We were in the local Border’s a couple of days ago. I guess we hadn’t been there for a while, because all the books were in different places, and the store had cunningly replaced inventory with empty floorspace in order to maximize profit in some way that only makes sense to someone who has studied modern retail more closely than I have. I also noticed that the name of the store should be Borders BOOKS and Music because the selection of available CDs has been constantly shrinking over the last few years, replaced by new shelves of basically nothing, and more floor space.
However, on this night, neither of these annoyances were foremost in my mind. This is because from entering the store until I paid for the couple of CDs that I did manage to find, it was absolutely impossible to avoid eye contact with some piece of the Da Vinci Code hype machine.
There were Da Vinci Code books, Da Vinci Code movie guides, Da Vinci Code travel guides, various treatises on the “truth” behind the Da Vinci Code, Da Vinci Code documentary videos, Da Vinci Code quick reference guides and geneologies. There were encyclopedias on the Sacred Feminine, Pagan Worship Primers, and Symbology compendiums. Finally, there were many other non-fiction tie-ins to Da Vinci Code all dealing in some way with the Early Church, the Knight’s Templar, or the role of Lee Harvey Oswald in the single bullet theory of how Da Vinci, no wait, Jesus, was assassinated by the CIA back in the day. OK, I made some of those up, but I bet they really exist.
Here is my question: why.
My wife and I listened to this book on tape on a long drive a few years ago. To call the writing pulp is to insult the great pulp writers of, say, the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The writing is just bad. Not bad in a funny ha-ha way. Bad in a way that indicates that the writer is really going after something that is not bad, and is missing badly. The plot is predictable and moronic, the characters are paper thin and not particularly likeable, the dialog is wooden and serves no purpose than to push the plodding narrative forward through the mud to its ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. The book is B A D. Even worse, on tape you actually have to listen to every word. This makes you notice little things, like how all the expository passages are repeated over and over again in the scope of a single short chapter in case you put the book down on the toilet and then forgot where you were when you come back the next morning to take another crap.
What I can’t figure out is why we ended up listening to the whole thing. The book was objectively awful even while we were listening to it, but there is something in it that keeps you pushing the button to listen to the rest so you can get to the end. Your right brain tells you that in the name of all good things you should shut the thing off, but the rest of your brain just can’t do it. The book has a hook like a bad pop song that just will not exit your brain (I’m thinking of Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran). This makes it an entertaining romp, while also being a complete piece of shit.
Which brings me to my real question. Not why would you like the book. I enjoyed the book. What I can’t figure out is why in the name of Jesus this book should become the center of a national obsession over some shady conspiracy that allegedly happened in the first decades of the A.D. Seeing the displays at the Border’s just makes you want to scream at the world: it’s just bad fiction. It is not history. It is not archeology. It is not anthropology. It is not some journalistic exposé on the early Church. It is just a piece of pulpy entertainment. That people can read this book and assign to it some kind of truth is mind boggling in the extreme. So my message to you this day is: get over it. There is no secret code, there is no grand mystery, there is no hidden truth. At least not in this book. This book is strictly what you see is what you get. Here endeth the lesson.