a huge asset in successful technical comunication.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2009


Although it obviously did nothing to improve my typing skills.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2009


Highly suspicious.
posted by electroboy at 12:08 PM on September 21, 2009


As for the subject of whether popularity ought to be considered as a valid measure of quality, I think it's long past time that somebody finally Godwin this thread and put it out of its misery.

You know who else was a popular author? That's right: Hitler.


I already Godwin-ed the thread above...wait, does referencing Mein Kampf count as a Godwin? Either way I win an internet.
posted by kathrineg at 12:40 PM on September 21, 2009


electroboy: "/chuckles at liberal arts majors talking about objective measurements."

Come on, I was required to take at least one laboratory science course, which I pretty much passed. And I was sometimes required to write papers of a certain OBJECTIVE length. Eat that, sciency types.
posted by kathrineg at 12:43 PM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, you'll just have to be suspicious, then, electroboy. Or, if you really care that much, you could search through my history and note that aside from atheist posts and MeTa snark threads, I spend most of my time on MetaFilter hanging out in either pop culture threads, poetry/writing threads, or science/math threads (or derailing threads about something else with inappropriate pop culture references, poems, and science/technology jokes). That's pretty much what I do here, aside from one-liners.

Of course that's not proof that I haven't been planning this all along, stealthily waiting for the day when I could pull out a background in both poetry AND the sciences (although I've actually mentioned both plenty of times in the past), or you could note that none of my arguments on the primary subject of this thread rely on an appeal to (my) authority, anyway. I only mentioned my background with poetry in passing because it seemed relevant in that kathrineg clearly didn't know what she was talking about when she brought modernist poetry up in the context that she did. Which, she admitted later, she didn't. I only mentioned my technical background because you decided to attack a straw man by implying that someone with my background couldn't be trusted to understand the fundamentals of objective critical analysis. And actually, my background isn't that unusual for a technical writer. Many of my colleagues over the years have had split interests between the arts and sciences. That's one of the more common paths into my field.

If you find my arguments in this thread laughably illogical, feel free to dazzle us with your own.

If, on the other hand, you intend to argue via throwaway insinuations and one-line snark, I'll be forced to assume you're just here trolling for the LULZ.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:59 PM on September 21, 2009


I already Godwin-ed the thread above...wait, does referencing Mein Kampf count as a Godwin? Either way I win an internet.

Did you? Ah - I missed that. You do, indeed, win. By the rules of the Internet, everything I wrote after that doesn't count. Hoist on my own Picard!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:03 PM on September 21, 2009


Settle down, Florence.
posted by electroboy at 2:12 PM on September 21, 2009


The Dan Brown Sequel Generator
posted by the painkiller at 10:09 AM on September 24, 2009


Surely someone will read this comment, only posted a week or so after everyone else the thread.

(Ahh, lots of room to stretch out here)

Anyhoo, I read The Da Vinci Code back in, when the fuck was it? 2002 or 2003, I guess. I remember the apartment I was living in, and I remember receiving the amazon package, addressed to me, containing a book I'd never heard of and only vaguely recalled hearing the title of. I found out later that my mom had sent it to me. I assumed it was like "The Bible Code" and was supposed to be a kinda-sorta-academic work in the scholarship of the hidden meanings in Leonardo's works. Obviously the first sentence told me otherwise.

I'll be honest - I ripped through it and then lent it to a friend, who never gave it back. I'd never studied the areas of history he was writing about - I'd majored in screenwriting and philosophy - and though he didn't write a single line I would've remembered as lyrical, evocative, or deepening, his story kept me enthralled through the end. Mind you, that end was spectacularly anticlimactic, but to such a degree that I thought it must have been a conscious choice - maybe it was - and actually admired him for ending his commercial book not with a bang, but with a quiet moment of Robert Protagonist Langdon just content to have a greater Understanding Of It All.

It bugged me that Teabing betrayed the rest of the group for no reason when he clearly still needed their help, but I put it aside the same way that I put aside all of the machinations in Goblet of Fire. It made for a good story, it was fun, who am I to complain when I enjoyed it so much.

I next read Angels and Demons and enjoyed it even more, though it was much more clearly packaged as pop-trash (I'll get to the connotations of this phrase in a minute) because I find the rituals and politics of the Vatican inherently interesting, and I was fascinated by the ambigrams presented throughout.

When I got to "Deception Point" (which I bought even though the bookseller claimed that it was about an unbreakable code - true enough, I guess - which the Da Vinci code later expounded upon - WTF? No, you're very wrong) I could barely make it through. The frayed edges were showing. The main lines of action had nothing to do with each other, were unsuspenseful, and though I have almost zero understanding of cryptography, I found the discussion of codes and code-breaking to be laughably unresearched. It was as if he'd gotten the idea, read a wikipedia article on cryptography, gotten bored three paragraphs into it and hired an assistant to summarize it for him. The ending, when I finally got to it, was the worst. SPOILER ALERT: It turns out that the code they can't break isn't actually a code, but a virus. I don't know if that even makes any sense; I suspect it doesn't. But for readers interested in imagining how this code could defeat the codebreakers, not coming through with some ultimate code that confounded modern methods in its outside-the-box simplicity was a huge letdown.

The truth is that Dan Brown has two hooks that sell him very, very well to audiences. The first is that, for all of his faults, he's almost a genius of ending a scene where people will be most interested to pick it up again. The second is that he invites people into the secrets of worlds both familiar and inscrutable to them.

The first is inarguably a talent - and one that I wish I were better at, and which I wish most other writers were better at as well. The second is interesting, but becomes infuriating once you learn that his disclaimers at the front of all of his books about how the story is fictional but all of the details about history, geography, architecture, art and all of that are factual, are complete bullshit. He doesn't research. Or, more fairly, he doesn't research in nearly the way that he presents himself to do so. He constantly makes a point about things such as which direction people are walking to get from one historic location to another, or where X monument is in Y famous place, and constantly gets it wrong.

One of the major reasons that good people like his books is that he teaches them things that they otherwise wouldn't even know to be interested about, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. He speaks authoritatively without any actual authority on his subjects.

That alone is bad writing.

But, katherineg, I have to take issue with the way you're presenting the idea of literary criticism. The people who determine the standards of what is good or bad writing aren't monolithic, and don't actually decide what the standards are. Good writers determine what the standards are, by being good writers. Critics just applaud when things work, boo when they don't, and try to figure out what makes something good and something else bad.

Punk Rock might have been decried by some for its crudeness, but the point was to be as crude as possible for the purpose of destroying the insufferable pretensions and wankery that rock had gotten into at that point. Much like Fauvism in the art world before it. The critics who shitted on them for what the movement was about simply couldn't get it or refused to do so. I'm not seeing any similar aesthetic or philosophy behind Dan Brown's works. He's just lazy. He gets his facts wrong. And his "facts" are what distinguishes him enough from his peers to make him a bestseller.

I dislike My Big Fat Greek Wedding. More than dislike - I hate it. It doesn't do anything pernicious, I just despise it for pandering to innocuous stereotypes while having charmless leads devoid of any character and the fact that the movie pretends to be a comedy while containing no humor. More than that, I hate anything Adam Seltzer and Jason Freberg have made, because they consist of nothing but cheap, cash-in jokes about whatever's been popular the previous year, allowing the lowest-common-denominator of "hey! I know that reference!"

And yet both are insanely popular. The difference is that I hate Date/Disaster/Epic Movie without any guilt, and yet my hatred of My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes from a place of genuine curiosity. So many people found something to love about this stupid little piece of shit that I have to wonder what I'm not getting. People I like and respect love this dumb-ass film about a woman with no characteristics introducing her fiancee with no characteristics to her family whose only characteristics consist of being Greek. I don't get it. But people love it so much that I wish I did.

I understand where Dan Brown's appeal comes from, though, and so I feel free to call bullshit and proclaim him to be a bad writer. Does my calling him a bad writer consist of an objective opinion of some tweedy ideal of ivory tower criticism? That'd be awesome, but it's not the case. The case is that I'm one of many, many (too many?) people who read extensively, love writing, love to write, have studied the tenets of writing, then rejected those tenets only to later come around to the ones I've found true to my experience, and who, above all else, crave good, original writing, that will make me feel something, inspire me, or even just take me out for a thrill. In other words, I am 9like all of us) simply one atom in the makeup of a huge creature who care about quality writing, and the overwhelming consensus of that creature is that Dan Brown writes for shit.

People are free to disagree, of course. But if we're looking for "harm" here, the idea that whatever is popular is best is much worse for the arts than calling out the popular as shitty and begging people to notice the flaws and to do better in the future. If you like Dan Brown, then Bully for you - trust me that nobody's going to stop selling him. But people will stop selling the better alternatives, and the writers with something to say and the power to say it will be shut out by the financial incentive to only sell shitty mysteries by people who don't know how to write but who know how to end a chapter in the right place and talk out of their ass convincingly.

Also: kudos to crossoverman for his "shit-plus-one" reference. Anyone who reads Wordplayer is a friend of mine.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:25 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was fascinated by the ambigrams presented throughout

Scott Kim has been doing these for years.
posted by flabdablet at 2:35 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer, it's interesting that you describe Deception Point as having frayed edges, plot-wise; I'm not sure if you're aware of this or not, but Deception Point actually predates The Da Vinci Code. The publishing order of the Brown oeuvre is as follows:

* Digital Fortress, 1998
* Angels & Demons, 2000
* Deception Point, 2001
* The Da Vinci Code, 2003
* The Lost Symbol, 2009

Obviously, the first three didn't realize any major success until after The Da Vinci Code hit; when it did, they were all promptly reissued with big FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE DA VINCI CODE splashed across their covers.

But yeah, anyway, The Lost Symbol is the only post-DVC book that Brown has written thusfar.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:12 AM on October 5, 2009


shiu mai baby - yes, I was aware. That's just the order I read them in. Actually, I misspoke earlier - I was thinking of Digital Fortress (I think) and not Deception Point.

Unless I'm wrong again. I don't think it matters that much.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:43 PM on October 6, 2009


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