Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review of a Review

I opened my venerable New York Times Book Review today—a publication that I have had a gift subscription to from my generous and literature-loving cousin Vic—and found a review of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol as the cover review. What? I thought. The NYT Book Review is stooping to review this? But I needn’t have feared that they would take the book seriously, ha ha, no. The review started out caustically, as many seem to do for The Lost Symbol, but it went on in its derision. And on. And on. What reviewer is so angry, I wondered? Oh yes. Maureen Dowd.

My first (and only) exposure to Maureen Dowd was that she’s a bit of a mean-spirited reviewer. I first heard of her through Carrie via GalleyCat, which mentioned how Maureen wrote a very bad-humored article on chick lit, in which she trashes the genre seemingly based on cover art, and which I blogged about.

I’m sure every reviewer has his or her pet peeves, or can find something about most popular commercial novels to pick apart. Maureen lets loose in this vein with The Lost Symbol. Granted, she’s got good reason for three columns of sarcasm: Dan Brown is good at sensational story lines, but not the finer mechanics of character development. We know this. He also seems to have numerous implausible plot devices. We know this, too. We ALL KNOW that he isn't going to be invited to the annual gala dinner of the Society of Brilliant Literary Masterminds. So I don’t want to read another pedantic review pointing all that out. It’s old. I’d like the NYT Book Review, and Maureen Dowd, to have gone a bit deeper than stating the obvious about Dan’s over-use of italics and one-dimensional, clichéd villains. How about an essay exploring why Dan’s books are so popular? Because, let’s face it, they are.

I’m not opposed to the principle of a negative book review, but Ms. Dowd failed to do this in any kind of meaningful context. Clearly The DaVinci Code was a huge success. I read it. It was okay. But let’s remember why it was such a hit: because it was controversial, and dealt with a subject that most people hadn’t thought about before: the idea that Jesus Christ could have had a wife, and that she was Mary Magdalene, and that they might have had a child. Wow! Incredible idea! Incredible premise for a novel! Good, go! Go, dog, go!

Now, I haven’t read The Lost Symbol, and what I have surmised is that I don’t need to. The problem for me is that the plot is uninteresting. It didn't hook me. That’s why I wouldn’t read it—and that’s what should have been discussed in the NYT Book Review, rather than spouting horror over how awful Dan Brown is, and what a pussy he is for writing arse-licky bits about the Masons, who, Maureen Dowd presumes, he is now afraid of.

Why am I pointing all this out? Because there have been so many negative reviews and articles written about Dan Brown and his books, starting with the announcement of the unprecedented two million first printing of The Lost Symbol, and continuing with the fawning and unnecessary letter Amazon.com posted on its home page about how they had their inventory of The Lost Symbol under lock and key guarded by two armed men. Puke! But the fact remains that while the book might not be great for many reasons, I think we’re all taking advantage of the opportunity to be MEAN and UPPITY. And this came across loud and clear in Maureen Dowd’s review, which ends with an unclever and mocking What the hell, Dan?! Worse, this is the cover review in a publication that should serve people who want to know about books.

You could say that we're being mean and uppity because we're appalled that such bad writing should get such a massive first printing or marketing push. Yawn. Come on, that outrage is passe. This is how the publishing industry is right now.

A final note: another Maureen, the imminently enjoyable author Maureen Johnson, wrote a hilarious chapter by chapter account of The Lost Symbol on her blog. In that, she was subtle about the bad bits. I didn’t consider it to be negative. Although there might have been a teensy weensy bit of prejudice before starting, it ultimately shows the novel for what it is. Maureen Dowd, on the other hand, who is winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, didn’t even try.

Just saying.


CKHB said...

"How about an essay exploring why Dan’s books are so popular? Because, let’s face it, they are." My husband and I had this exact conversation on Sunday. WE KNOW that Dan Brown uses over-the-top metaphors and too many adverbs/adjectives. This is not news. But people are dying to buy his books. Let's learn something from that! Apparently Maureen Dowd is only a smart-and-funny writer when bashing George Bush.

What the hell, Maureen?

Tina Lynn said...

My opinion of your opinion of her opinion is that you are spot on:) Your blog is so very enjoyable.

Sierra Godfrey said...

You guys crack me up :)

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