Dan Brown wasn't exactly what you'd call a "townie" growing up in Exeter, NH, home of prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. Yet neither is the Exeter grad and son of a respected and well-loved Academy professor some stereotypical prep; Brown's a down-to-earth guy whose love of language and its mechanics inspired him to go after some pretty unimpressively salaried teaching positions early in his career.
About a year after "The Da Vinci Code" shined a halo-shaped light on our varying abilities to separate genre fiction from religious text, my husband, who attended Exeter and college and sang in glee club - yes glee club -- with Brown, said, "Hey, we're having dinner with Dan and Blythe Brown this weekend!"
My eager response was something like, "I'd feel a lot better about this if you guys actually had seen each other once between college and- oh, I dunno - the time Dan wrote the Greatest Work of Genre Fiction the World Has Ever Seen."
By that time, Dan Brown wasn't just the guy whom, creepily, everyone now wanted to tell one embarrassing old-school stories about at class reunions. Now he was a successful, grown man with whom everyone was dying to spend a little time.
Yet Brown also had become a man who strategically courted the limelight. I remember thinking after catching him on various in-person and TV promo stops - each time wearing what I'd come to think of as his "celebrity-writer uniform" of turtleneck and tweed jacket - this guy is a brand, and he is the future of bookselling.
From that point on, it didn't matter that Dan Brown is just a regular guy who looks pretty pleased with his world when his ridiculously bright and charming wife entertains the fairly mortified squeeze of an old school pal. Because while he may share silly anecdotes about former classmates - and the fact that he and my husband were together when they first viewed the Mona Lisa - now Brown's conversations also may swing through whom in the White House said they loved "Da Vinci Code," and which sports-team owners invited the Browns to hang in their luxury boxes for big-ticket games.
Brown tells these stories with all the wonder and humility one would expect from a man who grew up in small-town New England - not a guy who wrote a genre fiction read and changed the world
It may not have been the way he envisioned, but Dan Brown ended up a rock star anyway.
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