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Can Dan Brown save the blockbuster novel?

September 18, 2009


The death of the novel is something that critics have shouted about from rooftops for decades, claiming that the publishing industry is steadily grinding its way towards an anticlimactic demise, certain to be replaced by Kindles, e-books and other technology. To make matters worse, the only person in the entire world who is able to convince the American public that reading is a worthwhile endeavor is Oprah Winfrey, whose endorsement typically results in more than a million additional sales for a book (even though Oprah couldn’t even convince America that Faulkner is worth reading).

Outside of Oprah stepping in, however, the blockbuster novel is essentially a thing of the past in America. Sure, Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, the most recent entry in the Twilight series and the newest right wing propaganda roll of toilet paper will always sell copies. These are not, however, the books that people talk about. These are books that you read once and donate to your local library, hoping that nobody sees you furtively scanning the pages on the bus ride to work.

Dan Brown, however, seems to have somehow found the key to America’s wallets. It turns out that if you lace a high-paced adventure with a story involving the church, large self-flagellating eunuchs and a dorky professor who nobody would actually like in real life (sort of like any athlete, but that’s for another time) lacrosse moms everywhere will shell out 30 bucks a pop to read an absurd story. Seriously, though, Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, has somehow sold “well over” one million copies.

The thinking, though, is that some kids out there will become excited about reading by Brown’s novel and maybe start along the winding path towards “literature.” Heck, they may even read the book on a Kindle and actually start buying books again.

I’m not sure, though, if the blockbuster novel is a reality anymore. For any fervent reader, there is already too much stuff out there, and Amazon has made everything extremely accessible. Every two years or so, a phenom like a Dan Brown novel or the newest Harry Potter (yes, I know the series is over) comes out, but the people who are reading those books are doing so more so that they can feel as if they are riding some type of paper-driven wave instead of actually sparking some type of revival of the novel.

Fiction as an art form will be alive and well as long as there are pockets of people who believe that the written word has the power to cure all. And, for what it’s worth, if you are reading this post, I hope you are one of those people. The future of the novel does not reside in blockbusters, which are essentially the pop music of books, but in the novels that somehow provide us all with the sense that someone out there somehow gets it and, in turn, gets us.

After all, that’s all that we really want.

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