Mystery, Marriage, and Death by Research

I refused to read The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown and number 42 on the BBC book list for a long time.  It was a bestseller and everybody was talking about it.  Some annoying celebrity on Oprah, when shown at her posh home lounging on a snow-white couch and reading a book, had The Da Vinci Code between her perfectly manicured hands; this sealed that sense of disgust toward the book for me.  I tend to reject what is popular when it comes to fiction.  I’m not sure why, but I do.  I’m usually disappointed when I try it, and it solidifies, for me, the fact that I think differently and care about different things when it comes to books than the masses.

Well, I was wrong.  I really liked it.  I finally sat down with it, likely during the summer when I had lots of time to read while watching the kids run up and down the streets in the sun, so I sat and I read.  I couldn’t put it down.  I was engrossed in the mystery and found myself drawn to the intrigue and drama.

da vinci code cover I’ve always liked mysteries.  As a girl, I spent hours with  Nancy Drew.  I also like conspiracy theories.  I’m not a nut.  I promise.  But I find those types of stories (folklore, if you will) fascinating and part of me wants to believe.

I guess that is why I have almost no problem believing the premise of The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus was married and may have had a child.  I’m a religious person, and in my church, we often teach that Jesus was baptized as an example to us.  He was perfect and he didn’t need baptism.  But he did it anyway.  I like to apply that same “logic” to marriage.  My church teaches that marriage is the highest covenant one can make and that it is celestial law.  It makes sense to me then that Jesus would have married as well.  In addition, if we are children of God, and he is our Heavenly Father, then we also have a Heavenly Mother.  This recognition of a Heavenly Mother is a common thread of discussion among feminists in my church.  It was also the topic of a recent scholarly study of my church’s teachings; the researchers found that there is no official prohibition of talking about Heavenly Mother or believing in her, despite some cultural influence in the opposite direction.

Anyway, my religion obviously influenced my delight at the plot of the book.  It makes sense to me.  Why wouldn’t Jesus have married?  Why wouldn’t he have had children?  I don’t know a lot about the history of The Bible, but I know that it has been subject to change at the hands of different people.  Perhaps the Apostle’s gospels never mentioned Christ’s marriage and family.  Perhaps later scholars scrubbed it of such information for various reasons.  I’m not sure, and here I go creating my own conspiracy theories!

So once I finished The Da Vinci Code, I, of course, turned to Dan Brown’s other novel, Angels and Demons (2000).  I loved this book too.

I think what appealed to me most was the research aspect of the investigation and the scene where Robert Langdon gets stuck in the Vatican archives.  What suspense!  What a way to die!  What a wonderful way to die, surrounded by old papers and information and in the act of researching!  I guess that part of the book glorifies what I’m currently doing with my life as a Ph.D. student, so death by research seems appropriate, realistic, and completely romantic.

When The Da Vinci Code movie came out, I dragged my husband to it.  He wasn’t particularly excited, since he hadn’t read the book, but we both ended up enjoying it.  Tom Hanks seemed perfect for the part, and reliving the plot of the book was fun.  We also then attended Angels and Demons, and again, Ewan McGregor was perfect!

The other part of both books I liked were the settings.  I’ve never been to Italy, but I want to go someday and see the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of it, and many of the other architectural, sculptural, and artistic wonders of the world.  I minored in Humanities as an undergraduate, and in one of my favorite classes I learned about the frescoes of Fra Angelico.  I also spent time studying Michaelangelo’s sculptures, and The Pieta is by far my favorite.

michelangeloSomehow, this post on The Da Vinci Code has devolved into reminiscing about my days as a humanities student, but let’s go with it.

So my favorite teacher from those days is Professor P.  I’m still in touch with him (thanks to the wonders of social media), and whenever I visit my old university, which isn’t often, I stop by his office.  He always greets me with a smile and a hug, and the last time I saw him, I was quite pregnant, yet he managed to compliment me and make me feel good.

He also assuaged some awkward feelings I was having about applying to Ph.D. programs.  I had another professor at a different school discourage me from applying because of his difficult experience with finding a job after graduation.  His Ph.D. is in literature, so I can see his point, but I was applying to rhetoric, composition and professional/technical writing programs. Anyway, this professor, when I asked him for a letter of recommendation, was hesitant because of these feelings toward getting a Ph.D. and said some things that I felt were hurtful, mean, and unsupportive.  Maybe he was just trying to be honest, but it wasn’t his choice, and to withhold support because he didn’t see my dreams as valid didn’t make sense to me.

So I went to Professor P.  I told him my concerns through email and the frustration that I was feeling.  He reassured me of my abilities, agreed to write as many letters of recommendation as I needed, and just cheered me up.  His view was not as cynical as this other person’s, and I appreciated seeing his side of it, hearing his experiences, and overall just having his support.  He’s been a fantastic mentor to me over the years, and when I think of my days studying the humanities, I think of him.  I took two classes from him and enjoyed every minute of them.  I kind of wish I had double-majored and gotten a B.A. in Humanities as well as English, but then I guess we would be back to the argument that such a degree is “useless” and wouldn’t have improved my chances of getting a job.

But is an education really about getting a job?  Is that why some of us study art, music, and literature?  Is it okay to get an education just to be filled and enlightened and to understand the world as a better and more beautiful place?  I’m not sure.  I guess whenever you throw money into things, I want to reject that as the ultimate good, but we also can’t live without it.

So back to The Da Vinci Code.  I have been to France.  I wish I could have spent an entire week in the Lourvre.  I have seen the Mona Lisa, where the adventure in the book begins.  When we visited it, I joked with my husband that we might be about to discover some secret code and need to chase bad guys and clues all over Europe.  We also joked about finding Mary’s tomb under the Louvre’s pyramid.  None of that happened, but I did get close enough, through the crowd, to get a fuzzy picture of me with it.

mona lisa

pyramidI enjoyed this book; it rekindled my love of art through reading the book.  It’s a thriller to be sure, but it’s a smart thriller and one that appeals to this one-time humanities student.  I guess bestselling thrillers can be worth reading, fun, and addicting.  I don’t always find myself recommending them or even taking them home to read, but these books are pretty darn good.

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69 thoughts on “Mystery, Marriage, and Death by Research

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  1. “Is it okay to get an education just to be filled and enlightened and to understand the world as a better and more beautiful place? ”

    – That is a question I pose to myself all the time. I think I could happily be in a classroom all of my life! I have always wanted to go back and study English, Writing, along with anything else that delights or challenges me.
    I have put off The DaVinci Code for the same reasons, but I have every Nancy Drew book…it may be time to buy it!

  2. I do the same thing with popular books I subconsciously refuse to read them and yes I did the same with the Da Vinci Code. I did not hate the book but not being a religious person it sort of didn’t click with me although the adventure of it was enough to make me read the other books.

    1. It’s funny how those of us “serious” about books tend to reject popularity as a measure of a book’s worth. I appreciate you also mentioning that the plot wasn’t something you connected with because of religion, but that you still enjoyed the adventure. I think that shows, despite the religious twist, which isn’t overtly for or against, isn’t the only appeal of these books. Thanks for reminding me of that!

      1. The amount of books I have not read just because they are/were popular is huge. Maybe it is because we are serious about books that we treat them like this, it might have something to do with discovering them by yourself.

  3. I enjoyed this, never give up on your dreams or ambitions! I am self-educated as I gave up listening to the nay-sayers, and have a healthy distrust of those that can’t do – they teach! what a lovely person Prof.P.is too!
    Brought up a Roman Catholic- it was frowned upon to read Dan Brown’s novels, good job I know my own good christian mind, I thoroughly enjoyed it too, for the same reasons.
    I thought about going back to study, but at my age now that all my chicks have flown the nest I just want to continue to self -educate and write write write! and read a few more of the books on all of the lists!

    1. I didn’t realize that the novels were frowned on, but that makes sense. And yes, never give up and keep on learning, formally or on your own. Education is a marvelous thing!

  4. So many things!
    First of all—it’s really interesting to hear your thoughts about being a feminist Mormon. One of my best friends converted to Mormonism a few years ago and through him I’ve met many Mormons—none of them claim to be feminists, so I’ve wondered how your feminism and faith work together. I’d love to talk more about this with you!

    Second—I too have always stayed away from The Da Vinci Code, but in my case it’s precisely because of the religious aspect. I’m afraid that it takes something so dear to me as the person of Christ lightly. Do you feel that is what Dan Brown was doing? Although the settings do intrigue me—I got to go to Italy when I studied abroad and I absolutely loved seeing many of those famous art pieces in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It would be neat to read about those again.

    Third—as regards getting useless degrees, I’m right there with you! My husband is highly urging me to get an MA that is “useful” and will help me in my career (like Library Science or Law), but I’m feeling pulled toward theology or literature or communications. I tell him it’s useful to enlighten my mind, but he disagrees. 😉

    1. Ariel, I don’t think The Da Vinci Code takes Christ lightly. It has been a while since I’ve read it, but I recently re-watched the movies to refresh my memory and honestly, I think what matters more is your attitude toward Him that you bring to the plot. There is nothing, in my opinion, overtly anti-Christ.

      Yes, I’m a weirdo for being a feminist member of the LDS church. 🙂 However, I am in good company with many other scholars and women who have books and websites and conduct research on the matter. There are many of us, but I’m definitely not surrounded by them. I find them online. I also find them at the BYU Women’s Studies conference. To me, my feminist ideas line up with my vision of what the Kingdom of God is, and I think we’ve talked about this a little. God loves everybody and expects us to love each other. That is what it comes down to for me.

      Do the degree you want! You won’t like it and won’t want to finish it if you don’t. (Ignore your hubby!) Ha ha. Just kidding.

  5. Hi, excellent post!

    ‘Death by research’ mwahaha this made me chuckle.

    I love the Da Vinci code, I read it as soon as it came out then read all of Dan Brown’s other books. I did at one point tend to be a snob about books i.e. frown upon it because it’s popular, but I try to avoid this now. You don’t know until you try it yourself, and that goes for everything in life. About someone’s comment above – I was seen reading that book at uni once and this religious Irish girl laid into me about it. I just said ‘it’s only a story’. Jeez. So yes, I think it did offend some religious people.

    About the education thing, I love learning. And I’ll probably never get a ‘proper’ 40 hour a week job when I finish my Masters and complete a PhD, but I don’t care. I am happy with how my life is at the moment and I just love reading and learning things. You should never let anyone discourage you from doing what you love. Prof P sounds awesome. My dissertation supervisor is a gem, I don’t think I’d be able to achieve my potential if it wasn’t for him. Why cant all Profs be like this? 🙂

    Emma x

    1. Yeah, why can’t they all be awesome! I have a wonderful chair right now. He’s fantastically supportive. It is nice to have people like that in your life, especially when it is academia. It sounds like you are suffering your own slow death by research. But if it makes you happy, do it! That’s what I say. 🙂

  6. While I did not enjoy Dan Brown’s book as much as you did, it did spark an interest in France and art and, of course, Religion. So the book was a segway into what was, for me, deeper, more interesting topics. I think that this makes the book worth reading.

    1. That’s really cool. It definitely won’t speak to everybody the same way or provoke the same reaction, but I like that you found value in it helping you to dig deeper into other topics.

  7. I was just the same. I absolutly refused to read this book for years just because I was hearing so much about it it made me feel disgusted. Then one summer I was out of anything to read and sooo bored I picked it up and wow best decision ever!! I loved it for begining to finish. Im not a religious person at all, and dont believe in anything really, but at the end of this I wasnt so sure about anything anymore and got so caught up in the story I could almost believe it… I live in France and wanted to rush to the Louvres to see if there was really 666 tiles to the pyramid
    The movie on the other disapointed me, I could not even watch it entirely…
    I might give a go to Angels and Demons then 😉

  8. Thanks for your thoughts on education. I’m currently mired in my own education quagmire and the crux of it is just what you indicated. I have to make money to support myself and my dreams lead to uselessness, financially speaking. What to do?? I die a little every time I oscillate towards giving up education, but poverty is also a killer. It’s frustrating to be an American and stuck in the middle of these opposing American values. The values of “The American Dream” and the American value of financial (and social) independence. What if your American Dream doesn’t financially support you? Okay, I know that’s slightly off-topic.

    I loved The DaVinci Code. I read it back before I knew it was a pop phenomenon. I can say the same thing about Twilight (judge if you must), I read them before they were a big deal and enjoyed the light, fun read. I read Angels & Demons after it was popular and after I saw the movie and enjoyed it less. I wonder what it is about pop fanaticism that ruins things for a lot of us?

    1. I don’t know. There’s certainly a post, a research study, or a philosophical exploration on pop fanaticism waiting for somebody to write!

      It is certainly hard to weigh financial benefit over benefit for the mind and soul. I’m lucky to have a fellowship and a husband who makes money, but it is a conundrum to be sure. I still think that the humanities are important even if they don’t make one rich. And yes, I’m totally judging you on Twilight! (I read it, couldn’t put it down, and kept saying to myself, “Why am I reading this? Why?”)

  9. so funny! i had the very same reaction to the popularity of Da Vinci Code. i didn’t read it for YEARS simply because i thought if it was THAT popular, it must be crap! when i finally did read it, i thought it was very good. i then read all of his other books & found them almost equally compelling. am i a culture snob?

  10. I loved both “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” for many of the same reasons as you. I watch the movie over and over because I love the puzzle hunt. Sometimes I’m in complete awe trying to figure out how they get to the conclusions that they do. Yes, his books are controversial because of the religious aspects but they made you think and dig deeper into religion and what you believe. Those books did their job though. They created a stir and people started talking and before you knew it everyone had to read them. Bottom line…they sold, and they sold well. Excellent post Emily.

    1. Thank you! Yes, they did create a stir and they did cause people to think. Any book that does that is worth a read, even if you end up disagreeing or not liking it. Thinking is a good outcome!

  11. Nice blog Emily. My big criticism regarding Dan Brown is that I see him as Umberto Eco for the masses (I guess that makes me sound like a lit snob). If you liked “Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” check out “Name of the Rose” by Eco. Great book in the same genre, but demands a little more on the part of the reader, and I personally like that. Cheers!

    1. Yeah, I can see that. I’m actually not a big Eco fan. I did read Name of the Rose and didn’t find it to be my thing. But I do like books that demand more from the reader, and Brown definitely isn’t that. Which is also a reason to enjoy it!

  12. I absolutely loved his first four novels. His ability to let a reader suspend belief is undeniable. The last hundred pages of number five got on my nerves, though–subjectivity demands I refrain from outright insult. But it’s also kept me from immediately purchasing his latest.

  13. I too hesitated before picking up The Da Vinci Code, mostly because I thought it would be really lurid, but it was a fun read and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t so wonderful that I’d want to have it in my library to re-read, as it was very plot-oriented (like Grisham novels), but it was fun enough for me to read Angels and Demons as well. I’ve stopped there, though. Best-seller lists are hit-and-miss for me. Sometimes I’ll find really wonderful books like those by Alan Bradley and Hilary Mantel, and sometimes I’ll find things like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl which I hated. I couldn’t believe that was it. Also those Shades of Grey books which I’ve heard are execrable so I’m staying away.

    Wonderful post, Emilly!

    1. Thanks, Lea. I won’t be trying the Shades of Grey books either. I already know they are not for me. But you’re right that sometimes we can find some gems on the bestseller list. And good comparison to Grisham. I like his books too, but I don’t buy them or only read them. They are fun and interesting, however.

  14. Emily, I am a recent addition to your list of readers. Your grandmother sent me one of your blog entries, and I was hooked! I was delighted to read this one. As a former English teacher myself, I know all about what literary devotees are “supposed” to like and read. Students frequently asked if I read and reread Shakespeare on my summer vacation. Hardly! I love mysteries, and particularly enjoy Greg Iles and Ken Follet. They just don’t write them fast enough for me. I LOVE great literature, but a good, easy-read thriller that can be finished in a day or so is a wonderful thing, too!

    1. Stephanie, I am so glad you are here and reading and commenting! How wonderful. I am with you on that. I don’t read Shakespeare on my breaks either! Breaks are for the fluffy stuff. There is value in that as well, even if it is only simple relaxation. My dad loves Follett, too. 🙂

  15. I am just like you, I rarely read contemporary “popular” literature. But I did read this one and I loved it. I had the pleasure of reading it in a beautiful copy with photos of the major works of art and architecture discussed in the book. It enriched my understanding to be able to see what he was talking about. I can’t wait to see some of these things in real life. I thought it was very creative and I remember people were so upset about it. But the book is a novel, which therefore means it is fiction, made up. But people were calling him a heretic, etc. I come from a deeply religious family so I do understand why people were upset, but I thought it was a work of genius. Maybe a little cheesy at the end to have the girl be a direct descendant, but this was one of the most imaginative books I have ever read (not counting straight fantasy, like C.S. Lewis or Tolkien of course). I love history and art and the historical Jesus that we know so little about. I just thought it was so fun. And to me the most important question that Brown was asking is, “just what is so wrong with Jesus having an earthly family?” If he is 100% human and 100% God as the fundamental Christian paradox says, then why couldn’t he have had a fully human life? However, I also don’t think it would have been impossible for him to have remained single and be an ascetic as the Bible paints him. I just think Brown was brave for positing that for Jesus to be truly seen as fully human and God that you have to accept that he may do “dirty” human things like have sex, be in love, etc. etc. Marriage is supposed to be one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity (even if it doesn’t always play out that way), so why couldn’t Jesus have partaken? I found the novel, and the movie, immensely entertaining, but also thought provoking. Thanks for sharing!

    I think it is a terrible shame that a professor would talk a passionate student out of furthering her education. That is heresy. Education is always to be valued, and of course we want jobs afterward but especially if you want to be a professor yourself, your Phd would come in handy. I am really glad you had another professor who encouraged you and that you decided to go for it. It will be so rewarding. I have had similar struggles. I majored in English and I love that I have my degree. But I have felt insecure that I didn’t get a job in the field and have often felt that I wasted my money. But I do feel enriched by my education and am glad that I have my degree.

    I recommend “Tolstoy Lied” by Rachel Kadish, a thoroughly enjoyable book about a professor who is the lead for a girl working on her Phd. I think you’d enjoy it and it is a quick read. I thought it was a romantic comedy but it was more interesting than that. Sorry this is so long!

    1. Caitlin, I love your comments so you can make them as long as you want! I am glad to know that you liked it too. And I am jealous that you had a copy with the art work in it. I had no idea those were even available. That makes the book even cooler in my estimation. I think you should be proud of having an English degree. Who cares if you aren’t “using it” to make money. You are still using it. I will check out Tolstoy Lied. It sounds interesting. Thanks!

  16. Thanks Emily. Like your first commenter, I have both on my shelf as well. I enjoyed the movies and need to break them out. I have a problem in that I have about a dozen books I start, but don’t finish. So, I always have a tinge of guilt staring another one. By the way, I love your profound observation about what an education is for. You hit it on the head. Take care, BTG

    1. Thank you, BTG. Your kind words mean a lot to me, because I look up to you. I have a hard time reading a book if I’ve already seen the movie and therefore know the plot. I would say, as blasphemous towards books as it sounds, if you have seen the movie then you already pretty much know what the book will be! 🙂

  17. I haven’t read the novel. I was tempted to watch the film. Left me with a strong taste of dissatisfaction to say the least. Also, how can anyone call it a ‘historical novel’ I would never know in gazillion years. Dan Brown only wishes that Jesus would give him as nice review as you did, Emily when they see each other tête-à-tête . I doubt it very much though….

      1. This doesn’t sound very merciful to me :’They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ Revelation 6:16 God’s mercy never intended towards those who reject Him. Dan Brown did that publicly by writing his twisted tale. Even another human would not agree for someone to lie about who they really are, why all powerful God would? Jesus is God to me, anyway. I know that LDS doesn’t teach that. The Bible does.

        1. Although you are fully entitled to your opinion, I do not personally think Dan Brown was rejecting ‘God’ and did not write a ‘twisted tale’. It’s a piece of fiction. He just used his imagination and created an interesting read.

  18. I felt exactly the same way about reading that book, and most popular books, if I’m going to be honest. Often disappointed. To me, there is no greater joy than digging up a great book that has been out of print and forgotten. There are gems out there just waiting to be rediscovered!

    And… I just despise people who crush dreams. What’s the point, besides to hurt?

  19. What a lovely blog post! It’s the first time I come across your blog.

    I have read both The Da Vinci code and Angels and Demons and I enjoyed them. However, I felt the plot was very similar in both books and as such I didn’t feel inclined to read any of Dan Brown’s other books because I felt I had ‘read it all’.

    Also I just have to say it was so refreshing to read some of your views on Christianity. I’m not a Christian myself but I have a large interest in religion and I loved to read about your inquisitive mind on the matter. I will definitely return to read your future posts!

    1. Thank you! I am glad you found my blog. I, too, haven’t read any other Dan Brown. The two were enough for me, but I liked the experience. I look forward to hearing more about your views on religion as well. 🙂

      1. Yes and it’s always good to try out new authors (at least mostly!). Well I would love a good discussion but I am a pagan and have noticed some people find that to be very uncomfortable. =) If you are not, then I am of course willing to share! It is lovely to find out more about other people’s beliefs, I think.

  20. Hi Emily,
    I’m inspired by the amount of responses you received in regards to your blog, the topic was most inspiring. I’m glad you are doing your PhD and didn’t give up. You have inspired me to persevere with finding supervisors; I had two, but after some discussion they thought it best that I get more work published (well at least one piece!) So I’ve approached my Masters with Honours supervisor to oversee the publication of my thesis in a journal.

    I too, like other followers of your blog shunned Dan Brown’s book when it was released. As a lover of books, research, writing and The Louvre, I am now looking forward to adding Brown’s book to my reading list!

    Enjoying your blogs!!!

    Onyx

    1. Thanks, Onyx! I hope you end up liking it. It sounds like you have a good plan with your thesis. Good luck to you! I hope it works out and that you find a supervisor who can support you the way you need it. 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and for the nice comment.

  21. I really enjoyed your thoughts on the books as well as your thoughts on eduction. i have been contemplating going back to University “just for fun” and not for the caareer possibilities. Time constrraints will only allow one or two courses aat s time, but thats OK.

  22. I have always found some or the other excuse and never been able to go through the Da Vinci Code…it has always been debated in the circle and it has always been on some or other realm of discussion..still I was away from the book. Now by reading your post and the way you have narrated the plot and the places that has been covered in the book, I am now really tempted and I am going to explore it and compare with your perspective which is quite intriguing…

    Yes, the comparison of perspectives of two professor is quite an interesting thought, it has happened to me in few occasions where there are who have encouraged and understand us better than the others who just present a pessimistic point of view…it all depends on our conviction and vision….if it strong it doesn’t matter and but unfortunately many times we are low in our conviction and not very clear on our vision, we get into a trap and not able to decide the trajectory…

    Happy Holidays and wonderful year ahead…

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