Thursday, December 11, 2003

'Code' deciphers interest in religious history
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
This season's most common question at bookstores is: "Do you have anything like The Da Vinci Code?"

Author Dan Brown has two books in USA TODAY's top-selling book list, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Dan Brown's thriller, which supposes a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that produced a royal bloodline in France, is more than just the year's best-selling adult novel. (Its sales are topped only by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

The Da Vinci Code is a publishing phenomenon. It has triggered debates about early Christianity and a prime-time special on ABC last month.

Nine months after publication, there are 4.5 million copies in print. It's propelled Brown's earlier novels onto the best-seller list and is boosting dozens of other books, novels and non-fiction, about religion, history and art.

In 20 years as a fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, Sessalee Hensley says she has seen nothing like it. The only other novel that comes close, she says, is last year's surprise best seller, Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which is narrated by a girl raped and murdered at 14.

"But The Da Vinci Code is outstretching that," she says. "Readers say it kept them up all night. It's the first novel in a long time that people want to lose sleep over."

Its popularity shows that "readers are clamoring for books which combine historic fact with a contemporary story line," says Carol Fitzgerald, president of, a web site for book discussions. "They say, 'I like being able to learn something as well as read a story.' "

It's a novel, but Brown writes in an introductory note that "all descriptions of documents and secret rituals ... are accurate."

Scholars and theologians, both conservative and liberal, dispute that. Some even say Brown is anti-Catholic. But Doubleday Publisher Stephen Rubin says "the accuracy questions have added to the celebrity of the book. People want to read it for themselves."

In a year of poor book sales (adult hard covers are down 6%; paperbacks down 4%, according to the Association of American Publishers), Brown is sending people to bookstores.

Hensley compiled a list of 90 related books — from Katherine Navel's Eight to Singh Simon's Code Book —and says sales are up 25%.

Some stores have tables of other books for Da Vinci Code readers.

Brown's earlier novels have been rediscovered. There were 17,000 paperback copies of Ditigal Fortress in March; now there are 266,000, with a 1-million copy mass-market edition out next month.

Rubin says the paperback of The Da Vinci Code isn't scheduled yet. First, he has his eyes on the record for a hardcover novel: The Bridges of Madison County— 6 million copies.

As for Brown, he's at home, somewhere in New Hampshire, on a month-long hiatus from interviews.

He prefers to keep his hometown a secret. - 'Code' deciphers interest in religious history

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