Bestsellers and insecurity

I saw a great comedian on television the other day. He said he was working on a new book that was sure to hit the top of the bestseller lists. It was going to be called “Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Sudoku”. A guaranteed winner there, but for plagiarism. I’m surprised Kaavya Viswanathan didn’t think of that novel first.

But the comedian makes a good point. There are some things that become a self-marketing phenomenon. Every writer dreams of that huge bestseller, suddenly exploding out of nowhere. Remember the Celestine Prophecy? Well, sure it’s long forgotten now, but that author is still living large on the proceeds. And that was an atrocious book. It was very badly written, the ideas were half-baked and the story didn’t really lead anywhere interesting. But it struck a chord at the right time and became massive. There were sequel books, little self-help pocketbooks, other authors jumped on the bandwagon and wrote similar books or wrote books about the Celestine Prophecy, for or against it. Talk shows, radio, tv specials, it got the whole treatment.

The same thing is happening now with The Da Vinci Code. It’s not quite the surprise phenomenon that the Celestine Prophecy was, however. The Celestine Prophecy was originally a self-published book. No wonder, being as bad as it was, that the publishing houses turned it down. But it just goes to show what perseverance and the will of the people can do. The Da Vinci Code had a pretty huge marketing campaign in the US when it was released to jump start the “remarkable word of mouth success” of the novel. However, aside from that, the book is now the buzz of the moment.

There’s also been the kind of publicity you just can’t buy. Twice. Firstly, there was the court case with two of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, accusing Dan Brown of plagiarising their work. Interestingly enough, they ended up suing their own publisher in that case, as the same company represented both books. (Also worth noting, talking of publicity, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is currently in the top 20 bestsellers at Amazon.com – who says they lost that court case?)

The second great advertising boost for The Da Vinci Code was the reaction of churches around the world. You really can’t buy publicity like a church trying to ban your work. (You know, RealmShift has some pretty controversial ideas when it comes to religion. Why can’t the church boycott my book? Maybe I should send a review copy to Dr George Pell.)

I do find very amusing, however, the degree of panic that seems to be spreading through the organised Christian religions of the world on the back of the release of The Da Vinci Code movie. There was no comparable reaction to the book. When it gets made into a movie the churches start having paroxysms of outrage. I was walking past the cinemas in the city of Sydney on the weekend and there were about half a dozen people standing outside handing out brochures. They had pieces of paper pinned onto their backs (no, seriously, they did) which said “Companion Guides to The Da Vinci Code”. The brochures they were handing out were twenty page glossy magazines trying to point out all the errors and supposed fictionalisations in Dan Brown’s story. They take great joy in quoting inside the brochure how even Dan Brown refers to his book as a work of fiction. Well, blow me down! Fiction? Really?

The cinema complex at The Entrance on the NSW south coast stands to lose around $10,000 in revenue as they are refusing to show the film. Other church bodies are doing all they can to discredit the film, crying out for boycotts and producing brochures, like the one I was handed on the weekend, at great expense to themselves. Why wasn’t there anything like this much controversy when it was just a book? It seems the church puts more stock in the conversion power of a film than a novel. Interesting not least because the whole Christian faith is based on the contents of a book that has no more evidence for the truth of its contents than Dan Brown’s novel.

It all smacks of insecurity and paranoia to my ears. With apologies to the Bard, methinks they doth protest too much.

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3 thoughts on “Bestsellers and insecurity

  1. The hype is definately unjustified. I devoured Da Vinci code with the vigour borne of my shameless addiction to untold history and conspiracies built on apparent truths. It was better than Roswell and JFK combined because, reading the book, most of the ideas seemed to have an underlying source of scholarly evidence – the conjecture was not easily distinguished most of the time.

    The book is dangerous because it captures the imagination of people who are uneducated to Christianity, in a time where suspicion and distrust are the most common reactions to the church. It offers them the possibility of credible means to discredit ‘organized religion’ and the ‘shocking history of corruption’ in the church, reaching back into its founding roots. What a tasty morsel.

    But we all knew that. The church has had a history of racists, playboys, paedophiles, hypocrites and profiteers as popes and leaders. The church played on people’s fears to build vast riches. The church promises us hell if we don’t fall in line. We all know that priests have a hidden agenda, and the church is really just opposed to self empowerment and independance yada yada more wars in the name of christianity or islam blah blah bane of society so on and so forth…

    We’ve heard it all. So what’s so special about The Da Vinci Code all of a sudden? The recent recovery of the Gospel of Judas, as well as the numerous other gnostic books and various expelled christian texts all provide a much more fundamental dissection of the true origins of christianity, and reveal a much more cynical, politically oriented motive for the birth of the church (see Irenaeus, Emperor Constantine & the legalization of Christianity).

    Let us not forget, though, the incredible show of affection given to the late Pope John Paul. We’re in an age where people admire people – not establishments. And rightly so. The man’s actions speak for themselves. I myself am not exactly religious, however I still picked myself up and brought myself to his memorial service at St Mary’s out of respect.

    The truth is that the public reaction to The Da Vinci Code is a symbol of a much larger problem facing the churches. The public desire to disassociate itself from an overtly conservative environment may be representative of society’s distrust, naivette, ignorance or independance. Or any combination of these.

    More likely, I think, its that people in knowledge of the suddenly public, sordid history of organized christianity and are finding it hard to associate it with good. Unlike the affection they can find for Pope John Paul through his humanity, goodness and fundamentally positive ideals and actions.

    In this sense, the church isn’t being very convincing of its benevolence by boycotting The Da Vinci code and labelling, alienating, the millions and millions of fans, that may just have been ready to subscribe to christian teachings, as sinners and the book as blasphemy. Nobody is going to stand up and go to confession because they enjoyed a good yarn that may or may not have been politically correct.

    Either way the church is over-reacting. The book was merely fun, but movie was absolute crap.

  2. I read DaVinci. Although interesting as fiction, I found nothing earth-shattering about it. I believe the movie was made to capitalize on the offense it would generate. Smart guys, those rich Hollywood producers.

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