The Telegraph’s 20 worst Dan Brown sentences

I’m not bitter at the success of Dan Brown. Really, I’m not. I would love to sell one book for every 10,000 books Dan Brown sells and I’d consider myself very sucessful, but I don’t resent his success. Anyone that can sell books in the kind of numbers that the Browns, Rowlings and Meyers of this world do is something that should provide succour to all writers. It is possibe to sell books by the million.

Of course, it does burn a little bit when those books are atrocious, but there’s no point being bitter about it. Remember the other day when I said the reader was always right? Well, it’s the readers that are buying up all those awful books, so there’s no point in other writers griping about it. I certainly wouldn’t care what other authors thought if I was selling a gazillion books a second like Dan Brown.

However, I can’t necessarily call Brown’s books awful. I’ve never read any of his books or even seen the movies. I’m just not interested. The mass hype puts me off and the few friends of mine that have read them have essentially said, “Well, they’re quite entertaining stories, but shit, they’re awful really.” That’s never made much sense to me except to mean that the stories are quite engaging, but those stories are full of holes and the writing is terrible. Well, that’s not entertaining as far as I’m concerned so I’ve never bothered. There are so many other things to spend my time and money reading.

Then today I came across this article on the UK Telegraph website. Now I’m glad I never invested time and money into any of Brown’s work. The article lists their pick of Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences. Oh my life, how I laughed reading this. Seriously, how did some of this stuff get past an editor? Here they are (the bits in italics are the comments of Tom Chivers on the original article, linked above):

20. Angels and Demons, chapter 1: Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arrestingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete.

They say the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell”. This fails that rule.

19. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 83: “The Knights Templar were warriors,” Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space.

“Remind” is a transitive verb – you need to remind someone of something. You can’t just remind. And if the crutches echo, we know the space is reverberant.

18. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Ah, that familiar tang of deionised essence.

17. Deception Point, chapter 8: Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes.

It’s not clear what Brown thinks ‘precarious’ means here.

16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.” On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

15. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: As a boy, Langdon had fallen down an abandoned well shaft and almost died treading water in the narrow space for hours before being rescued. Since then, he’d suffered a haunting phobia of enclosed spaces – elevators, subways, squash courts.

Other enclosed spaces include toilet cubicles, phone boxes and dog kennels.

14. Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

A keen eye indeed.

13 and 12. The Lost Symbol, chapter 1: He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 17: Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office.

Oh – the Falcon 2000EX with the Pratt & Whitneys? And the Manurhin MR-93? Not the MR-92? You’re sure? Thanks.

11. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.

Do angry oxen throw their shoulders back and tuck their chins into their chest? What precisely is a fiery clarity and how does it forecast anything? Once again, it is not clear whether Brown knows what ‘forecast’ means.

10. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

Did they hit him with the kaleidoscope?

9. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 32: The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen. “SmartCar,” she said. “A hundred kilometers to the liter.”

Pro tip: when fleeing from the police, take a moment to boast about your getaway vehicle’s fuel efficiency. And get it wrong by a factor of five. SmartCars do about 20km (12 miles) to the litre.

8. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 3: My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my zodiac iconography is pretty good.

And they say the schools are dumbing down.

7 and 6. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 33: Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch – a vintage, collector’s-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 6: His last correspondence from Vittoria had been in December – a postcard saying she was headed to the Java Sea to continue her research in entanglement physics… something about using satellites to track manta ray migrations.

In the words of Professor Pullum: “It has the ring of utter ineptitude. The details have no relevance to what is being narrated.”

5. Angels and Demons, chapter 4: learning the ropes in the trenches

Learning the ropes (of a naval ship) while in the trenches (with the army in the First World War). It’s a military education, certainly.

4, 3, and 2. The Da Vinci Code, opening sentence: Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Angels and Demons, opening sentence: Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

Deception Point, opening sentences: Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him.

Professor Pullum: “Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence”.

1. The Da Vinci Code: Title. The Da Vinci Code.

Leonardo’s surname was not Da Vinci. He was from Vinci, or of Vinci. As many critics have pointed out, calling it The Da Vinci Code is like saying Mr Of Arabia or asking What Would Of Nazareth Do?

If nothing else, this should serve to remind us all as writers that the “rules” are often and easily broken by even the best selling of authors, and that doesn’t necessarily stand in the way of publication. But let’s make a pact now, writers everywhere: May we always strive to be better writers than Dan Brown.


Catholics shoehorn relevance into Gore’s plan

I read about this in the Sydney Morning Herald today and it gave me quite a chuckle over my cereal. The Catholic Church, along with pretty much every other religion, is no stranger to desperately shoehorning “facts” into things to keep their dogma relevant. Anyone that’s ever read the Bible knows that it takes a willful act of denial to ignore the plethora of inconsistencies, for example. However, the religious rationalisation in this article in the Herald is hilarious.

The article talks about how the Catholic church is attempting to counter God’s mighty carbon footprint with “a carbon audit of thousands of churches and parish buildings, about 1500 schools and more than 300 hospitals and aged-care facilities.” Now this is a very good thing, especially when tools like our own Cardinal George Pell (who has made appearances here on The Word before) are quite outspoken climate change sceptics. Pell has “already compared attempts to cut carbon emissions with “pagan” human sacrifice.” It’s amazing, like he’s almost trying to be as big a dickhead as possible.

Anyway, the thing that really entertained me was this part:

Providentially, perhaps, the church plan was called a “strategic, systems-based integrated initiative”, which soon became ASSISI – coinciding with the home of St Francis, patron saint of the environment.

“I was looking at the letters and I realised we could just add an ‘A’ on the front – it was one of those real ‘God’ moments,” Ms Remond said. “The Franciscans were very happy about it.”

Jacqui Remond is director of Catholic Earthcare, the national sustainability division of the church. And yes, she had a “real ‘God’ moment”. That must be a moment when you suspend any kind critical thinking and intelligence you may have to rationalise something. How the hell could she get ASSISI from “strategic, systems-based integrated initiative” by adding an A in front?

Strategic, Systems-based Integrated Initiative

Add an A in front of that and you get ASSII. So she’s added an A in front and an extra S towards the end after coming up with the most weasel worded name she could think of in the first place and then claimed it was a “real ‘God’ moment”. You know what? She’s right. What she’s done there really does compare with most religious rationalisation. Which is a shame, because what they’re doing is a really good thing. It’s just a shame that she’s turned it into a joke by desperately trying to make it relevant to her church.

Oh well, at least they might reduce some emissions in the long run. The Catholic Church can certainly afford a few solar panels.


Black magic versus prayer in Islamic Indonesia

Talk about appealing to the lowest common denominator. I was both amused and disappointed when I read about this in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s one of those strange crossovers between real life and fantasy novels.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation (with around 237 million people) and it has the largest Muslim population in the world. It also has an incredible range of cultural and religious diversity across its 17,508 islands. (I know, that’s a lot of islands!) And yet the current president and almost certainly returning incumbent is playing into the basest of superstitions in a bizarre display during the elections.

President Yudhoyono claimed on Friday that black magic spells had been cast against him and his campaign team. Antara, the official Indonesian news agency, quoted him as saying, “Many are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it. It’s extraordinary. Many kinds of methods are used.” I wonder what he’s feeling exactly, and what those many kinds of methods actually are.

President Yudhoyono, perhaps indicating how much black magic he’s felt today.

So how does someone deal with such a thing in the modern world?

“I have come to the conclusion that only prayers can defeat black magic attacks. For instance, last night I kept praying all the way to the venue of the [candidates’] debate along with my wife, aides and driver.”

Right. Remember, this is the current (and almost certainly returning) president of the fourth most populous nation in the world.

Another smear campaign during the election process has been to portray the wife of Mr Yudhoyono’s running mate, Boediono, falsely, as a Catholic. Look out! The wife of the running mate is *gasp* a Catholic! You can’t trust them, you know. You know where you stand with superstitious Muslim black magic shamans, but you can’t trust a Catholic. Which she’s not anyway, apparently.

It remains unclear whether this so-called “black operation” was launched by supporters of Mr Yudhoyono and attributed by them to rival party Golkar, or actually carried out by Golkar or its associates. But whether he was responsible or not, Golkar’s candidate, Jusuf Kalla, has run an extensive advertising campaign featuring his wife and the spouse of his running mate proudly wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf. It’s the “No Catholics Here” platform of the opposition.

Seriously though, who cares? What about some actual political policy? Are we still in the dark ages? According to the Herald, “The President… has campaigned on his record of bringing economic stability to Indonesia, crushing terrorism at the same time as attacking the country’s endemic culture of corruption.”

Maybe he’ll take on those pesky black magicians if gets another term in office.


Spelling and the fear of new technology

I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today that talked about a poll conducted by Galaxy. They asked 400 people in Sydney and Melbourne aged over 16 to spell eight commonly mis-spelled words. The words in question were:


According the article, people should be red faced about their inability to spell. Apparently around two thirds couldn’t spell embarrass, seventy per cent couldn’t spell accommodation and a quarter couldn’t spell February.

Galaxy found that women did better than men and only 7 per cent of respondents spelled everything right; 25-34 year olds ranked among the worst spellers.

I don’t find it all that surprising. Given the list of words, they’re commonly mis-spelled for a reason. Eighth is just a bastard of a word when you see it written down. There are examples of the double letter problem, like accommodation. It doesn’t look too bad spelled acommodation or accomodation but both are wrong. When you compare it to accommodation, however, nothing stands out as being obviously correct. Receipt is a good example of the old “i before e except after c” rule, but even that presents issues. This is partly due to only half a rule being known. Words like “sufficient” and “weird” prove that “i before e except after c” is not a true rule. It should be “i before e except after c when the sound is ee”. See this Language Log article for more. But I digress.

My point is that these are hard words to spell. The part of the article that really annoyed me though was this:

The children’s author Deborah Abela said spell check and text message abbreviations were harming people’s spelling skills.

Shouldn’t that be childrens’ author? Anyway, what she says is bollocks. I would wager that this same Galaxy poll conducted 20 years ago would have had the same results. Some people are good at spelling, some people learn to spell well and some are just atrocious at it. I don’t think that new technology is making people into worse spellers at all.

I watched an doco on SBS recently that followed a bunch of American kids that took part in national spelling bees. Those kids were crazy good at spelling, given their age, and they studied with a kind of rabid fervour. And that’s what it boils down to. Encouraging kids to learn is more important than looking for scapegoats like spellcheck and text messaging.


The posts that never die

Sometimes you write a blog post and get the feeling that not a single soul ever read it. Other times you write something and it sets a fire under someone. This has happened recently. I don’t know how many of you go back and check old posts for new comments – my guess is none of you.

So I thought I’d bring this to your attention. Back at the end of December last year I wrote a post about the bizarre rise of “Real Life Superheroes”. It was a small and innocuous post, mainly taking the piss out of a couple of losers that were learning that life isn’t like the comics. However, it turns out that there are people out there that take themselves way more seriously and get upset about bad superhero press.

Here’s the post in question. Have a quick read, then be entertained by the stream of comments. It’s still going strong even today. Feel free to add your comments and take this rare opportunity to engage with a real life superhero.