How do you welcome an author who has sold 200 million books worldwide to New York's Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center? Show the 2,000 fans in the audience where he lives, of course. At this launch event for Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon thriller Inferno, Today Show host Matt Lauer introduced the author with a clip from an interview he conducted at Brown's home in Exeter, New Hampshire. This rare glimpse into Brown's life reveals that his house closely resembles his novels--full of beautiful old-world furnishings and secret passages hidden behind paintings and rotating bookshelves. (Imagine Tolkien creating a life-size replica of the Shire in his backyard.)
This turned out to be the perfect kick off to the evening, during which Brown opened up about his personal life and the road to his international success. Taking the podium, Brown talked about how his upbringing influenced the major theme of his novels: the conflict between religion and science. As it turns out, this tension manifested itself at a very young age. Brown's mother was the church organist and choir leader and his father was a math teacher. To illustrate their different beliefs, Brown held up the vanity license plates his parents had when he was a child: one read KYRIE (the Latin word for Lord) and the other said METRIC.
He thanked his parents for their lifelong support, noting that if you encourage your kids to pursue creative fields, you will either end up with a happy kid whose rent you'll be paying forever, or they will be popular enough to speak at Avery Fisher Hall and make fun of you.
At one point, Brown read the seven deadly sins aloud, paused, and said, "That was fun. I'm going to do that again." In fact, the best moments of the evening were the lighthearted ones. Brown spoke at length about the process of adapting The Da Vinci Code to film, remarking that the solitary, personal act of writing is the polar opposite of movie production. But more interesting were his anecdotes from the set. When he heard that the movie would cost $150 million, he asked director Ron Howard how he would spend that much money, only to arrive on a life-size replica of the Pantheon and suddenly wonder how $150 million would be enough.
Brown's success has invited a lot of scrutiny over his books, and a recent satirical piece in The Telegraph poked fun at Brown's disdain for critics ("'Hello, this is renowned author Dan Brown,' spoke renowned author Dan Brown."). Still, despite Brown's cosmic success, he came across as more grateful than boastful, making jokes at his own expense at every opportunity. Of his critics, Brown said he was affected by negative responses to his work--how could he not be?--but that was most pleased that the story he wanted to tell had been received so well by so many people around the world.
Leaving the theater, I overheard one man exclaim that he found the event "very very entertaining." A moment later, realizing that Brown's publisher Doubleday was handing out free copies of Inferno in the lobby, the man dashed down the stairs as quickly as he could to grab a book.