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Sunday, September 20, 2009


A few days ago, I suggested on Twitter that I was going to read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and produce a complete readers’ guide. Now, I wasn’t SERIOUS. But I was overheard, and a copy of the book was placed in front of me today with the admonition that I had to put up or shut up, so now I am going to read The Lost Symbol and give you a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, even if it kills me.

You can read this guide any way you like. You can read it AFTER reading the book, or WHILE reading the book, or BEFORE reading the book, or INSTEAD OF reading the book . . . whatever you want. I am just warning you that I am reading this and recording my guide in REAL TIME, and there will be spoilers.

So now, without further ado . . . the first part of my LOST SYMBOL READERS’ GUIDE.


The book begins with a FACT, which states that in 1991, the CIA locked up a document about something secret and it contains the sentence “It’s buried out there somewhere.” That is genuine truth. So get ready, because this is about to get real.


We are at a Renaissance Faire. A 34 year old man in a floppy shirt and a noose around his neck is drinking wine from a skull cup.

No, wait. We are NOT at a Renaissance Faire. We at just BLOCKS AWAY FROM THE WHITE HOUSE! And we are at an initiation ceremony and it is super, super secret and super, super weird. We don’t know who is being initiated, but he is clearly up to no good. He is thinking devious things in italics the whole time. But he is also thinking, "The secret is to know how to die.”

Just think of something really creepy and secret society-like and multiply that by eleven and you will get a sense of just how creepy and secret-society like this is. There is a man in charge. We know he is in charge because he is called The Supreme Worshipful Master, which is about as clear an indication as you are ever going to get. That is clearly a job that comes with some kind of a hat.

The initiate is thinking that his devious, italicized thoughts are going to be found out! But then they aren’t. In books, no one can hear you italicize.

Chapter one

A small boy and his dad are on the Otis elevator (Otis is, in fact, the largest manufacturer of elevators—a fact you probably knew already, but this can only be a sign of quality) . . . well, of COURSE it’s an Otis! We’re in the Eiffel Tower! The boy is having a panic attack and thinks he can’t breathe, and his dad is doing the “shut up and don’t be such a coward thing” that parents sometimes have to do in public. But then the cables snap and bottom drops out of the car! Omg!

Fooled you! Dream sequence!

Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon wakes up from his dream. He’s on a private jet (a Falcon 2000EX, to be specific, which is the BEST kind of Falcon 2000 because that EX probably stands for EXCELLENT) flying to see his rich friend Peter Solomon—his other father, as it were. Robert Langdon doesn’t want to disappoint this man with the “soft grey eyes” by being a huge, huge coward, so he bravely sits on the plane like a fully-grown symbologist. He calms himself by obsessing over the 555-foot obelisk* in the middle of Washington DC.

A professional waver named Pam (one suspects that she is not so much an employee, merely someone who likes to wave at planes and the airport has just accepted the fact that she is not leaving) greets Robert Langdon on touchdown. She immediately wants to know if he is THE Robert Langdon who writes the books on symbols and religion. It’s Pam’s lucky day because he IS that Robert Langdon! Pam has recognized him because of his “uniform”: a turtleneck, a tweed jacket, khakis, and loafers. It’s possible that Pam has asked every single person she has ever seen wearing this outfit if they are Robert Langdon and has been disappointed for YEARS. It just goes to show . . . you have to hold on to your dreams and keep trying!

We also learn that Robert Landon is afraid of ties! He calls them “little nooses”! (That’s TWO nooses in six pages! This is going to be important. I demand a prize if he ends up hanging later in this book. MARK MY WORDS.)

Anyway, Pam is still greeting HSRL** relentlessly and telling him how to dress and going ON AND ON about his books and saying that he probably gets this all the time so maybe she should shut up. But she does NOT shut up, because you know how you get when you meet your favorite symbologist. You just start freaking out.

HSRL has places to be, and he wants her to leave, so he gives Pam the customary tip you give to people who wave at you (usually $20, or a small cake, if you have one on you) and meets Charles from Beltway Limousine. HSRL doesn’t take no cab! Inside, Charles has provided him with bottled water and tiny, hot muffins. (I don’t want to seem cynical, but I am starting to suspect that DB*** wrote some of this on a book tour and is literally just describing his own media escorts and crazy readers and drivers and hot, tiny muffins, but that is neither here nor there, and we must get right back to the fact that HSRL is now IN A CAR.)

Chapter two

I must try to make this chapter summaries a bit shorter because we are never going to get anywhere at this rate. Brevity. That’s what I’m going to aim for. Which is a good thing, too, because this chapter is two and a half pages long.

A tall, shaved, naked man named Mal’akh is tattooing himself and quietly saying under his breath: I AM A MASTERPIECE. Mal’akh is single, by the way. The book doesn’t say that—but I know it to be true.

We get a brief history of tattooing, and then the clock chimes six thirty and Mal’akh stops tattooing himself, so I am guessing that perhaps tattooing himself is his job, and like Fred Flintstone, he stops immediately when the bell rings and slides down the dinosaur to go home.

Except Mal’akh is already home, so he puts on a fabulous silk robe and runs around his house, blasting Verdi’s Requiem. He bounds up the stairs and goes to his bedroom and confronts himself in the mirror. He is so overwhelmed that he drops the robe and again considers his naked self and ital-thinks: I am a masterpiece.

I fully admit that as a kid and a teenager, I dressed up and ran around the house blasting music when no one was home . . . For me, there was a lot of dark makeup and The Smiths and The Cure, so I am not judging, per se, but I kind of feel that Mal’akh has taken this to a whole new level and is scaling the Kilimanjaro of weird to its creepy peaks and probably he needs a friend or a dog.

Mal’akh is now a 33rd level warlock in World of Warcraft**** and he is going to do something really, really important. He leaves the house (I’m guessing he’s gotten dressed, maybe in the HSRL uniform) and is going to do something to the Capitol building which is guaranteed to be exciting. Good for Mal’akh! I will be rooting for him.

Chapter three

Back in the car, Robert Langdon looks up because he can tell from the sound of the tires that they are already on Memorial Bridge. Normally, this would be a kind of pointless detail that you might leave out of a book, but it tells us that Robert Langdon can navigate by sound. He is just that observant. Shaken back to awareness, he once again starts staring at the huge obelisk which he can now see out the window. He really loves that obelisk.

We find out that HSRL didn’t think he was going to be here at all! He thought he was just going to have a quiet Sunday at home! The last time he thought that, the sky exploded over Rome and the quasi-pope parachuted out of a helicopter! Time to stop answering the phone on your day off, Robert!

It turns out that Peter Solomon’s assistant called him that morning and left a message to call back at the number 202-329-5749. And then he got a FAX asking him to call 202-329-5749! And then we hear all about how Peter Solomon is totally like the richest and most important guy ever! He turned HSRL into the HS he is today! And he’s totally been calling all morning trying to get Robert to dial 202-329-5749! And in case you think it is boring to read someone’s messages when all they say is “please call 202-329-5749”, well, you might be right, but guess what? Peter Solomon totally needs HSRL to be the main speaker at a private gala at the Smithsonian. And guess when it is? It’s tonight!

HSRL decides he needs coffee! I’ll bet you do, Robert!

Chapter four

Mal’akh goes through security at the Capitol Building. That’s the whole chapter.

I could tell you more about how he’s wearing a sling, and a ring (hey, that rhymes!) but I really have to go faster. All you need to know is that he goes through security and he makes it even though you know he is carrying something that is probably totally not allowed. I’m just glad to see Mal’akh out of the house.

Chapter five

In chapter five, we meet Katherine Solomon, who is Peter Solomon’s sister. And if you liked hearing about how Mal’akh went through security, you will love hearing about how Katherine Solomon drove her white Volvo through the gate of 4210 Silver Hill Road, just outside of Washington DC.

Katherine practices something called Noetic Science, which sounds totally made up! But I just looked it up on Wikipedia. It’s real! DB is always doing that! Making me look things up on Wikipedia! Noetic Science, from what I just read, is basically fancy New Age healing, mind-potential stuff. So whenever Katherine comes on, I am totally going to hear Enya in my head. Katherine has just gotten some shocking news about Peter. We don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t sound good. I fear that we are going to have a death sequence in our future.

Then we jump over to Mal’akh who calls her on the phone to tell her that whatever it is that Peter thinks is hidden in DC . . . it’s real! And it can be found! Katherine is all omg.

As are we all, Katherine. As are we all.


* It is entirely improper to giggle at the fact that he has such a thing for huge obelisks and I am, frankly, a little ashamed of you. Who doesn’t like to stare at and constantly think about HUGE OBELISKS?

** Henceforth, this will be short for Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon

*** Henceforth, this will be short for Dan Brown

**** That may be wrong, but he is definitely a 33rd level something. I think that’s only in WOW, right? Or is that D&D as well?

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Anonymous Taylor said...

Maureen! You have much courage to be trekking these dangerous waters! Thank you very much, because I doubt I could ever get through another Dan Brown.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

This is great!

And I am so grateful to you for taking on the burden of reading the book so I don't have to.

9:34 PM  
Blogger James (JRG1990) said...

I am so glad I am not the only one becoming REALLY bugged by the italithoughts.

And just wait: HSRL starts using them every other line too as the book progresses.

And yes, its equally annoying when he does it.

I'm on about page200, and frankly: I am beginning to really hope you're right and Malakh is going to hang HSRL, because that will be the end of the series...

9:35 PM  
Blogger Emma said...

This is the best thing ever. That is all.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Laurel Lyon said...

Now I nearly want to read it.

9:51 PM  
Blogger lisa said...

you are my favorite forever, maureen!

9:52 PM  
Blogger ADO said...

Holly Penguin!

You should do that to every single DB book.

Then again, you probably have better things to do.

9:57 PM  
Blogger janitorbud said...

you make me want to read it with you

10:06 PM  
Blogger jsherr said...

The twist is that Katherine Solomon used to go out with Colin Singleton

10:06 PM  
Blogger mstohl said...

a staggering work of genumockery right up there with sarah rees brennan's retelling of the last harry potter movie...

and i want you to know that the word i had to copy into the verification box was wastedy.

coincidence? HSRL has taught us otherwise. i think not.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Have read either of the books by Ellen DeGeneres? Because y'all have the same style.
I'm not Southern. I have no idea why I said "y'all." Perhaps the pressure of trying to come up with something witty to say has gotten to me?
Anyways, this is awesome. I may not have ever read a DB book and I may not ever read a DB book, but I look forward to the rest of your thoughts on this particular DB book.
P.S. I like saying DB, I feel like I'm part of a secret club.

10:19 PM  
Blogger shayera said...

Thank you for providing this very important service Maureen.
You're an inspiration to us all. :-)

10:37 PM  
Blogger Merc said...

This is MADE OF AWESOME. :D I can't wait to read the rest (of your posts, I doubt I'll read DB's novels ;)).


10:53 PM  
Anonymous Harkamal Singh said...

oh thats awesome.....did not read the book yet, no plans of reading the book in near future but i definitely cant miss this. you are so good at writing. BIG FAN.

Just one question....is it the coffee u drink or the water at your house which makes you so good???

11:16 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

This is magnificent. The sacrifices you make for us... There are no words. Except maybe 'thank you'. Thank you!

12:46 AM  
Blogger Mari said...

This is so great. Keep them coming. :)
Reading the book, too. Love your commentary/summery.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Michael W said...

Maureen, your blog makes me feel happy inside.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

This is amazing.
1) I don't have to read this book, but 2) I am massively entertained by it.

2:47 AM  
Blogger Monica said...

I choose to read the Maureenified version of DB's Lost Symbol. It's way more interesting. Thank you, and please don't stop!

3:57 AM  
Blogger Lindsay Robbins said...

I am enjoying this to the extreme. Your Reader's Guide is a lot more interesting than the book, since I think Dan Brown's writing can be really boring. But your summary is hilarious. :D

4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is anyone else struck by the fact that DB (Dan Brown) has the same initials as my favorite insult "D-bag"? Once again DB DB would tell us this is NO COINCIDENCE!! XD thanks Maureen!

7:24 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Hendren said...

You need to post a beverage alert at the beginning of your posts. (g)

Snrk. Too funny.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Phyllis Eddings said...

I read the cover of the book, and decided I would not bother. Now I really don't have to bother, because I can just read your guide, which has the entirely appropriate tone.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Elise said...

This is my new favorite way to read DB books. Previously my favorite way was to not read them at all, but I think I like this better...

10:32 PM  
Blogger ZVW22 said...

Perhaps, as DB really ought to spend his time counting his tremendous piles of money, we might get you to write his future best sellers? It would be a vast improvement. He can tell you his cockamamie plot ideas and you can render them in a somewhat more readable version that's less time consuming.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Hollishillis said...

PERFECT now I never have to read a DB book ever. Thank you maureen!

5:19 AM  
Anonymous chinabendguy said...

there are absurdities abundant..look forward to your discovering tem

7:05 AM  
Blogger (Helen) Kiaya said...

I wasn't going to read this book, because I'm not all that into Dan Brown, but I'm definitely reading your reader's guide. Way more entertaining than the actual book, I'm sure.

11:13 PM  
Blogger brian said...

Please More!!! I've stopped reading at chapter 2,346,941! Waiting for you to catch up!!!

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez, you're making me want to break my sensible no-dan-brown-no-ann-rice-no-chris-paolini-no-anyone-comparable life reading rule *just* *so* I can engage in the lambasting at the appropriate enthusiasm.
Masterfully done. ILU

5:16 PM  
Anonymous chinabendguy said...

I just realized that the kindle version is the second best way to read db books cause it's only 10 bucks, not full-discounted price. your version is even better..it's free

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Jay-wa said...


4:16 PM  
Anonymous CHINABENDGUY said...


6:59 PM  
Blogger Maggie Stiefvater said...

I am trying not to be annoyed by the fact that you are, like my editor, an author who is Intensely Funnier Than Me.

Because now I'm being forced to tweet this damn thing while reading it out loud to my brother.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Lakien said...

AMAZING. I hadn't even read the back cover, to be honest, but I will certainly read your summary. Because it's so much better than the actual DB book. Thanks for taking on this burden for us!

2:07 AM  
Blogger Juliette Dominguez said...

This is genius, Maureen. I've been laughing all morning at your summaries. Thank you!

5:43 PM  

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