Monday, 6 September 2010

It's Not All About Style

Not that long ago (well, at least not by Grey Noughts' standards) I've written about bad books. In that particular piece I was talking about books that were not just (or not even necessarily) badly written in terms of style, but also lacked in deeper structure, message, and so on. Then, a few days ago, I read a Johnson blog post about Dan Brown being the author most given away to charity, and at the same time the one least likely to fly off charity shelves.

As an illustration, Johnson quotes from the very first paragraph of the The Da Vinci Code. And I must agree, it is truly something not seen in stylistically well written books. I will also freely admit that I found The Da Vinci Code lacking in much more substantial ways - not unlike pretty much every other Dan Brown book I have read (and I have read pretty much all the well known ones). 

Unsurprisingly, after reading them I also tried to get rid of them as quickly as I could. First I tried to sell them on Amazon. Nobody wanted them. Not even for a penny. Then they languished in the loft for a couple of years until we moved house. It was only then that I finally packed them away to charity. They took them. Of course. Having read Johnson, though, I now wonder if they're still gathering dust on a shelf in the far corner of the Oxfam Reading book store.

But, and I think it's quite a significant one...

For all their failings in plot, fact, and style (even though I never noticed the latter), they were all rather captivating reads. Even the Digital Fortress, which, from the point of view of someone who actually knows about software and computers, is possibly the most ridiculous account of its subject matter there is. But, it was still fun to read. Painful or hilarious (in a bad way) at times, but fun nonetheless. Just like the rest of them. Even the films were decent fun (but no more - I wouldn't watch them twice).

My point?

My point is that one does not always read for style. Even more, I think one should not read for style alone (unless one is reading poetry, but I don't so that's beside the point). Especially, one should not hold all genres to the same, exacting, stylistic standard. After all, Dan Brown is not Tolstoy! First and foremost, for an author to become  revered in that sort of way, it has to stand the test of time. And by "time" I mean decades. As a writer, Dan Brown was born yesterday! Which is not to say I think he will last as a literary name. He probably won't. But only time can tell. Plus, he's placed himself squarely into the entertainment for masses, masses of dollars for himself genre. And it worked. For him. It even worked for me. I didn't think a few quid spent on his paperbacks were money down the drain. It's just I wouldn't spend a penny on a hardback to proudly display in my library (once I have one, that is - currently it's mostly stacked ceiling-high in the downstairs loo).

To conclude, and avert possible confusion (as if this hasn't become confused enough already), Dan Brown, for all his poor style, poor fact checking, and weak plots, fulfils one of the reading needs of mine: light entertainment. For others, I (can always) go elsewhere. And before you ask, the others are: to learn something new and interesting, to point my thoughts in a new direction, and yes, also to enjoy someone's masterly style. Sometimes, you get all four goals in a single book. Such books end up on my dead tree pile. Sometimes, they fail in all but one area, and end up in a charity shop, or on Amazon (no I am not averse to recouping some of my poor investments).

Mind you, I don't think I'm spending any more money on Dan Brown. He already has enough, and he's sliding down the slope of diminishing returns...