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What’s the Symbol for Sour Grapes?

September 15, 2009

Today is the release date for Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I haven’t heard as much hype as I would have expected considering the runaway success of his last book, The DaVinci Code, but then I don’t pay much attention to popular media. Sure I’ve seen some in store displays, but no massive rollouts, or ad blitzes.

What I have seen plenty of are amateur (or unpublished, or underpublished) authors who are plenty ticked about Dan Brown’s success of recent years. The popular opinions seem to center around the idea that Dan Brown isn’t a very good author, steals other people’s ideas, and generally doesn’t deserve all the success and cash that have flowed his way.

I’m not really sure where the specific vitriol toward Dan Brown comes from. Why, for instance, wasn’t there similar acid directed at J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer for their last releases? Nor am I certain why we choose Dan Brown’s novels at the proper time and place to get upset that the public generally likes “pulp” novels.

While it’s true that he did run with certain ideas put forth by other authors, he was more than willing to give credit to those authors in countless interviews. And while those authors weren’t satisfied with his acknowledgments, I’m unaware of any requirements for fiction authors to clarify that they didn’t invent the real theory at the heart of their story. To my knowledge, Michael Crichton never went out of his way to give credit to the scientific theories that powered his novels.

I think it ultimately comes down to sour grapes on our parts. When we read the DaVinci Code we feel that we could have done a better job. And maybe some of us could. When reading any one of a dozen popular authors I often feel that I could have written better, tighter prose. But the fact remains that I didn’t.

The truth is that the public at large rarely latches onto to the quality story. Were Hemingway or Steinbeck alive today they wouldn’t be on the Bestsellers rack—they’d languish on the Staff Recommendations shelf. We look to books more for escape than for morality or art.

What’s the harm, really, in allowing a writer his success, no matter what he chooses to write?

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Today, Dale has nothing to add. 😉
  1. September 15, 2009 1:34 am

    Yeah, I kind of avoid attacking writers on whether or not they’re “bad writers” especially if I haven’t read the book myself, which a lot of people feel they don’t need to do.

    There’s a kind of snobbery toward pulp fiction I think. You should’ve seen the interviewers turn their nose up at me when I said my favourite author was King when I was being interviewed for a creative writing degree at University.

  2. September 15, 2009 8:16 am

    On that note Ben – there was a huge uproar when the American Literary Society wanted to give King a big award (I’ve probably got the names all wrong) – because he wasn’t considered “literature” … yet several high profile people came out in the defence of King noting just when he had done in his not so long career – including writing the brilliant “On Writing.”

    I admit I haven’t read the DaVinci Code – the closest I’ve come to it was seeing Kath and Kim rip it off a few years ago for their Christmas special. Perhaps I should just to see what all the who hah is about. After all after swearing I would never watch Titanic – I was finally lured there by my best friend (who sweetened the deal with blue marguiritas) So perhaps I need a bottle of tequila to soften the blow (having read “The Holy Blood, The Holy Grail years ago)

    While I am first to have a go at the writing abilities of Stephenie Meyer (she breaks every single rule in King’s “On Writing”) – I do credit her for being a brilliant story teller. I still shake my head and wonder who the hell edited it.

    In Australia we call it the “tall poppy syndrome” – where we want to tear down those who suceed. But you hit the nail right on the head Dale when you say – we wished we had written it, we suspect we’d done a better job of it – but at the end of the day we didn’t!


  3. September 15, 2009 8:33 am

    Jodi beat me with her comments about Stephanie Meyer – nuff said….

    I HAVE read Da Vinci code – and found it completely compelling and entertaining.. hummm isn’t that one of the aims of literature?

    and yes – the snobbery will be there – regardless… just like any pursuit or enjoyment – eg – there are many wine drinkers who drink a certain vintage or style simply because its fashionable or what the critics tell them they aught to enjoy… me? I judge it on its enjoyability.

    Theres a time to be educated ( be it your palate or your intellect) and there is a time to relax and enjoy life. Isn’t there room for both?

  4. September 15, 2009 11:39 am

    I haven’t actually read The Da Vinchi Code. From what people have told me, I doubt I ever will read it. I’m perfectly happy to say, “Good for him,” and wish I could be as successful. If I could figure out what it is about a book that makes it suddenly take off and be everywhere (and have loads of people reading it just to see what the hype is about), I’ll be a millionairre this time next year.

    I have no problem with JK Rowling making a fortune. I think the Harry Potter books are fantastic. The early books were fresh, original, funny and had brilliantly constructed plots. I thought book five could have done with being edited with a chainsaw and put back together a hundred pages shorter, but I still enjoyed reading. When you’re still happy to reread the book you consider to be the weakest link in a series, it says a lot about the quality of the work. She wrote some amazing stories and deserved to be successful. The fact that she went well beyond successful… well, again, I’m just wishing I knew how to make that happen for my books.

  5. September 15, 2009 7:39 pm

    I read the Da Vinci code and it was okay. I was disappointed with it, though, not because of the book specifically, but because of the way it had been described to me: Very intellectual, a very literate mystery. Well, not so much. I can’t fault Dan Brown for that, but I think I would have responded to it differently if the descriptions I was given were more accurate.

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