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Why writers should leave Dan Brown alone

As you may or may not know, there’s a link to an article called ‘Dan Brown’s worst 20 sentences’ doing the rounds. Elsewhere, someone’s posted a Reader’s Guide (as in sarcastic commentary) to his latest book, The Lost Symbol, on their journal. I checked them both out, but you won’t get a link to either of those web pages from here.  


Honest criticism is one thing, but these two pieces aren’t looking to be helpful, they’re designed to encourage other people to make snide remarks and join in the laughter at Dan Brown’s expense. The ‘worst twenty sentences’ article tries to dress itself up as a serious critique, but one look at the title tells you the writer’s real intention.


According to the list, Dan Brown’s most heinous crime was choosing to call his novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, because, as every smart person knows, Leonardo Da Vinci, actually means ‘Leonardo of Vinci’. 


So what? Before the book came out, if you’d asked just about anybody in the western world if they knew who ‘Da Vinci’ was, I guarantee you the vast majority would NOT have said, “Oh, hah, hah! You poor, cretinous fool, there’s no such person as OF Vinci.”    


I don’t understand why some people feel the need to play this ‘Bash the successful author, because we’re so clever and he’s so stupid’ game. If you don’t like a book, by all means say so, but the moment you invite others to join in with the public mockery, you’ve crossed the line as far as I’m concerned.


“Yeah, but he’s a famous author,” they, and a big chunk of their followers say. “He’s not supposed to write crappy sentences.”


Really?   Can any of us, with hand on heart, claim that we’ve never submitted something to an agent/editor/publisher that, when we look back on it later, didn’t contain a single ill-turned phrase? I know I can’t. 


Along with millions of others, I read The Da Vinci Code and enjoyed it. I also read Angels & Demons (which I preferred). I’m about sixty pages into The Lost Symbol, and so far, I like that too. 


If the people who try to pull other writers down spent more time trying to improve their own work, and less time demonstrating their complete lack of class to the rest of the world, maybe they’d have a better chance of ending up as successful as Dan Brown one day. Of course, before that can happen, they’d need to grow up. I hope they do.


What do you guys think?


Am I being unfair? Are famous authors fair game for ridicule, or should we focus on improving our own work?


As for me, I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a successful writer, derided for my lack of talent.  I'm already halfway there, now all I need is a best-seller.

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( 90 comments — Leave a comment )
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Sep. 26th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
I agree with you that the nastiness just isn't necessary. I read Da Vinci Code and found it boring, and I've also read all four of the Twilight books and found them pretty bad, BUT at the same time she did at least keep me interested in knowing what would happen.

But even though I think Stephenie Meyer struck it lucky to hit it so big with mediocre writing, I see no point in being nasty and trying to pick apart her books at every opportunity. Obviously there's something there that people, especially young people, like to read. And while I have been guilty of joking about the Twilight books with friends at conventions, posting nasty stuff on the Internet just isn't my style. There have been intelligent discussions of why many find the Bella/Edward relationship disturbing and that's fine, but I think that incessant griping about the writing is primarily sour grapes.
Sep. 26th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
Passng comments are one thing, but for me, reading a snide comment about another writer's work probably won't change my opinion of that author, but it will lower my opinion of the person who makes it.
Sep. 26th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
So I Googled and read a few, and the one that talked about 'chillingly close' and '15 feet away' in the same sentence reminded me of the continuity errors/blooper lists about movies, which I find very fun and interesting.

Where do they fall into the spectrum? Fair game, or not? And if so/not, how/why are they different?
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I'm not saying those sentences were fantastic, but so what?

If the book wasn't famous, would those people have posted about them? I doubt it. Why haven't people done this with unknown books that have dodgy sentences in them. I'm sure we've all read more than a few clunkers, elsewhere. Why aren't thye posted online for ridicule?
(no subject) - smeddley - Sep. 27th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 27th, 2009 11:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 26th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
I'm all for bashing, as long as it is done in an intellectual manner.  If you say a book sucks, there should be credible reasons in support of your statement.
Same in politics, if you say a politician is evil incarnate, have proof to back up your statements.

I reached page 32 of The Lost Symbol then lost interest.  In my opinion, too much detail overshadowed a somewhat familiar plot.  Nothing personal, Dan.  However, I am bound by the fifty page rule - must read the first 50 pages before putting down a book forever.  Eighteen pages to go and still time to change my mind.

Bashing for the sake of bashing is obvious and should never be taken seriously

Otherwise, I say bash away.
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
Each to his own, but I can't see the point of bashing someone else's book unless you're being paid to review it.
Sep. 26th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
I didn't see or read either of those things, and neither will I. It's infantile, and probably written by those less than successful in their own writing careers. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to express that opinion. But what is the point of bashing the author and his work? One reason and one reason only--to make themselves feel superior. I bet your old gran knew about those sorts. I bet she had some lovely things to say about them too.

I enjoyed Angels and Demons (I wasn't buying the whole thing with the helicopter and the wind breaker even though he set up its feasibility from early in the book,) and I LOVED DaVinci Code. I'll also read The Lost Symbol. Great works of literary perfection? No, I doubt it. But they're damn good reads. Fun. Thrilling. (So what if you feel slightly dirty a few weeks later for just how MUCH you enjoyed them!)

And who the heck says Leonardo Da Vinci's name isn't Da Vinci?? My name is De Fino. My grandparents were D'Argenio. Most of my family has the de, da, d' attached to their names. It IS the name. I won't go into the hows and whys and whens of the evolution of last names but whatever moniker Leo used, he is now Da Vinci.
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
Several of my old gran's sayings came to mind, but I was too embarrassed to type them in :)
Sep. 26th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)
There is plenty of good criticism out there, critiques that let the reader know what they may or may not like about a book. I don't care for bitter critiques, sarcasm, and especially condescension. That's not to say I haven't tossed a book aside disdainfully at times. With Twilight (I haven't read Dan Brown but have read Twilight), I was put off at first by the writing and told my daughter "I don't think I can read this because of her style," but then I took it for what it was--appealing to teens mostly and offering at least a few new things about vampires--and saw what was appealing in it. I won't read anymore of hers, but I can see why my daughter is.

Some people enjoy a good, sarcastic, witty ripping. I did a bit more when I was younger--some searing music reviews that made me laugh--but age has mellowed me and I think, generally, people aren't trying to write a bad book. Point out the flaws, point out what's good, but leave out the condescension and I'll respect the review more.
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
Sadly, these aren't reviews. They're 'aren't I clever, watch me poke fun at someone else' pieces.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
To be fair, many a successful series has a strict formula - James Bond novels for instance.

As for his buckets of money, I'll be right there with you, if he ever starts throwing them in our direction :)
Sep. 26th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
Your gran would be proud, Jon. : )

I don't like to bash books, personally - especially seeing as I've never had one published, who am I to criticize? And just because something doesn't appeal to/click with me doesn't mean that it has no merit.

I think it's easy to poke fun at someone in Brown's position because he's achieved a sort of iconic status. It's easy to forget the person behind the books/movies, or to tell yourself that what you say won't matter, either to his sales or to the man himself.

But really, you're right. Why go there?
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Before he made it big, I'm sure Dan Brown knew he'd have to develop a thick skin, but I bet he never thought he'd need it to protect himself from other writers.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 26th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
I think that unless you are writing a book review, it's bad form to criticize someone else's writing in a public forum. This falls under the "do unto others" rule as well as the "don't be a jackass" rule. If this person sold the work, and especially had it to be successful, then they're ahead of the game. If they're ahead of you, shut up, and if you're ahead of them, especially shut up. Show a little class either way.
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks. You said that so much better than I did, and in about a tenth of the words too :)
Sep. 26th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
local wine company over here had a very effective ad campaign a few years back: It's only a good bottle of wine if you liked it.

There are so many different people and tastes in food and drink, why on earth should reading be any different? I certainly don't knock people for liking seafood, though I'm not partial.

As for your last question, if you can learn what it is you don't like in another's work - that's one thing, but discovering what works in a book you aren't fond of, is even better - so I plump for improving one's own work. *g*
Sep. 26th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
'... It's only a good bottle of wine if you liked it...'

Lol. That sounds like a good campaign :)
(no subject) - eneit - Sep. 26th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 27th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
Improve own work! Improve own work!

Since we can't control the whims of fate, we might as well have some work to throw at it...

Sep. 27th, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
Absolutely :)
Sep. 27th, 2009 06:10 am (UTC)
Dan Brown
As a young and first time published author I have to say I make mistakes, just as seasoned authors do as well. That is why we are human! What you wish on others will come back to you tenfold, so be careful what you wish for! I wish you luck.
Mike Keller
Sep. 27th, 2009 12:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Dan Brown
Thanks, Mike. And good luck with your book :)
Sep. 27th, 2009 07:18 am (UTC)
As I said on twitter about a week ago - 'I feel sorry for Dan Brown'. Yes he's making millions, yes he's far more successful than we can even dream to be, but doesn't he emerge from the same place, the same want, the same need to write.
Sep. 27th, 2009 12:16 pm (UTC)
It's not like he didn't 'pay his dues' either.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 27th, 2009 10:10 am (UTC)
I read and enjoyed The da Vinci Code. I thought it was good, page-turner stuff.

I have Angels and Demons, and am about a third of the way in, although I'm finding the writing very clunky and it doesn't flow as well as the previous one did. I probably won't finish it as a result, which is a shame as the premise is kinda interesting.
Sep. 27th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
I actually preferred that one, though with the movie version due out on DVD before too long, at least if you give up on the book you can still find out how it ends :)
Sep. 27th, 2009 11:37 am (UTC)
Interesting questions, and my responses are mixed. On the one hand, I agree that part of this does come down to poke-the-successful-author. On the other, in my opinion, no author who sells at that level is doing so on the strength of their writing. None of them.

An author's writing gets a book to a certain point, but at that point, various things start coming together--from publisher support to enough "books on the ground" to gathering momentum--that make the book sell better. Many of those things have little or no relationship with good prose: they're simply about selling more of [X], whatever [X] is. As such, I don't see sales of a book as necessarily having anything to do with good writing--the sales occur if the book is good enough. In other words, many books not deserving of success in their own right make millions, and human nature being what it is, people are bound to react in all sorts of ways to that, especially other writers, or readers of well-written fiction.

Now, are famous authors fair game for ridicule? That depends on what constitutes "fair game" for you. Certainly on the basis of celebrity they are. Few authors become celebrities, even minor celebrities, but those who do... well, that's part of the risk of the game. I do wish humans were nicer overall, less prone to mock and fling poo, but we are what we are.
Sep. 27th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
I see your point about celebrity.

I agree that some people take pleasure in pulling other people down, but that's their choice - I choose not to have any part of it.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 27th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
I don't get all the bashing. It seems like a waste of good energy to me, but I've been seeing a lot of it in the last few years.

I thought we (writers) were all in this together?

Sep. 27th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: *sighs*
So did I :(
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