[ Best and Worst ] That Book You Love–and Hate

This week on our Best and Worst series, we have Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, co-authors of a science fiction suspense novel, Fate’s Mirror. But they’re not here to talk about their book, no. Yang and Campion are here to share a couple of the best and worst reading experiences that shaped them as readers and writers.

There’s an eerie similarity between the two books.

See if you can spot it…

Yang’s Best:

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

In high school, my favorite class was church history, which I took for all of 11th grade at my Catholic high school. The subject was basically European history where it intersected with the Catholic Church, which it did every five minutes or so. I loved that class. The dirty politics! The wacky people! The really weird shit that happened! It was awesome.

I’m telling you this to explain that the history and scholarly theories in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code were not new to me. I’d heard it all before. But that’s okay. For most of the reading public, the stuff in The Da Vinci Code was not only new, it was so new it changed their world view. They thought about church history and even about their religious beliefs in a new way, all because of a work of pure fiction. I think that’s pretty cool.

I loved that Dan Brown crammed so much history and art history into a thriller package. I always thought the “thrill” in thrillers had to be based on spying or politics or war. I never knew that it could be based on history and art and religion. Sure, the entire novel is one big chase scene, but the heroes are racing to solve puzzles, not to shoot things.

I also appreciated that The Da Vinci Code was a fast read. I read the entire book in two or three days. The cliffhangers at the end of every chapter made me want to read just a few more pages (which of course ended in cliffhangers themselves) until I’d raced through the book. I didn’t mind the flat dialog or the shallow characterization or the silly coincidences, because man, that book moved.

The biggest problem most people had with the book was the way that Dan Brown took liberties with the facts, blending them with theory and speculation and stuff that he plain made up. Entire tomes were published soon after The Da Vinci Code trying to rebut it point by point. These people just didn’t get it. Blending fact and fiction is what thrillers are supposed to do. For example, nobody criticizes Tom Clancy’s books for being unrealistic. Readers know that a Russian naval officer can’t steal a nuclear submarine and defect with it. They go along for the ride, knowing it could never happen, but loving how the story made it seem possible. I knew perfectly well that Dan Brown was telling me a story, but every single page perched right on the edge of probable. And isn’t that what we read novels for?

—-Margaret Yang

Campion’s Worst:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code did not get my back up because it provided glib talking points for pseudo-history buffs who don’t actually read history. It did not rub me the wrong way when it proclaimed in pompous, matter-of-fact tones only the most sensationalized tidbits gleaned from Biblical apocrypha. It did not even grate my ass like a hard cheese when its characters bumbled from one serendipitous focal point to the next with the grace of a child drawing a line from one numbered dot to another using a ruler and an unsharpened crayon.

No, I have to say Dan Brown lost me early on when he decided to manhandle his exposition with a gratuitously-placed flashback. Professor Landon clumsily recollects a few moments spent with one of his Harvard classes. In that scene, the professor engages in witty repartee with his students about the Fibonacci sequence while they gasp and goggle at him with rapt sycophancy. Landon’s efforts (and Brown’s) are rewarded with the info-dump chanted back at him like verses from a well-trained Greek chorus.

Jesus…Brown got paid for that.

It’s probably because I’m a teacher, but the scene bore about as much resemblance to an actual teaching environment as Sookie Stackhouse bears to Mina Harker.

Also, I’m convinced that the commercial success of The Da Vinci Code somehow made National Treasure a marketable franchise—some things I cannot forgive, even of Nicholas Cage.

—-Harry R. Campion

Where do you land, canaries?