The Lost Symbol Surprises a Skeptic

The line was five long, and each customer held the same book in hand.  The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s latest thriller, arrived September 15.  The Barnes & Noble I visited housed a dozen people reading the novel and even more walking out with it.  Bookstores all over the world sold countless copies, and for good reason–the book is a fun read.

As far as literature is concerned, I prize my discriminating taste.  Like a picky music aficionado that shuns mainstream pop in favor of lesser known artists, I prefer books not spotlighted by the public.  I search for books hidden beneath piles of #1 Bestsellers.  The way I figure, reading is a highly engaging and important activity; why waste my time with today’s mainstream authors who often fail to understand complex style or the definition of a pronoun antecedent?  (No offense, Twilight fans.)

But Brown disproves my avoid-the-highly-publicized theory.  I have read all his books; his plot and suspense infects me.  Similar to how J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series seizes its reader, Brown’s history-laden thrillers captivates the world.  Look no further than the controversy of The Da Vinci Code to realize the immense impact of Brown’s work.  So, with all of Brown’s other stories lingering in my mind, I rushed to buy his latest novel.

Despite my excitement, I started the book with a slight trepidation.  How could one author possibly write another book as original and suspenseful as the widely popular, Angels & Demons?  What new plot twists could Langdon, Brown’s likable yet imperfect protagonist, encounter?

To a certain extent, my fears were assuaged by an engaging, fast-paced plot.  Brown’s seemingly intense research helps the novel, and The Lost Symbol is sure to ignite argument between its readers.

Unfortunately, I also find fault with the book.  Brown’s style is overly simplistic and at times repetitive.  Look to James Patterson’s Alex Cross series for a parallel:  the plot is essentially the same in each story except for some details.  Langdon is called by a friend and pieces together symbols to solve a high-stakes mystery — a plot that sounds strikingly similar to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.  Differences include the details, setting (Washington D.C. this time), and characters.  I also grew tired of Brown’s syntax.  Unlike wonderfully unique novels — Selby’s Requiem for a Dream, McCarthy’s The Road, Setterfield’s The Thirteenth TaleDan Brown tends to adhere to hackneyed phrases and shallow writing.

Some readers like this, and others detest it.  I found myself in a middle ground, because the plot twists engaged me enough that I forgot how much his dumbed-down style annoyed me.  I suspect that Brown is capable of producing more complex writing.  Unfortunately, I reckon his publisher prefers high sales to intellectually stimulating writing.

Regardless of these concerns, the book still impressed me.  Maybe I needed a quick, juicy read as a break from AP British Lit.  Maybe, like a classical music fan, I needed to let my hair down and figuratively rock out to some mainstream music.

The Lost Symbol was an enjoyable read, one which I regard as something of a guilty pleasure.  Sure, I will return to my favorite authors begging for social critiques and truly dynamic characters.  But that’s okay, and it was a good thing for me to step back and lose myself in a book without expecting it to challenge me.  The fact that Brown still manages to awe and draw my attention despite my biases speaks volumes about his skill as a writer.  Unfortunately, the plot is formulaic and predestined as a bestseller, but I wouldn’t let those traits hold you back.  Go ahead and read The Lost Symbol because soon enough, everyone will be talking about it.


  1. Thanks for the very well-written review! I too, am not a fan of Dan Brown (your comparison to James Patterson is spot on) but I have been known to enjoy his books for what they are – a thoroughly enjoyable brain escape. As a librarian, I know a lot of ‘book snobs’ who dismiss this kind of book as unworthy reading, but I believe that sometimes there is a difference between a good writer and a good storyteller. And like a Netflix queue has room for both Citizen Kane and Weekend at Bernies, there is room for both Dan Brown and Dennis Lehane on a bookshelf.


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