Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Decoding Dan Brown

Last week at Ciampino Airport, while waiting for my delayed flight to London, a man took the seat next to me -- the last one -- plopped open a book and started reading. Within a minute, his two young children appeared from the crowd moaning that they were tired, tired of standing around, tired of holding their bags, tired of staring at a flight board that never updated. They wanted to sit, but where? Without looking up from his book, the man waved them away, muttering in British English instructions that they should go find "a table top to sit on". Perplexed, the kids skulked off, vanishing in the crowd of pasty Ryanair flyers. Intrigued, I picked my nose up out of my book. Surely, this man cannot be reading the latest tough love parenting manual. Nope. He was mesmerized -- just starting Chapter 29, actually -- by, you guessed it, The Da Vinci Code. What kind of monster orders his kids to make themselves scarce among agitated travellers in a foreign airport? A person who reads Dan Brown.

I may be the only person on the planet -- the only one I know, anyhow -- who threw the book down in disgust halfway through a while back. I didn't mind the shoddy research, the baseless conclusions, the half-baked theological conspiracies. As Jon Stewart says, "it's fiction." I just had a problem with the bubble gum wrapper prose, the earnest dialogue, the shallow character development, the cliffhanger-on-every-third page, the three-page chapters. (My blood pressure is going up as I write this.) Why are people fascinated with this drivel? Tell me, what's the appeal? Is it the sense of accomplishment one gets from polishing off 16 chapters before lunch? Is it confirming suspicions you've always had about the church? Is it comforting to know that maybe, just maybe, a middle-aged American guy can seduce a French woman (actually, I abandoned the book before I could get to the steamy bits) and together they can solve a 2,000-year-old riddle? Will this give you something lively to contribute at your next dinner party/water cooler/prayer group/book club/political fund-raiser? Please, tell me.

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