April 24th, 2006

Comma King

Oh My God, You Look Like a Frog!

So I finally read the fucking Da Vinci Code.

And you know what? I enjoyed it.

My earliest recollection of being exposed to the book was Melanie's recommendation three years ago. She loved it; I don't know if it had become immensely popular by then.

Now, she loved it. Nearly everyone else I knew who spoke of the book in the next three years hated it. With the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. They hated it like I hate The Shipping News (Shut up, Annie Proulx. How about constructing a sentence WITH A FUCKING SUBJECT once in a while?). I was very curious as to why it raised such ire.

So I read it. And I found it to be a perfectly competent thriller with all the thriller trappings. Male and female protagonists destined to become madly attracted to each other during the course of their adventures. Good guys, bad guys, plot twists, the whole shebang. And I've read a lot of thrillers in my time; I'm a fan of James Patterson, Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, etc.

What makes this book fun and interesting is all the word puzzles and religious history and etymology and symbology semiotics, which may or may not have been as accurate as they proclaimed to be. I will say this to any potential reader: the book's title is misleading. I thought there would be a lot more about supersecret messages hidden in Da Vinci's paintings, but the messages and clues in the books come from someone else, although Da Vinci's influence is always apparent.

I didn't think the writing was as abominably awful as I'd been led to believe. Some of Dan Brown's tics do grate, though. He has a tendency to give us characters' obvious thought processes in italics. He's really bad at pacing his action sequences, taking needless time to describe the history of a chapel or the reason Robert Langdon wears a Mickey Mouse watch. And most maddeningly, he "subtly" ties these digressions into the action to give them relevance, but they're really just information dumps to give the book its historical flavor. Admittedly, I found many of the explanations of symbols interesting, but they often felt clumsy and like an attempt to show off. It reminded me of Cryptonomicon, except Neal Stephenson has an engaging style and a unique voice, whereas Dan Brown...doesn't.

But the book isn't bad. What irks everyone is that it's so bloody popular, that a woman noticed my book on the elevator and remarked, "That's a great book," and I didn't have the heart to tell her that no, Crime and Punishment was a great book.

What irks me, though, is the implication that I, as an intelligent, learnèd person, should not like this book. That because it is popular with the laypeople, it is automatically swill. Because of this, I actually felt dirty reading it on the train; it's the kind of book everyone reads on the train. Whereas I, a twenty-four-year-old man, had no qualms about reading Wayside School Is Falling Down in public.

Shouldn't we be the least bit thankful, though? Shouldn't we view The Da Vinci Code as Harry Potter for adults? It got people reading. It may have been the one book they read all year, but they felt good about it, and they enjoyed it. They discovered that, hey, reading can be fun, about thirty years after the rest of us did. Maybe it will inspire them to check out another book, one that will make them appreciate Da Vinci for the disposable diversion that it is.

Next on my reading list is Shadow of the Giant (the final Bean book, I presume), the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and all ten volumes of The Sandman.