There will be the usual gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the new Dan Brown thriller, Inferno. I’ve downloaded it and will (along with six other books on my ebook stack) try and enjoy the book as much as I have with most of Dan’ past adventures with Robert Langdon. I say gnashing and rending because many of the critics can’t wait to jump all over this book racing to be the first to trash it. Me, I’ll wait. I know what it takes to write a book, I know about the fun of the research and the thrill of uncovering a story line or a tidbit of a tale that will lead you on the next revelation. And I don’t give a hoot about the “reality” of it all (i.e. city map of Rome in Angels and Demons comes to mind). You want reality watch Survivor (and is that really reality?).
What is the lurking shadow hiding behind a trashy review? Jealousy, in all its green and purple shades. The most flowery prose is couched as a twisty knife. They attack facts (remember this is fiction), the writing style, the lack of a pedigree, anything to discredit the success of the book. Even to the sad point of maligning the writer himself. Sad, too sad. It’s terrible to be a wildly successful writer (ask their financial consultant, he knows the horror of it).
What makes a best seller? I haven’t a clue. One man’s trash is another’s best seller. The list is too long to try and needle out a reason, Fifty Shades of Gray, Harry Potter, Michener, Ludlum, Baldacci, and Jack Reacher (to mix books, authors, and characters). If there is one constant it’s that the writer had one great hit and then built on it, and in some cases got better, good example is Michael Connelly. Reread The Black Echo and then The Black Box and you will know what I mean. They all write on a dependable schedule and meet the demands of their publisher. But then again maybe trash and best seller have a lot in common.
It’s the story stupid (to wreck a political moment)! An engaging story that the reader can identify with and feel as though they haven’t wasted their time – that’s it, period, full stop. Were they entertained? Lots of ways to do that (horror, love, intrigues and dangers, a nasty villain) Were they engaged with the story, I hope so. I have a stack of books that the critics loved and I couldn’t get past the fifth chapter. Even a train wreck of a book, if it engages you (ahem), can be a best seller (Fifty Shades of Whatever).
The characters, that’s the secret. Do you want to dress and talk like them? Do you wish you were bullet proof and god-like handsome (Jack Reacherish)? Multi-faceted like Gabriel Allon (art restorer – Israeli spy)? Baldacci’s Will Robie - damaged beyond help but we love him anyway. The list is endless. We often see our lives through these phantoms, ask any girl about Hermione Granger and she will get all puffed up and smile. Characters, the more real, the more better. You have to read about them; it’s like going out to a long dinner with a close friend and discovering something new with every sip of scotch.
Every once and a while a literary bestseller manages to push aside Patterson (either one, Richard or James) and Nora Roberts to find a momentary place in the sun on the NY Times Best Seller list. But they almost never reach the sales numbers of thrillers and romance (I know, I know, A Game of Thrones can lurk out there but George R.R. Martin is just too weird). Just click here and see the potpourri of writers and stories out there on the best sellers lists. I rest my case.
We read to be entertained and that is very difficult considering all the alternatives and distractions: TV, movies, games, gardening, clubbing (and I don’t mean baseball which is also a distraction). We choose to read, to maybe balance a small piece of ourselves with all the Sturm und Drang flying about. The world of a book is in our heads – nowhere else. You make the colors, you make the sets, and you make the characters in your image. Kind of god-like don’t you think?
More later . . . . . . .