Why Dan Brown Matters
Now that I'm back in NYC full time, at least once I day I walk through my local bookstore. On any given afternoon, I'm likely to see a group of teenagers huddled in several aisles, hunkered around a book or manga, pointing, talking, laughing and enjoying themselves. To these kids, reading is cool, something to experience and talk about among their friends. They could be doing any one of a dozen other things, but they're hanging out in a bookstore. Things like that make me smile.
Yesterday I wrote a post, perhaps overly snarky, about a poster of Orlando Bloom promoting reading hanging on the wall of a library. Now, regardless of what I think about Mr. Bloom, something in children's literature seems to be working. When you think about all the books that have been published over the last few years that have been cultural touchstones, they're all books aimed at children and young adults. The publication of new books by J.K. Rowling, Christopher Paolini and Stephenie Meyer have become events. People line up at midnight on release day for their copy, just like I did for a brand new U2 album back in the day (my dad always came with me to our local HMV because I was too young to drink the bottle of Guinness that came free with each purchase).
The night Stephenie Meyer's BREAKING DAWN was published last year, I was walking my dog. We passed by my local Barnes & Noble around 11:00, and the line to get in had already wrapped around the block. Kids were dressed to the nines, costumed and buzzing with excitement. I was informed by a security guard that nobody else would be allowed into the store because there was no room. No room! These kids weren't home watching television or playing videogames or texting. On this night, kids were lined up outside of a bookstore because reading was cool. I thought back to a few years ago when my friend Mike had a pool party. I remember all of our friends hanging around, drinking beer and margaritas...all of us except for my friend Mark. Mark was sitting on a chair, reading the sixth Harry Potter book which had just come out. And we all knew to leave him alone.
Yesterday, Knopf/Doubleday announced the September 15th publication of Dan Brown's long-awaited followup to THE DA VINCI CODE, one of the best-selling books of all time. Five million copies of THE LOST SECRET will be shipped to stores. But five months before the book comes out, the sniping has already begun.
The book will be a critical and commercial disappointment.
The book won't save the publishing industry.
Dan Brown has goofy hair.
The haters can shove it. To my mind, THE DA VINCI CODE was a perfectly decent thriller. No more, no less. Sure the prose was a bit clumsy, but the plot kept me entertained for a few hours (something that should not be taken lightly). Obviously the book touched a nerve far deeper than that of pure entertainment, just as books by Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have. I have read three different New York newspapers this morning, and all three have prominent articles on the impending publication of THE LOST SECRET. These articles are not buried in the middle of the paper, but are printed within the first eight or so pages (right up there with tawdry wedding scandals and mockery of David Patterson--you know, the important stuff). The publication of this book is a bona fide event. When was the last time a book for adults was an actual event? Sure Grisham and Patterson sell books by the truckload, but their release dates are hardly the kind of thing you call your friends to talk about.
So naturally, the haters are going to come out of the woodwork, as is their right. There are a lot of people who disliked the book for the book itself, but there are also a lot of people who hated the book for what it stood for ("This is one of the best-selling books ever?"). I don't really care much about those people. THE LOST SECRET is a thriller, first and foremost. Even the press release touts it as pure entertainment ("...a brilliant and compelling thriller...readers will feel the thrill of discovery..."). And yet within minutes September 15th became a full-fledged pop culture event. People will be lining up to buy their copy. And even if it doesn't come close to the success of THE DA VINCI CODE, I can't remember the last time there was this kind of buzz about a book aimed at adults. Perhaps Bill Clinton's memoir approached it, but I'm willing to bet a whole lot more people actually read Brown's book than Clinton's (I bought Clinton's MY LIFE, and it looks lovely holding up the foundation of my apartment building).
So September 15th will come, and there will surely be a great deal of criticism before and after the fact. I don't really care. I'll buy my copy and I'll read it, and I know a lot of other people who will too. The book may be brilliant, or it may suck. It may shatter every sales record, or it may be a commercial disappointment. It may be read as entertainment, or it may be read for the religious and spiritual implications. The bottom line is that all of this discussion and argument, all of this buzz and anticipation...this makes reading cool for people of all ages. And that is something that should never be taken for granted.