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The Da Vinci Code: Do Best Sellers Make Good Book Group Selections?

abstract:Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday (March, 2003) has become a worldwide, bestselling phenomenon.  With more than 8 million copies in print—and still going strong, BookBuffet considers its popularity and what this means to book groups. 


November 04, 2004
— My new tennis club is starting a book group and their inaugural title is The Da Vinci Code.   Readers who want to jump-start their clubs often select a familiar title that is popular and widely available. We were curious to examine how this book has become so popular, especially in the context of discussion groups.  We will examine other familiar best sellers that have been popular with groups soon: Lovely Bones, The Poisonwood Bible, Bel Canto.

Now that Dan Brown is the official poster boy for Random House with his novel, The Da Vinci Code. what critical factors are groups considering?

Literary Merit

Is it because it's well written?  Enduring books destined to become classics distinguish themselves through stylistic and literary merit.  Geoffrey K. Pullum, Professor of Linguistics and Distinguished Professor of Humanities University of California, Santa Cruz  has examined The Da Vinci Code and writes humorously about its literary merit:

"I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this..."

In answer to our first question: a blockbuster need not have stylistic excellence, or even proficiency, it just has to tell an intriguing story.

Controversy On A Fundamental Level

What is all the fuss about? Newsweek writers noted the phenomenon when preparing a piece for a December issue last year, exploring The Da Vinci Code as "the controversial Biblical thriller that shot to the top of the bestseller lists and has stayed there for over [then] 32 [now 84] weeks. All of a sudden, the hottest figure in religious discussion in America was a woman: Mary Magdalene, the witness to the Resurrection who for centuries has been portrayed as a harlot but who Brown suggests provocatively was in fact the wife of Jesus.  

"The blockbuster novel has enraged many theologians who consider it anti-Catholic, but it has also added new force to an already dynamic debate among women who see Magdalene's story as a parable for their own struggles to find a place in the modern church. None of this would be possible without a new generation of women Biblical scholars who have brought a very modern passion to the ancient tradition of scriptural reinterpretation--to correct what these scholars regard as a male misreading of key texts."

writes Barbara Kantrowitz and Anne Underwood with Pat Wingert and Karen Springen who form a wide-based ecumenical team: Episcopal, Catholic, Presbeterian and Jewish. Their article is a review of fecund feminist thinking in religious and academic circles today.

So our next important finding is that: blockbusters often generate controversy and debate on important issues in people's lives.

The Whole "Code Thing"

Everyone loves a riddle.  A whole industry has sprung-up from The Da Vinci Code. There are companion books which delve further into Dan Brown's use of code, there are websites with quizzes and games using the code, there is a whole new interest in the science of cryptography

"It is easy to see why this book made all the bestseller lists. It's an engaging, fast-paced thriller with an exotic mix of secret societies, mysterious assassins, intrigues involving famous historical figures and controversial institutions, all linked together with a delicious series of secret codes and riddles to figure out. And behind it all emerges the most astonishing... "conspiracy theory" anyone could possibly imagine.

So writes Chuck Missler for the, who coincidentally is riding on the Brown's coat-tails of Brown to pump his own book, Cosmic Codes, about biblical cryptography.

Here are a few game sites to have fun with and books you would never otherwise have know existed:

Cottage Industry Spin-offs: Take the Tour!

Dan Brown's book has spawned a whole category of literary tours [of sorts] through Paris availible from

Solving "The Da Vinci Code".
"If you enjoyed Dan Brown's best selling thriller The Da Vinci Code - you may now live the adventure through our newest Guided tour of Paris which will take you to the most important sites covered in the book. "

Oh great, yet another excuse to go to Paris!

Having come up with four possible answers to the question, "What makes a blockbuster?" I look forward to hearing from you, our visitors and members about book selections and your experience with blockbusters. 



Dan Brown's official website

Christianity website's views's answer to the Da Vinci debacle.



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