I read The Da Vinci Code. I kinda had to, after all this time. In the past, I had been a big advocate of the book — but not for its literary merits. I worked in the publishing industry for years and I admired the fact that Dan Brown's publishing house took a book by a previously mid-list author and pumped a lot of money into the marketing campaign. This doesn't happen too often anymore. Publishing is good at one thing: shamelessly copying the success of others. If one house pumped money into a mid-list author, other houses would follow suit.
Presently, you can debut big with your first book or disappear. Building the career of an author is an old fashioned notion that no longer works. For one thing, editors aren't stationary long enough to see an author through several books. They jump from house to house or become agents. This is not their fault. You can't get a raise or even a promotion very often in publishing unless you go across the street. Worse yet is that authors jump around too much, moving from house to house for a few dollars more.
Anyway, Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, which I believe was his third book*, and his editor/publisher saw something that justified an increased marketing budget and word of mouth push. And it worked, and worked, and worked.
I don't like to talk about a book I haven't read, but I never found the time to read the thing. I figured I wouldn't love it or hate it. My friends who are authors maligned the book at every opportunity, but I wrote that criticism off as literary king of the hill. Gore Vidal once wrote something like, Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little piece of me dies. That could be easily paraphrased for how authors feel about the success of their peers, if that good fortune is deemed excessive or undeserved.
When I finally read the book, I was mystified. Not that a book based on religious tempest in a tea pot could become such a cultural force, but because the book didn't seem to have anything that made it particularly special — at least not special enough for sixty million people.
I read that Who Moved My Cheese book. That's a piece of crap. But I could see, if you were a total moron who needed simple metaphors to understand simple concepts, why you would like it. I couldn't see even that in the Code.
Most of all, I was disappointed in the writing. I wasn't expecting too much and I was still disappointed. I have always told writers that people read to exercise their imagination and they should strive to help in that goal. Mr. Brown seemed to fill in all the blanks for me. It was like having someone stare over your shoulder while you're doing a crossword puzzle and shout out the answers before you get to them.
None of this is to say that Mr. Brown is a bad writer because he is not. I read bad writing every day for more than seven years and can speak, unfortunately, from experience. He has a style, even if it is not to my taste, and he has a gift for pacing. There is a forgivable lack of nuance but an unforgivable inconsideration to the reader's intelligence.
A great writer I worked with, Craig Clevenger, takes a much harsher view toward Mr. Brown. He wrote a ingenious piece for the Santa Barbara Independent a couple of years ago which both fans and detractors of The Da Vinci Code may enjoy. Here is the only link I have to it.
P.S. I'll be reading at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco tonight, Thursday, June 15, at 7 p.m. for anyone who has nothing better to do. Thanks.
Books mentioned in this post
Pat Walsh is the author of How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not): An All-American Tale