Looks Like Me But Isn't

Looks Like Me But Isn't

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Da Vinci Code vs Focault's Pendulum

I know darn well that neither Humberto Eco or Dan Brown would ever participate in a cage match so please save any comments besides. I also know that the Italian would win that too. I'm only writing about this because I need to think of something besides what happens to OJ on the fourth day of his unending cycle of trials or what people think of Josh Howard because of his "disrespect" of the national anthem. I will probably take up the response to Josh Howard in a future blog.

I digress, but how would one compare the two books? Especially considering the raging debate that is taking place in the web world of blogs and posts where supporters, veritable armies, charge and attack, parry and defend and counter attack. Just look at some of these things written at amazon.com (all soldiers shall remain unnamed here):

"Eco writes his books this way, they are only meant for the strong of spirit, people with perseverance that are willing to strugle in order to reach the ultimate truth that only the very few have mastered. His novels are deliberately cryptic but only to the point that they discourage the faint of hurt. For the few strong men that are willing to engage into the battle, all the mysteries and the hypes reveil themselfs at the end,like the petals of a rose in the spring. This is the REWARD, something central on Eco's novels."

"Umberto Eco is a major cause of headaches. Well, he was for me, at least.
About seven years ago, I bought myself a paperback copy of Foucault's Pendulum at the university book store. It looked like an engaging plotline, the reviews were excellent, and it had a really neat cover."

"I realize now that most of the reviewers were probably intelligentsia-wannabes who didn't want to admit to the other reviewers they didn't have a clue what Umberto Eco was going on about. I remember seeing pictures of movie stars holding copies of Foucault's Pendulum in order to look brainy."

"I picked this book up because I was hit over the head with the idea that it's a smart Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown just does it better. While there is no disputing Eco's story is filled with more obscure references, Brown's is faster paced, more exciting, and overall more enjoyable."

"Most of the negative reviews here focus on one of two things: either 'Foucault's Pendulum is too hard!' (for which I can only recommend working your way up from simpler literary works, like 'See Jane Run', before tackling something like 'Foucault's Pendulum'), or 'all the confused nonsense about the occult confused or offended me!'

"This is simply a bad book. The way the author teeters between humor and mystery is just too frustrating; the mystery gets too bogged down in silly details and, as a result, kills any satirical element to the story. It's as if someone was making Raiders of the Lost Ark with the Three Stooges in place of Indiana Jones."

How will this modern crusade end? How many more bloody battles and senseless deaths need take place before a victor can be declared? Will it be the everyday, common man Dan Brown or the "thinking man" Umberto Eco? Maybe we need a literary UN to handle this dispute. Maybe, the literary gods will take some action. Maybe.

What criteria shall I use to help try and put an end to this debate? Obviously, not the ones that are pointed out in the small pool of examples above. We shall not compare, plot prose or ideas. I'm afraid using these would only lead to more blood being spilled. I also don't want to write anything that could be construed as contributing to literary terrorism. So in that end I propose we use sales figures.

I, for one, love sales figures. The mystery that must lay behind the dollar spent. To take the time to work, make money, to set aside some money which could, perhaps, be better utilized by paying bills or saving for some unforeseen future necessity then transporting one's self by one of the diverse ways possible to a bookstore. Now the money, still in the pocket is waiting patiently while it's holder (no one owns money) walks up and down the bookstore aisles, picking up and putting back various books. Each time this happens there is a thought process going on. A process which takes into account a million things in the space of a few seconds.

While making the decision to handover his hard won currency in exchange for a book some of the things being weighed and considered are:

  • the aesthetic value of the cover
  • the number of pages
  • if a friend or co-worker recommended the book
  • how much we value the opinion of that person who recommended it
  • have they read something by the author before and how much they liked it
  • what the critics say about it
  • how many awards has it won
  • what is the size of the font
  • how will they look while carrying the book
  • the dimensions of the book and whether it will fit into their bookcases at home
  • does it have any pictures or illustrations
  • how much it is
This is just a partial list, of course going through the person's mind is the fact that he is getting thirsty and how close is he to the coffee shop and how much will holding a cup of coffee interfere with his book browsing.

Now, we can jump ahead and the person has bought a book. You should be able to see that two things have occurred at this moment. First, an exhaustive, but rewarding thought process has climaxed and concluded. Second, the person has just registered a sales figure. A sales figure is a fact so devoid of partisanship and subjectivity that it must be respected. It reigns supreme. There is nothing that can hide in the darkness. It's light is holy and to be near its glorious brilliance is to have a sense of what heaven is like. Plot is mortal. Prose is mortal. Ideas are mortal. All imperfect, and therefore subject to impurities. They are things of terrorists. Sales figures complete the holy trinity, the father, the son, the holy ghost and the sales figure.

Alas, our senses are mortal as well, so the feeling one may have when looking at sales figures is a vile illusion of the real goodness they are. But so far we have only looked at the theory. We need to resolve this debate. So here are the figures:

  • The Da Vinci Code - 40 million copies sold
  • Focault's Pendulum - 11million copies sold
Do not be deceived by appearances. A discerning reader will remember that I said in the beginning that in the case of a cage match between the authors, the Italian would win that "too". But how, you may ask, can 11 be more than 40? Well, it's quite simple and based on American values.

First, we Americans love an underdog and Focault's Pendulum has more underdoggedness than da Vinci Code. It was written by an Italian, famous for the underdogs they supply the world with. Dan brown is from New Hampshire, a place not famous for underdogs.

Second, Americans love an Italian underdog more than we love underdogs of other nationalities, even American underdogs. Although, Italian - American underdogs are the best of the best underdogs. Unfortunately, Eco is just Italian-Italian which probably means his family was poorer than all the poor Italians and couldn't afford the cheapest of fares to come to this great nation and become a great Italian-American writer. He deserves our respect doubly for that. Brown, On the other hand almost sounds English. We have contempt for their snobbishness.

The third and final reason: Americans love hard work. We persevere. There is no going we can't tough through, no heat that drive us from the kitchen. We look for the challenge and we disdain those who receive everything on a silver platter. Focault's Pendulum is a challenge. Da Vinci Code is on a silver platter.

As you can, once all the values of those sales figures are taken into account it is quite obvious that 11 has just destroyed and humiliated 40. But we need not have any pity for 40, once it's done eating on a silver platter it will go to sleep on a silk covered pillow and awake to a warm bath filled with rose petals. The rest of us will be watching 11 slowly conquer the world.

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