I’ve been devouring books lately.
Not, ‘I’ll finish a book in a week and a half’ devouring, more, ‘I’ll finish a book in a day and a half and immediately start a new one.’
This is mostly because I’m lucky enough to make my own schedule and choose–for the most part–where I want to be and when I want to be there. It’s also because I had a near death experience with the power cord for my MacBook and spent a week, blissful in retrospect, without any of the mind-numbing distractions to be found on the Internet. In lieu of being able to read Hamilton Nolan’s latest snark-laden take on the day’s news, I started dutifully plowing through the stacks of books that had been multiplying under my bed.
I started with ‘A Time to Kill’ (better than the movie), eased into a terrible crime thriller that I abandoned after 34 pages and immediately forgot the name of, made it halfway through ‘Waiting for Columbus’ (without being able to form an opinion on whether I liked it or not) before getting distracted by ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ (which was excellent) and then moved on to the latest from Dan Brown – ‘The Lost Symbol’.
I really liked ‘Angels and Demons’. It’s a good (not great, but very good) book that was recommended to me by a friend. I balked a little at his recommendation’s enthusiasm, mostly because most of his stories are coated with a layer of hyperbole, but decided to give it a try anyway. I really enjoyed the book and ended up finishing it and wanting more. The ‘more’ I got, however, disappointed me. I really didn’t like ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Maybe because I didn’t find it complex (the story, yes, the writing, no). Maybe because I read the two too closely together and felt either beaten over the head with the symbolism or just mentally fatigued from being taught so much. Especially when it was being taught that dangerous kind of bullshit that people will take as gospel. Enter: the gazillion conspiracy theories the book has spouted as well as those unfortunate cocktail party incidents where someone repeats something they clearly learned from the book as substantiated fact.
I didn’t like it, didn’t like the mass response to it, and hated the movie based on it. I love Tom Hanks, and I loooove Audrey Tautou but couldn’t quite make it through the movie without laughing.
The things that should so easily translate to screen from the book, Langdon’s eidetic memory clicking in at just the right time, come off as cheap plot tricks that make you want to roll your eyes instead of be glued to the edge of your seat. I know this is just how Brown writes, and I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same to be guaranteed movie deal after movie deal, but…still.
When I saw ‘The Lost Symbol’ sitting on a book exchange shelf, I figured I’d trade in the thriller I had given up on and pocket it for when I felt like catching myself up on the latest from Brown. And I’m honestly sorry that I did. It’s not that Brown is a bad author, he’s not, but I think his books make it painfully clear that he has more fun researching obscure facts and thinly weaving them together than he has crafting a story that has any sort of subtle grace. Everything that bothered me about the film version of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was cranked up a notch when reading ‘The Lost Symbol’.
Note to Brown: You don’t have to violently beat your audience over the head with the twist and turns to create an enjoyable story. If you set up the ‘surprise’ from 5 pages ahead, we get a tad annoyed when we get there, having seen it coming, and then you explain it to us over an additional 5 pages.
I’m a bit surprised that I finished the book considering I was so irritated by it. I contemplated ceremoniously leaving it on a restaurant table and walking out on it, much like I’d walk out on a bad movie and with the same look of disgust, many times. Ultimately, I made it through the book in the hopes that the end would provide some redeeming nugget of entertainment. Instead it was an obnoxious manifesto on faith and hope and how much more enlightened Dan Brown is than the rest of us.
I can appreciate the entertaining aspects of Brown’s work, and can completely understand why people like his books. I’m probably going to end up reading ‘Digital Fortress’ at some point, just because. But I worry for what he’s doing to people who might otherwise form opinions that aren’t completely fucking idiotic when exchanges like this happen in real life:
Coffee Shop Guy: Oh, you’re reading [The Lost Symbol]! Such a good book.
Me: Yeah? I don’t know. I’m just reading it because I’ve read the other two.
CSG: I know, they’re better. But I liked it because I don’t know much about the States’, and it gave me a good idea of some of the hidden and symbolic stuff about you guys.
Me: [Walks away].
Note: Right now I’m reading ‘Juliet, Naked’ by Nick Hornby. I’m only about a third of the way through but already feel better about the world of fiction and have abandoned my plans to only read biographies for the next 2 months.