Why we eat McDonald’s

Because it’s addicting, more or less.

Everyone with an ounce of common sense knows that McDonald’s is bad for you.  There’s not a single nutritionally redeeming quality to a Big Mac, or anything else served under the Golden Arches.  Yet, we all still go back (myself certainly included) time and again.

And we still ravenously devour Dan Brown novels.  We know the prose is terrible – mixed metaphors, inappropriate adjectives, careless adverbs, heavy-handed use of italics on every single page. The characters are slightly less developed than what those you might see in a 30 second pharmaceutical advertisement (although Brown can cook up a creepy bad guy, even if it’s the same one over and over again).

Reading his latest, The Lost Symbol, I was aware of all of this.  I rolled my eyes at the clichés, groaned at the contrived plot developments, and laughed out loud at the ridiculous dialogue.  Yet, I kept going.  And going and going until the book was done.  I couldn’t put it down, just like you can’t really eat only half a Big Mac.  I was hooked.

The irony of this is that, no matter how bad Dan Brown’s writing is, the magic of a good novel is that it sucks you into a world that you don’t want to (or can’t) escape for the time you spend reading it.  So, despite his many, many shortcomings as a writer, there is a reason why Brown is so popular and why he’s a successful novelist.  Perhaps the same reason why McDonald’s has served billions and billions.



  1. Hi Pete
    You are so spot on! I got to a point in Brown’s book where I was ready to put it down, but had to keep going just to find out what happens. The same was true for me with Under the Dome and countless others.

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it!

    1. Brown can be really frustrating. I would disagree with you about Under the Dome and other Stephen King books. He’s had a few stinkers, but I tend to look at him as a better writer than Dan Brown. There are lots of reasons, but the most striking one that comes to mind is that King is much better at developing his characters. After reading a Dan Brown book, I can’t remember a single character’s name (other than Langdon, and that’s just from repetition) nor do I really care what happens to them. They’re more or less devices to move the plot along. With King, I end up caring about the people in his books, more so than I do about finding out what happens in the end.

  2. Oh I was like this with Twilight, the whole I was thinking, ‘this is rubbish’ yet instead of putting it down I kept reading. Im still cant fathom that one.

    1. Hi Jessica, I’ve never read the Twilight series so I can’t really comment on that. But, I do have a weakness for cheap pop-fiction. I feel the same way about Michael Chricton, Dean Koontz, and John Grisham as I do about Dan Brown. Yet, I still read em all.

  3. I’m firmly anti-Dan Brown, based solely on reading (all of) the Da Vinci Code and finding his hypocritical “It’s fiction, guys” v. “Here I am on a documentary about early church history” stance to be pretty repellent.* And then there’s the writing, which, as you say, is awful. But then there’s the fact that I read the whole thing, so the writing wasn’t so awful that I couldn’t finish it. The story — as crazy and nonsensical as it was — had me turning the pages while my brain hated me furiously.

    Anyway. Back in December, I was on the Metro into work, and it was one of those standing-room-only mornings. I couldn’t comfortably hold a book with one hand and the overhead bar with the other, and I was facing a 30 minute commute into D.C. with nothing to read. Until I saw that the guy sitting right below me was reading something on his Kindle. “Great!” I thought. “I’ll read whatever he’s reading.” But, because God never gives with both hands, it turns out that what the guy was reading was The Lost Symbol. “Crap.” But I read it over the guy’s shoulder because there was nothing else to do but that or stare at the bald spot of the lady in front of me (bless her heart) and I was amazed that again I was caught up in the story while deeply offended by the writing. It was the part of the book where some lady is in the room with the tank filled with formaldehyde and giant squid and the dude with the Kindle was the SLOWEST. READER. EVER. And I also realized that the universe loves irony because I wanted this guy to read a crappy book faster so that I could see what happens next.

    [* While writing the first paragraph of this comment I had an “Ah HA!” moment. For all my talk about leaving a writer’s biography out of the argument that I made in your post about that, here I am, using Dan Brown’s biography against him. Clearly, I’m a master at Situational Ethics. *sigh*]

    1. Not much to add to this. I can’t really say that I’m anti-Dan Brown, just because I’ll read him. His books are a mindless, harmless distraction for a few days. With him, you know exactly what you’re getting. It’s going to be empty calories, so to speak.

      Good story about the guy on the Metro. I have learned that I should never, ever try to read along with someone else. Reading a page and then having to wait for someone else to finish can be excruciating.

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