What’s the Symbol for Sour Grapes?
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What I have seen plenty of are amateur (or unpublished, or underpublished) authors who are plenty ticked about Dan Brown’s success of recent years.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?