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The Dan Brown Diversion

Some say 2009 will be the novel's best year ever-no thanks to The Lost Symbol. What makes literary news? A new Dan Brown...

Some say 2009 will be the novel's best year ever-no thanks to The Lost Symbol.

What makes literary news? A new Dan Brown novel! Brown, the ginormous bestseller, published his long-awaited follow-up to that most-cited book on "what did you last read?" online profiles, The Da Vinci Code. I do not have the heart to search for numbers of copies of The Lost Symbol sold, so let's just leave it at "more than one million." Even better, the book was going cheap. Against any logic I can muster in my musty artsy brain, The Lost Symbol was offered for 50 percent off the day it was released.

The mega-book series Harry Potter announced another blockbuster, too. A new ride, "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," will be unveiled at Universal's Island of Adventure in Orlando next spring. It will cost $200 million dollars to create Hogsmeade station, Zonko's, and Honeyduke, "where you can purchase an array of jokes and gags and sweets." Hogwarts will be the "Parthenon of Orlando," said the art director. The castle will not be a Disney castle, he continues, but "very real, based in fact" (huh?). A literary themepark is not a new idea-you can already jump on the "Great Expectations Boat Ride" at Dickens World in Kent.

Everyone covers these literary spectacles: CNN, New York Times Book Review, US Magazine. Brown and Potterworld may be middlebrow forms of conspicuous consumption, or they may be release valves that siphon off the pressures of cultural elitism. They both probably deliver on their promises of a good ride.

What I dislike about the press surrounding these events is the sanctimony that often accompanies what is, at root, an exercise in money-making. Somehow, because The Lost Symbol and Harry Potter are books, they are seen as somehow better, purer even, than, say, a network sitcom or unsponsored roller coaster. And news of their release eclipses other new books.

You wouldn't know it watching the news, but a glut of incredible novels have been hitting the shelves all fall. This embarrassment of riches has led some, such as the Vroman's Bookstore blog, to claim 2009 as the "best book year ever." Better, even, than 1953 when Invisible Man beat out The Old Man and The Sea and East of Eden for the National Book Award.

Here is a partial list of excellent 2009 titles that aren't by Dan Brown:

Lorrie Moore's A Gate At The Stairs

Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply

E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley

Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice

There are more to be published later this month and in October (just wait until Richard Powers' Generosity comes out). The literary world is not lying down and giving in to easy reading. The contrary-the fall heavyweights seem to be lined up and ready to defend their corner. Bring on the Dan Brown. The American literary novel is alive and well-if not on CNN.

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