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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Dan Brown's Lost Art

Dan Brown's new book, launched at midnight, has sold more books in its first seconds than all the poetry books in the world will sell this month. Or than all the Booker books will sell this year. This is a fact - combined with his relatively artless prose - used to demonise Mr. Brown in certain quarters. But as a film buff and creative writing teacher, I have thought about this. What Brown does is eventing. That's right, a new genre title: eventing. That is, it isn't just writing, or entertainment, but creating an event. It's not just event publishing - the event is the sort of book it is. The use of plot, the style, is pre-cinematic, or post-cinematic, or maybe supra-cinematic - the book-as-movie-as-shared-experience. The popular interest means there is no use in saying it shouldn't be popular - it is popular. We can analyse why and how. But perhaps it is not a bad thing that it happens. I don't think it adds to literacy - people are not reading but consuming these books. But this kind of format, this hyper-fact and complex sort of engaging thing, makes a book an informative game. Borges knew this a while back. Most poets make books that are thoughtful games too. But Brown seems on a different sort of track. Should he be emulated? I say, go ahead. It is harder to combine elements like he does than it looks. Otherwise, there would be more such books. But then again, he has a niche, and the brand name, now, too. How many code-breaking books does anyone need? At least one more, I suspect.
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