Monday , April 15 2024
It's hard enough to know what's fact and what's fiction these days without novels confusing the issue.

Dan Brown and Me: Our Dysfunctional Relationship Unveiled

It could have been my big break and I missed it. But I’ll get over it.

Back before I wrote book reviews and author interviews for Blogcritics and Newsvine, and even back before I created, edited, and wrote for a book review page at a newspaper in Fayetteville, Arkansas, there was an Internet site about mysteries for which I wrote.

As is the case now I was sent unsolicited books to review. Only now the books I’m sent are usually ones I’d love to review, and authors I’m excited to interview, including upcoming releases from James Lee Burke and Mary Higgins Clark. Back then I’d get books from authors I had never heard of, so desperate for press or Web attention that they’d send their books to a crazy book junkie like me. The fools! <Insert sound of cackle here> 

One of those books I was sent had a cover that looked like something out of a Dungeons and Dragons game, and I pegged the author (yes, I judged the book by its cover, forgive me) as someone who played way too much of that game. The author, I figured, was even more of a dork and a geek than me. So I set the book aside on the shelf and, when desperate for money, sold it via Amazon.

Fast forward: Years later the book The Da Vinci Code became a huge best-seller. I read it but loathed it. I found it predictable, trite, with characters written with less depth than a third-grader would compose. In short, I hated it.  

But maybe I’m missing something, I figured. When I’d repeatedly run into people insisting I must read and love this book I thought, “What are they getting out of this that I’m not?” Perhaps I was just annoyed that Brown implied his book contained more historical accuracies than it actually did and I’m always a bit peeved when authors blur the lines between fact and fiction, leaving the reader to sort out and/or guess which is which.  

(This peeve later resurfaced, like a zit that just won't go away, when James Frey messed with readers heads — causing mine to nearly explode — about what was fact and what was fiction.)

Thus we now have millions of Americans who think they know details about the Vatican that are not actually accurate. But it's just a novel, some say. Why do you care if it's true or not? The problem, as Wikipedia notes — and this Newsviner's rant serves as a good example — is the author implies much of his fiction is fact and some readers believe that.  

I decided to give Dan Brown another try and read the Angels and Demons book. As I was reading it there was something bothering me, and it wasn’t just that the plots and characters were so similar that if they were not written by the same author I would have expected a lawsuit over stolen content ideas.

No, what was bothering me, I figured out, was that I had seen this book cover before. And that title sounded damn familiar. Finally it occured to me – this was the book I was sent unsolicited, the one I didn’t read. 

So what does it all mean? Am I crazy to think that if I’d written a review of the book I would have been the first to champion this author and went on to fame and fortune alongside him? Well, probably not, especially since my review would have been negative.

Still, each time I see Dan Brown’s name I think, “Man, I could have been the first! I could have started this crazy trend.”  And then I feel chills run through my body and think, “Whew! I’m sure glad I don’t have that guilt on me,” and then I feel better.

Now my story has been told. I feel slightly less dirty now.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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