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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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Sep. 28th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
You and I are on the same page. I'm so glad to see this kind of response, along with others that point out how we "elevate mediocrity."

In addition, Dan Brown's readers were, in some way, suckers if they thought Brown was really telling them something authentic and revelatory about art history or church history. That was a separate kind of crime.



Sep. 28th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
Each to his own, I guess. For me, I just read it as a story, and liked it.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 28th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
And I think that's fine, if it's just a fun story for you. There are plenty of people, though, who aren't well read enough in history to know when Brown is confabulating (and Brown himself may not know—I can't tell how bright he is, and his reliance on cliches in writing suggests he's not very clever). It is frustrating, too, when those of us who care about craftsmanship—in any field of endeavor—see someone have success despite his or her quite evident lack of craftsmanship. Are readers simply undiscerning? It's one thing to be aware of it and read it for what it is. It's another thing to think the endeavor is praiseworthy in any serious sense.


Sep. 28th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
I have to say, whether or not it's praiseworthy isn't the issue. It's whether or not people (and by people I mean writers in particular) have the right to poke holes in someone else's work, just to show others how clever they are.

Who are we to tell someone whether or not they should enjoy another writer's book?
Sep. 28th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
A few things are being conflated here, it seems to me.

First, does anyone have the right to "poke holes" in the work of others? Well, why not? "Poke holes" suggests the deflation of something that calls for deflation. If we take human creative labor seriously, then it's good treat the mediocre work as mediocre as we struggle to find fine work. To do otherwise is to disrespect the very notion of creative work. "Poke holes" also suggests some kind of juvenile way of going about it. No, I don't think the "20 Bad Sentences" essay is the way to approach such things, but we're not dealing with the work of ordinary folks; we're dealing with a media creation that feeds on itself and has a multi-media presence. When writing is eye-rollingly bad, it's fair to roll one's eyes. To spend time going at in non-seriously, as that essay did, may make sense in such circumstances.

"Just to show how clever they are" is a separate issue, and a judgment call on your part. People are also throwing around the "jealous of Brown's success" concept. I find that a bogus claim. I'm pleased when fine work is praised. *I* don't have to have written it. That's silly. When mediocre work is lifted up (Flannery O'Connor said the way to success in the U.S. was to be truly mediocre), it's painful not because I wish I were in his place but because it's just plain sad.

Third, "telling someone what to enjoy" is, in a way, the nature of criticism, but also the nature of one's development as a reader (or viewer, listener . . . what have you). We often shake our heads at what we liked in the past. Our taste hadn't developed. We hadn't read enough to realize something had been done to death or done better. We grew. Criticism's aim is to help us grow in the light of considered judgment. This complaint sounds childish—and I think a childishness (not childlikeness, a wholly other thing) is at the heart of not just American entertainment but American culture. We have not grown up.
Sep. 28th, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)
Looks like we'll have to agree to disagree, but thanks for sharing :)

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

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No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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