Mr. Brown’s Books

My father-in-law has been reading this:

It can be rather intimidating to discover the likes of that. Indeed there are those times as a writer when you do ask yourself, “Maybe I should give up on this?” When I feel that way, I remind myself of Toni Morrison’s observation: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Everyone who writes also knows we will be reviewed and that of course not everything we’ve done will impress everyone. Some negatives will be quite scathing. That’s also the business.

But then there’s a negative review like one. Whew. I stumbled on it via Twitter this morning:

[Screen capture of The Week.]

This is one of the most scorching reviews I have ever read. It is on par with some of Fifty Shades of Grey. (“I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made ‘Twilight’ look like ‘War and Peace.'” – Salman Rushdie.) The reviewer here totally demolishes Dan Brown’s latest novel.

I’ve never read any of Brown’s books. Just a matter of personal taste. But – from start to finish – this reviewer takes no prisoners. I won’t even pull out any excerpts; it is best read it in its entirety.

However, I would question one issue the reviewer raises:

[Screen capture of The Week.]

Brown’s offering asides in a mass market book on when they lived, quick hits on their accomplishments, etc., clearly irks that reviewer. Yet while one could perhaps criticize how Mr. Brown passes on such biographical background in the text, that he does so is not necessarily itself worth such a punch. That reviewer clearly feels such comments are tedious and unnecessary because he is comfortable in such knowledge, but what I found as a college politics and history lecturer years ago was that one should be careful in taking “common knowledge” for granted.

Because we may be surprised by what we assume people know but actually don’t. Noting that is not meant to be condescending, but merely to nod to the reality that you, the writer, know your subject, while a reader who may be intrigued by your story and simply picks up your book may have little to no idea of bits – and some could be large bits – of what you are talking about. It is impossible as a writer of a mass market book to know which readers will know about A) and B), while others will know about B) but will need a quick explanation of A), and so on.

Nietzsche is NOT an everyday figure: he is probably unfamiliar to many readers and may at best be no more than a name to most. Copernicus and Beethoven would likely be far more familiar names to most, but I would also bet quite a few could not place their birthdays accurately within two centuries. Churchill, the most recent cited, is undoubtedly famous as British prime minister in the 1940s and 1950s, but how many readers also know he was indeed quite a good painter? That latter, I suspect, far fewer.

A harsh review in a magazine like this one is not going to sink Mr. Brown’s career. He has already made quite a lot of money from his books and film adaptations of them, and he has uncounted millions of faithful readers around the world. The Week will probably be long out of business before Mr. Brown’s books are forgotten.

Another week. Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂