Saturday, June 22, 2013
Dan Brown: By the Book
The author of “The Da Vinci Code” and, most recently, “Inferno” made “the mistake” of reading “The Exorcist” at age 15: “It was the first and last horror book I’ve ever opened.”
We did not have a television while I was growing up, and so I read voraciously. My earliest memory of being utterly transfixed by a book was Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” Halfway through the book, I remember my mom telling me it was time for bed and not being able to sleep because I was so deeply concerned for the safety of the characters. The next day, when I finished the book, I remember crying with relief that everything had worked out. The emotion startled me — in particular the depth of connection I felt toward these imaginary characters. It was in that moment that I became aware of the magic of storytelling and the power of the printed word.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
The most pleasurable reading experience I’ve had recently was just last week — jogging on the beach with an audiobook of Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw.” I was so engrossed in his essay “The Ketchup Conundrum” that I ran an extra mile just to find out how it ended.
Who are your favorite novelists?
John Steinbeck for his vivid sense of place. Robert Ludlum for the complexity of his plotting. And J. K. Rowling for inspiring so many young people to be passionate about reading.
What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?
I read nonfiction almost exclusively — both for research and also for pleasure. When I read fiction, it’s almost always in the thriller genre, and it needs to rivet me in the opening few chapters. I don’t read horror, ever. When I was 15, I made the mistake of reading part of “The Exorcist.” It was the first and last horror book I’ve ever opened.
What makes for a good thriller?
For me, a good thriller must teach me something about the real world. Thrillers like “Coma,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “The Firm” all captivated me by providing glimpses into realms about which I knew very little — medical science, submarine technology and the law. To my taste, a great thriller must also contain at its core a thought-provoking ethical debate or moral dilemma. Some of my favorites through the years have been “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” by H. F. Saint; “Contact,” by Carl Sagan; and also the classic “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker, which, while skirting the edges of horror, was such a lesson in creating suspense that I couldn’t put it down.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I usually write about historical figures and classical art, so you might be surprised to find a host of modern biographies (Steve Jobs, Andre Agassi, Clive Davis), as well as a dozen books on modern art, especially the works of M. C. Escher.