Dan Brown on Going to Hell

He only wrote the book, he didn’t invent the hell it describes.

My record collection contains a wide variety of music, from Gregorian chants to Bruce Springsteen taking in the Four Tops, Mozart, Mama Cass, Jeff Buckley, Sidney Bechet, The Temptations, The Pogues and Tchaikovsky along the way. I don’t seem to have very much heavy metal or folk music in there but I have some examples of stadium rock, country, opera, instrumental solos, jazz, blues and what my father referred to as cow pat music, by which he meant the sort of soft pap you frequently see in the middle of the road.

I don’t think this makes my record collection uniquely varied or especially diverse. It is, I suspect, a very normal selection from the huge array of musical types and styles available. I once knew a man whose entire record collection consisted of Status Quo, and anything that wasn’t Status Quo just wasn’t, in his opinion, music. I think views like that are probably quite rare and most people will have a selection, if not the same or even a similar selection to mine then at least a diverse collection encompassing a variety of artistes, styles and types of music from a broad range of times.

The reason our collections are like this is because we use music for a variety of things, to provide something to dance to at parties, to stimulate our emotions, to shake the cobwebs out of our minds and to remind us of things past, of the first dance or our first kiss. Music provides the signposts to my life and its shared memories are part of the glue that binds me to my friends. I can still remember the first record I danced to with a girl in my arms, and though it is a corny lyric to a slushy piece of vacuous pop I love it because of its unique place in my history. There was no one else there that night holding her in his trembling arms and hoping for a kiss from that angel and whenever I hear that song I remember fondly the smell of her hair and the yellow bee sewn on the back pocket of her Falmers jeans.

Literature doesn’t seem to play a similar role in our lives. I can’t remember the first book I bought and I have never read a book with someone and there is no equivalent of Radio 1 for novels, playing the most popular stories as we get ready to go to school. I can still remember eating my cornflakes to the sound of Mungo Jerry before going off to school but I have no idea what the popular novels of the day were, nor any way to find out now. There is none of that sense of a shared experience with novels, of books marking out my life or of joining me to my friends. You may well have read Animal Farm, but there is no reason you need to have read it at the same time I did but if you missed Cozy Powell’s Dance with the Devil on Top of the Pops then you missed it and nothing can ever bring that back for you and we will never have that in common.

But music and literature do share one thing in common, an important thing and with the recent publication of Dan Brown’s latest novel, Dante, and the widespread flagellation it has received in the press, this connection does bear thinking about. That commonality is diversity. There is room on my bookshelf for both Shakespeare and Patricia Cornwell, for Cervantes, Ken Follett, Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Martin Amis, Anita Shreve, Jane Austin, Beowulf and Harlan Coben.

When I read I do not always read to have my mind expanded, to be educated or to be overcome with stylish complexity. Sometimes, I just want to escape, to lay on the living room floor with a pot of coffee, a packet of biscuits, and to fly off into an adventure, to be whisked away to another world and to experience for a few hours something else, something outside my humdrum world, something imagined and not real. There is a time for savouring the metre in Cormack McCarthy’s polysyndeton or for reeling from the chill of Hemingway’s iceberg theory but sometimes, we just want a ripping good yarn.

Dan Brown is a yarner, a teller of tall tales and that people are reading him should be applauded and admired and I suspect that many of those who scoff at his plonky prose and tortuous syntax are secretly jealous. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that the people scoffing at the quality of his work are the same miserable people who moan about kids being slaves to their computers or watching too much television. When tens of thousands of people put aside their Twitter feeds and stop updating their Facebook status to actually read a book should we not be thanking the man for saving us from our own worst habits rather than criticising him for not doing it with more elan?

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