Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown has a successful formula: he takes subjects that have intense followers and speculates on their secrets in his fiction.  The Catholic Church, Christianity and Freemasonry have been subjected to his imagination. 

Normally, readers can be distracted from the story by the a cadre of detractors publishing shelves and shelves of tomes "debunking" his stories.  Thankfully, The Lost Symbol has bypassed that rite of passage, with little response from the Masons and gentle mocking of Brown's creative use of D.C. geography and landmarks.

Brown has a very successful formula that works like gangbusters for him.  I loved it the first time I read it in The DaVinci Code.  It was similar, and similarly successful, in Angels and Demons.  I found it equally successful, and with a few new twists, in The Lost Symbol.

I strongly recommend not consuming too many Brown novels in a setting, as I did, or all you will see are the similarities. Brown makes everyone in his books brilliant, capable of whip-smart thinking under extreme pressure, beautiful, fit and rich.  Annoying.  Now, to be fair, the stories couldn't occur in any other setting, so I grudgingly give him a pass on that.

Beyond the similarities of character is the story structure.  There's a Antagonist, sometimes revealed only in shadow, who is The Secret Bad Guy Trying to Bring About Truth and Enlightenment.  There's Someone From The Inside the System, usually Someone With Authority or Peacekeeping Capabilities, working with The Bad Guy, because s/he Has Information.  There is a Timetable, so the clock is ticking down to ratchet up the tension. There are Surprises as People Change.  Plus, plenty of Plot Complications and Story Twists.

The Lost Symbol has it all, only in Washington, D.C., a rather under-appreciated federal city carved out a bog.

And it's a fun romp.  It starts out a little slow, and the bizarre Antagonist is hard to believe at first.  However, as the story progresses, one can believe exactly how he can seem believable — and it's because perfectly smart people do careless things.

Again, Brown educates us in ways that take us out of Harvard lecture halls — though, by now, Brown's readers may have little choice except to see Langdon as a likable but insufferable know-it-all.  (Being able to recall lectures that identify clues on disembodied human parts without losing his lunch?  Does Langdon wear a cape under his turtlenecks?)

There are a few great plot twists and surprises, which take this story out of the ordinary.

Alas, Brown should have been more tightly edited.  The last 50 pages felt gratuitous, taking the pace to a crawl so Brown could finish his Big Reveal by reiterating information so readers Wouldn't Miss It.

All in all, I found this an enjoyable read, and I recommend it.  However, consider choosing it as a library read until you decide if you'll want to re-read it.

This is a book on my Fill in the Gaps listClick here to find out more about the Fill in the Gaps program.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book/Reading-Related Holidays List

Every day is a holiday when it comes to books, reading, learning and language.  However, there are a few days that stand out for no other reason than they remind us to celebrate.

Here are a few dates to remember:

Items listed without years fall on the same date annually.

We have no idea what's up with the National Book Festival — the Library of Congress doesn't have a 2010 date listed.

Can you think of any others?  Birthdays of your favorite authors, perhaps?

Let me know what holidays should be added to this list!  (No, your birthday doesn't count.) (For this list, that is.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Libraries and Poetry

It is no secret, my love of books.  I hope also it is no secret I hold an equally deep love for libraries, especially public ones.  The first tax-supported public library opened on this day in 1833, in Peterborough, N.H., and it stands today with more than 9,000 other public libraries that feed our need for information and resources.  
You may not be able to get a subscription to the Post or pay for Internet connection, but you know you can get that at the library — as well as books in many languages, DVDs, recorded books and reference material and magazines from all over the world.
We talk about all of the things we can live without in economic hard times.  Some jurisdictions seem to think libraries are one of those things that can come and go when "times get tough."  You and I know better.  Call your mayor, call your chairman, call your parish president or county leader and make sure they know that, too.
 While we're at it, let's have a shout-out to all of the librarians out there who know where, when and how to find out anything we need to know (whether we knew it or not).  Between them and the Dewey Decimal System, we're saved!



'For out of olde feldes, as men seyth, Cometh al this newe corne yer by yere, And out of olde bokes, in good feyth, Cometh al this newe science that men lere.'

Chaucer: The Parlement of Foules
Fourteen centuries have learned, From charred remains, that what took place When Alexandria's library burned Brain-damaged the human race.

Whatever escaped Was hidden by bookish monks in their damp cells Hunted by Alfred dug for by Charlemagne Got through the Dark Ages little enough but enough For Dante and Chaucer sitting up all night

looking for light.
A Serbian Prof's insanity,
Commanding guns, to split the heart,
His and his people's, tore apart
The Sarajevo library.

Tyrants know where to aim As Hitler poured his petrol and tossed matches Stalin collected the bards... In other words the mobile and only libraries...

of all those enslaved peoples from the Black to the Bering Sea
And made a bonfire
Of the mainsprings of national identities to melt

the folk into one puddle
And the three seconds of the present moment
By massacring those wordy fellows whose memories were

bigger than armies.
Where any nation starts awake
Books are the memory. And it's plain
Decay of libraries is like
Alzheimer's in the nation's brain.

And in my own day in my own land I have heard the fiery whisper: 'We are here To destroy the Book To destroy the rooted stock of the Book and The Book's perennial vintage, destroy it Not with a hammer or a sickle And not exactly according to Mao who also Drained the skull of adult and adolescent To build a shining new society With the empties...'
For this one's dreams and that one's acts
For all who've failed or aged beyond
The reach of teachers, here are found
The inspiration and the facts.

As we all know and have heard all our lives Just as we've heard that here.
Even the most misfitting child
Who's chanced upon the library's worth,
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world.

Hear it again.

by Ted Hughes
courtesy New Library: The People's Network

Monday, April 5, 2010

Celebrate National Poetry Month. You Know You Want To.

April is National Poetry Month, and readers of all ages can celebrate poetry in a number of ways: reading it, writing it, listening to it all come to mind as suitable poetic pastimes.

Look no further than Hedgehog Lover, a blog that celebrates poetry all month long.  Stop by for your daily dose of poetry and leave a comment about the poem, poetry or National Poetry Month.

If you have ideas of poems to post, make sure to mention it on the blog, or send the blog editor a note.

Go ahead and join the poetry rabble-rousers at Hedgehog Lovers!  You'll be glad you did.