Is Dan Brown a “writer”?
I’ve never read Dan Brown’s writing. My wife and I listened to The Da Vinci Code in the car on a long drive, and we saw the movie, which we liked. So, outside of some excerpts I’ve run across, I’ve not read anything he’s written. I don’t plan to, either, mainly because I didn’t really find the Da Vinci Code stimulating.
This evening I caught this article on the Telegraph website (h/t Christ and Pop Culture) which is a list of 20 really bad sentences in Brown’s books. I thought the list was entertaining, and for a few of them it’s hard to believe they’re really in published books. They are simple and blatant literary mistakes, not the kind of rules that “masters” break. These are sentences that I would be embarrassed to find in my own writing.
Judging from this selection, it’s tough to call Dan Brown a “writer”, unless we’re willing to reduce that to anyone who has successfully published a book. I sincerely hope we can be more selective than that. Right now it looks like he’s just a guy who sold a bunch of books by passing a series of lies off as the truth, kind of like James Frey. Except Frey is that and a writer. Anyway, it shouldn’t matter to him or his fans…they have the books (and there will be more), and he has their money. Everyone should be happy.
As usual, the comments were more interesting than the article itself. And as usual, I’m left to wonder if many of them actually read what they’re commenting on. There are only a few rebuttals, made in various forms, here’s what I could find:
- “You’re just jealous because you couldn’t get your book published.” This one was by far the most common. Some of them were angry, some were feigning pity.
- “You’re just being picky. He can’t be that bad, he’s sold so many books.”
- “He writes what people want. Your snobbery is blocking you from seeing the good in regular things.”
- “You ignored the ‘important’ parts of his writing, because you just want to criticize.”
- “Maybe a poor writer, but at least his books are enjoyable.. better than being a great writer with nothing interesting to say like Dostoyevsky.” I couldn’t not post that one. Though, having not read Dostoyevsky, my understanding of whether or not he’s “interesting” could be way off.
There might be others, but these few are repeated so often that they are pretty representative. To be fair, there are quite a few that understand where the article is coming from, and understand the difference between Dan Brown and an actual writer. But they are few and far between, and the board is dominated by people who a) clearly didn’t understand that the article was not about the quality of the plot, energy, or pace (keywords that a commenter used to defend Brown), but about the quality of the writing, and b) are the kind of people who take pride in being common.
Dan Brown writes books that are exciting if you get into them. And he writes books that display a common (which is to say average) command of English. The majority of his readers have a similar command of language, and so don’t notice. Not only that, but, as another commenter mentioned, he writes books that make regular people feel smart (without actually teaching them anything). He’s succeeding in tapping into the wallets of American mediocrity.
Based on reviews, he doesn’t seem to care much about the craft, or even the language. It seems like he churns out whatever thought is in his head, in whatever form it comes to him. That’s usually a bad idea, but it doesn’t bother Brown. And it doesn’t bother the people who have made him a bestselling author. Unlike most readers, they care little for the syntactical quality of the words they consume, or for the literary quality. Those things just aren’t important, as long as you have a good chase scene and some sexual tension. It seems like a win-win.
So, I’ve decided to call Brown an “author”, rather than a writer. That should make everybody happy.
My literary snobbery is hanging thick in the air right now, isn’t it?