On My Reading Habit and The Lost Symbol

I’m going to begin this post with a shameful admission: I’m not a hardcore reader. There, I said it! The deal with me is that I would really, really like to be considered as a voracious reader who devours every book he lays his eyes on. But the truth, as is often the case, is far from that. Besides reading the Harry Potters, the Lord of the Rings, and the Dan Browns of this world, my reading habit has been practically non-existent. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since people who know me will tell that this is the case with all my hobbies. I go through maniacal phases where I will watch dozens of movies or finish a slew of games within a matter of days, only to abruptly stop for weeks on end. With films & games, however, this phase of being blocked exists for less than a month before the cycle resumes. With books, on the other hand, the cold hard truth hit me in the face a few weeks back when I recognized I had been blocked for almost a couple of years.

To arrest this most worrying slump, I made a mental decision to kickstart my reading habit again. This also shouldn’t surprise you as people close to me will vouch that I often take mental vows only to back out when I cannot stick to them. This time, though, I caught a break. On my customary visit to the theater a couple of weeks back, my eyes caught the sight of a mega bookstore that just happened to be next door to the cinema hall. To keep up my vow, I walked in and picked out a handful of books that I had been planning to read for a long time. Now, having completed the first of those books (The Lost Symbol), I feel like I have re-discovered the joy of reading. I just hope this time it is here to stay.

I am a self-proclaimed Dan Brown fan. I have read all of his books and personally own all the Robert Langdon books. The main reason for this being I find his books to be deeply informative. Where other writers are content with only thrilling us with great plot and writing (not exactly a bad trait all things considered), Brown presents these amazing worlds within our own, which we might never have heard of or read about before. Familiar historical locations, world landmarks, and even watershed events from history are presented in an entirely new light that borrows as much from reality as it does from his imaginative mind. That is the primary appeal of his books, and The Lost Symbol is no different.

After focusing on the Illumianti and the Priory of Sion in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code respectively, Brown chooses another similarly mysterious organization in the Freemasons. Setting the story in Washington, which is revealed to be the hub of Freemasonry, allows Brown to spin a yarn of high intrigue that takes us to such landmarks like the Capitol Building, Washington National Cathedral, and Washington Monument, turning our familiarity with them on its head.

Besides events being closer to home for Robert Langdon, the stakes are also highly personal right off the bat. Robert’s longtime mentor and friend Peter Solomon – who happens to be the supreme worshipful master of the Masons – has been kidnapped. The kidnapper is looking for the ‘Ancient Mysteries’, a vault of long-lost knowledge that has apparently been kept secret by the Freemasons; and he believes Robert is the only person capable of leading him to its unknown location.

Anyone accustomed to Brown’s writing style should be right at home reading The Lost Symbol, with all the pieces being in place including the damsel in distress. He usually devotes the entire first half of the book to setting up the characters, and that is the case in this book as well. The puzzles presented here are more intriguing since they are solved practically by the characters and many nuggets of information are revealed. Once the stakes become far higher, which happens during the final 150 or 200 pages, the book turns into full-blown page-turner where it becomes hard to put down until you reach the ending. The climactic reveal is definitely the highest point of the book. It is one of those where you go “How the fuck did I not see that coming?” once you read it, and that is what makes it so worthwhile.

The Freemasons are a huge organization, and this allows Brown to present us with information from all corners of the globe. Page after page, Brown assaults us with vivid images of all kinds of symbology from nearly every religion in the world. In terms of mystical observations, The Lost Symbol is, without a doubt, Brown’s most extensive work. From a scientific perspective, the field of Noetic Science is a bit out of the left field when compared to the particle acceleration explored in Angels & Demons. Although this is a very real field of research, some of the science suggested is so far-fetched that it is very hard to accept. However, reality is not what we look for in a book, and Brown’s enthusiastic writing helps us overlook these minor nitpicks.

Robert Langdon is still one of the primary reasons most people are interested in the tale Brown presents. Nerdy and cynical, he represents much of the intellectual population on Earth. His knowledge on symbology can be compared to that of a geek’s on computers. He is our entry into this fascinating world and his cynicism when presented with convoluted science or tales of ancient mysteries only mirrors ours. And for all his exploits, he is still very much a common man always in the wrong place at the wrong time. All these traits make him an extraordinary protagonist and one we can easily identify with.

Is The Lost Symbol Dan Brown’s best book? I think that is a question to which I cannot give a straightforward answer. Even disregarding his first two books – both his non-Langdon efforts are passable entertainers – I would still have a hard time picking a favorite from his three Langdon books. The Lost Symbol is the most recent one I read; so if you ask me now, I would obviously pick it. Looking beyond the present, the great news is that Brown has already announced he has about 12 ideas in mind for books with Robert Langdon. My only request would be to release them sooner; however, if releasing late means they maintain the high standards of these 3 books, then I don’t mind in the least.

As for now, I already have a number of critically well-received books lined up for reading including The Five People You Meet in Heaven (which I’ve already started), Shantaram, and The Millennium Trilogy; not to mention a few autobiographies from some of my favorite Manchester United personalities like Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. With that, I hope my reading habit is well and truly back on track.

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