Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hits and Misses

"A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it." - The Economist

Well said. I couldn't agree more. As a matter of fact, I've read two of Dan Brown's novels and found them well-researched, highly entertaining and very clever... since I was 16 at that time and didn't know better. In fact, I actually introduced The Da Vinci Code to everybody around me to the point that by the end, the pages in my copy were falling off the binding. I actually thought he was the best writer around.

Now that I've had the opportunity to travel the world, get more exposure on worldly literature and snap out of my immature conspiracy theorist phase (and I have to say phew.. good riddance!), I've come to realize that Dan Brown isn't all that. I'm not saying he's a bad writer, far from it. He's a terrific writer, he knows how to combine history, religion, conspiracy and entertainment in order to make a book irresistible not only to the highly educated (who eventually find his books to be shitty, by the way), but more importantly to the masses. It's just that his writing lacks poetry. It doesn't hurt to rhyme once in a while, or to throw euphemisms, or to actually tell a story beautifully instead of telling it by means of straightforward delivery.

When I went back to Malaysia a few years ago, I went to Kinokuniya just to browse around. I love doing that. And having friends who could never be punctual if their lives depended on it, I find my book-browsing hobby a blessing. In fact, I once waited at a shopping complex for 2 hours (or was it 3?) for a friend and I made no fuss because there was an MPH bookstore nearby and I spent the whole time finishing a book on Carl Sagan.

Anyway, I went to Kinokuniya and all I could see was these Stieg Larsson books piled up on the best-sellers shelf, next to the Twilight novels. Apparently people were buying them like hot bread, although I had never heard of them. I didn't even know who Stieg Larsson was.

So I took one copy, went to an isolated corner where's there's a small stool, and read away. After 20 pages, I could not go on. It was not bad, per se. It was just that my mind was urging me to stop, because I had already read this kind of stuff before. Over and over again. By hundreds of different authors with different styles, but all with similar ideas and execution. How and why Larsson's books have all been translated from Swedish into hundreds of languages, I'll never know.

This might come of as a snobbish entry. Maybe because it is, I don't know. My point is, people need to crawl out of their caves and look at books from a different angle. Just because a book has a glossy cover and is being hawked by the most reputable publisher, doesn't mean it's a good book. It only means this publisher's got dough and good PR people.

I have nothing against pop culture. I just get irked when it dumbs people down.


Anonymous said...

Hi, i was wondering whether you've ever read "For one more day" by Mitch Albom. If you have, i'd like to know what you think of it. Cheers. :)

Kahuna said...

No, I haven't. I started reading 5 People You Meet In Heaven by Albom and didn't finish it. I found it too preachy and... chicken-soup-ish, for lack of a better term. Not my cup of tea.

p/s : please put at least a name behind your comment. anonymous comments make me feel like talking to a wall.

Anonymous said...

Owh...thanks for the review. :)

My name's Nur btw, sorry for leaving the anonymous comment.

Pn Anna said...

Not many people has the opportunities to travel the world, study abroad and have an expanded and exposed mind like urs, kahuna...

how i wish i could be the one writing this entry... but i must say, being cooped up in a country like M'sia and surrounded by the same ol malaysian didnt make me any wiser... in terms of comparing different styles of writing etc. i must say, dan brown's my favorite author till now. Haha (cos i didnt know any better?)

u're so lucky to have being able to travel the worlds!