Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Lost Symbol & Another Writing Contest

Curious about the enormous jar of barbecue sauce to your right? You'll have to wait a few paragraphs for an explanation.

In the mean time, let's talk about a blockbuster that Tricia and I have spent the last few weeks ignoring.

In case you missed it, Dan Brown released The Lost Symbol.

It’s the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, which sold more copies than Thriller. (No, seriously, it did — 80 million units.) Consequently, it’s kind of a big deal.

Symbol is also Brown’s third book following the exploits of symbologist Robert Langdon. This time, Langdon must decode Masonic secrets or his mentor will die.

I’ll dismiss with the synopsis, and cut to the chase. Is it any good?

My answer: Sure, I guess.

Before you suggest I’m looking down my elitist proboscis at a perfectly good thriller, allow me to explain. I liked Da Vinci Code and loved Brown’s first Langdon novel, Angels and Demons.

I think he mixes interesting concepts into his texts. (Langdon incorporates noetic science, Constantino Brumidi and Masonic iconography into Symbol’s first few chapters.)

Tricia and I have compared James Patterson’s work to a cheeseburger. By comparison, Brown makes Angus burgers — slightly more substantial and made from better raw materials.

But Symbol indulges in some of Brown’s lesser habits. He over-foreshadows everything. Most of Brown’s short chapters end with some lousy portent of doom. Every piece of revealed minutiae causes characters to revel in the wonder of their realization.

This constant foreshadowing interrupts the rhythm of the story. Brown’s previous novels felt like short reads. Symbol did not.

Symbol isn’t Godfather III bad. (That is, to say, it isn’t a travesty.) It’s more like Rocky III. (A guilty pleasure that follows two legitimately good predecessors.)

Now for something completely different:

The people from Slate and Significant Objects are holding an interesting writing contest. Their question is this: Can a writer invest a random, worthless item with value by inventing a story about its significance?

To test their query, Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker purchased stuff from flea markets and garage sales. Then, they gave them to authors who wrote fictional stories about them. For example, check out Stewart O’Nan’s tale about a duck tray.

Now, the readers of Slate have a chance to participate as well. Authors can write a short story (less than 500 words) about this barbecue sauce jar. (It all makes sense now.) E-mail your entry to slatesignificantobjects@gmail.com by Friday at 5 p.m.

Glenn and Walker will purchase the winning story to be published in a Significant Objects collection.

-Jason Lea

P.S. For fun, Tricia's reaction to Angels and Demons.

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