So you call yourself well-read? That’s okay. I do, too. Then I talk to people who write or work in academia or pretty much anyone, and I realize that I am not even close to well-read, despite the fact that I read all the time. I am a glimmer of well-read.
Part of writing is not just reading, but what you read. Books you’ve never heard of are being buzzed about in the literary journals and websites. Never mind that you can’t buy them anywhere in your West Texas town (but you can buy every celebrity book known to man). And so you track down those books online, trying to purchase them from independent book sellers so as not to feed to corporate machine. They arrive. They are wondrous. You journal about them. You makes notes. You write an entire story inspired by a single sentence.
When I follow this process, I find the reward of reading to be exceptional. Words like craft, voice, and style resonate.
That being said, sometimes I just want to a one-night stand, junk food pig-out reading experience. One that, when I reach the end, I am fine that I’m done and fine that I read it, but not much more. There is a fix for this type of craving. And his name is Dan Brown.
Yes, folks, I read Dan Brown. Or, to be more precise, I read Robert Langdon.
Whatever controversies Brown’s work may cause, whatever backlash he may get from the literary community, Dan Brown knows how to throw down his story. Sure, his characters are so flat that Flat Stanley looks well-developed, and fact-checking things about works of art and buildings isn’t always his strong point. But his pacing and ability suck the reader in to the conflicting worlds of science and religion through the lens of art is impressive. Having just finished Inferno, I can’t say that the story was my favorite (Angels and Demons still holds that honor), but it was fine and it gave me the fix I needed. See, it’s not the conspiracy theories and secret societies I come for: it’s the professor as hero fantasy of Robert Langdon.
Robert Langdon, my friends, is not just A professor. He is THE professor in an epic sense of the word. A lecturer from Harvard who famously wears tweed and loafers, he’s like a casting notice for a Harvard-set movie. He writes books on obscure topics yet still manages to have fans. His renown is, in fact, so great that not only do museum curators metaphorically drop their panties when he turns up, showering him with VIP tours and private access, freaking governments call him up because the world will end if someone doesn’t look at this painting.
If Fifty Shades of Grey is mommy porn, then Dan Brown is professor porn.
I can’t speak for people who work on the academic side of science or math, but I would guess that they have this life-saving feeling. They are experts on subjects that directly impact life. For us English folks, passionate as we are, there isn’t much of a chance the government is going to pull us in for a top secret think tank on “The Wasteland,” (we wouldn’t be able to agree on anything anyway). Robert Langdon is the fantasy that being an expert in a humanities/fine arts topic can be important in life or death situations.
Let’s look at his strengths, shall we? He’s a master on symbols in religion, history, and literature. He can recall details without notes or outlines. Most important, due to his swimming I would guess, he has the impressive ability to impart his vast array of knowledge while running for his life (or it least walking at a brisk pace). These are not super powers. No, no. These are super PROFESSOR powers. Good professors can quote without books, be specific with few notes. They can prowl the classroom or even answer in depth questions while walking to class.
Robert Langdon is our Superman.
And his weakness? Claustrophobia from a childhood accident similar to the one that left Bruce Wayne with a fear of bats. Granted, usually there is some sort of scientific thing involved in Langdon’s race to decode, but most of the time there is an attractive woman or convenient expert nearby to explain.
The fantasy of his type of knowledge saving the world is tempting. Who knows? Perhaps someday I will get a call that begins,
“Is this Professor Amber Kelly-Anderson? The president needs you to explain Beowulf using a video game boss fight analogy. But you must hurry! The fate of the world is in your hands!”