Plus, how Brown — whose latest book 'Origin' is on shelves now — was convinced to binge 'Breaking Bad'

By Isabella Biedenharn
October 06, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Doubleday

A version of this story originally appears in the Oct. 13, 2017 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands now or subscribe online at

Thriller author Dan Brown — whose latest blockbuster, Origin, just hit stores — talks about his love for Cinema Paradiso, Sidney Sheldon, and Donna on Suits.

My favorite book as a child

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved the science in it and the geeky kid heroes.

An illicit book I read in secret as a kid

That would be Jaws. The opening where the woman is skinny-dipping and gets eaten, right at the beginning…there was “a nub of bone and tattered flesh” or some such phrase that I have never forgotten.

A book that really cemented me as a writer

The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon. I had read only the classics in prep school and college, and I was on vacation when I found a copy of Doomsday Conspiracy on the dock and read it. I thought, “Oh my God. That was fun.” I didn’t know that there was adult thriller fiction. I didn’t know! I was like, “I’m pretty sure I could do something like that.”

The classics I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read

The Scarlet Letter. David Copperfield. How long do you have? [Laughs] Moby-Dick.

The most breathtaking piece of art to see in person

This will sound very cliché, but I’m going to answer the Mona Lisa, because of its size, which is startling to people. It’s small. And because it is so famous and so reproduced, it’s one of the only pieces of art in the world that everybody’s seen. Even if you’ve never been to The Louvre, you’ve just seen it. It’s everywhere. So for me, it’s like a pilgrimage to stand in the space, and to be within the presence of where Leonardo’s brush touched wood. Everyone who goes there has a reaction. It is either “deeply moved” or “…that’s it?” It’s not a piece of art you can ignore.

You could argue that a hi-resolution photograph of the Mona Lisa gives you a better sense of what it is than standing behind a pile-on and looking through bulletproof glass. But being in the presence of a great work of art? It’s amazing. You walk into the Grand Gallery — it has its own room now — and there’s a hush. It’s like, there’s a reverence in front of the artifact. How’s that for a long-winded, artsy answer?

The fictional group of friends I’ve always felt I belong with

Frank and Joe Hardy. I wouldn’t mind being Frank, Joe, and Dan Hardy. I identify with Frank and Joe more than I do with Thomas Hardy. [Laughs]

My literary crush

J.K. Rowling. Just for everything she’s done to inspire kids to read — and she’s just such a class act.

The last TV show I binged

Breaking Bad. I was in Anguilla and ran into a literary agent on the beach, a pretty famous agent. We got talking, and she said, “Hey, have you seen Breaking Bad?” I said, “I’m not crazy about tumbleweeds or crystal meth or the Southwest. It’s not my thing.” She said, “Watch the first five minutes. The writing is so good, you would appreciate it.” So I said, “Fine.” I watched the first five minutes…and seven days later I got to the end.

A book people might be surprised to learn I loved

You know, this is kind of geeky but I love Shakespeare. People are shocked when I say, “Hey, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the funniest books ever written.” And I’ve been an English teacher — I’ve actually taught that book as humor, the wordplay, the double entendre, this biting sarcasm. I’d say that would have to be the one that people go, “Really? You like Shakespeare? We had a much lower opinion of you!”

A book I consider grossly overrated

I did teach The Sound and The Fury, and that’s another book I really don’t care for. I have tried. I just find this idea of an inconsistent and unreliable narrator very annoying. Am I going to get in trouble for saying Faulkner is overrated?

My all-time favorite movie

Cinema Paradiso. I grew up in a small town, and I just see myself in that character, the little kid who’s captivated by the world of cinema. I have this image of him looking through a tiny hole, looking out at this other world.

My guilty-pleasure TV show

Suits. I think it’s cleverly written — it’s wholly unrealistic in a really entertaining and respectable way. The characters are beautiful, the sets are beautiful, and it’s got a lot of heart. And who doesn’t love Donna? You can’t watch Suits without having a crush on Donna.

The literary place where I’d like to live

The fictional world that Dr. Seuss created in Happy Birthday to You! with giant marshmallow cushions you can sleep on, and where all the animals are your friends.

The fictional character I’d want by my side in a zombie apocalypse

Indiana Jones. He’s got a great sense of humor and really good luck. He gets out of everything somehow. And I’ve always wanted to know how to use a whip. I haven’t read Fifty Shades, so I have no idea.

The TV show I think doesn’t get its due

Let’s see, there was a show called Boss which I thought was brilliantly written and fantastic and it died. Kelsey Grammer plays the mayor of Chicago who has a debilitating mental disease. So he’s governing a city as he’s slowly going insane. It’s a great set-up and a great cast. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it and said, “Why did that end? It was so good!” And then there are some shows where you’re like, “Why is that still going?”

A recent book I wish I had written

I just read a book called The Believing Brain, which is about why humans believe all the crazy stuff we believe, from superstition to religion to fake news. How is it that a species as intelligent as we are can believe so much stuff that is just so clearly false? And that’s something that I write about a lot in my books, and that book really put it together in a way that I was impressed with.

The last book that made me laugh out loud

Clearly I need to read funnier books. All I read is research books, and when I laugh it’s usually for the wrong reasons, like, “That’s ridiculous!”

The first album I bought with my own money

That would have to be The Beach Boys, Endless Summer:A two-record set that I saved up for. I still love the Beach Boys. In fact, that was the first concert I ever went to. I was in 8th grade, my mom went with me, and it was in Phoenix, Arizona where my dad was on sabbatical. There was a lot of marijuana in the air and my mother was horrified. I, of course, had no idea what it was.

They didn’t sound like the record — that’s all I remembered. I was disappointed. It was so loud and static-y, and I just wanted it to sound like the record. I didn’t go to another concert for years after that because it was a disappointment.

The song that always makes me feel better

“Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. It is just unbridled happiness! It is not shy in any way. It’s just saying, “I’m as happy as I get,” and for some reason that always makes me happy. “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill always makes me cry, though.

What I’m reading now

I’m about to read American War by Omar El Akkad. I love fiction that feels relevant to the world, and this book really sounds to me like it’s going to be exactly that. I’m excited to read it.

The three people I’d invite to my dream dinner party

Antoni Gaudí, Charles Darwin, and Cardinal Bertone. It would be interesting. I would stand in the other room making drinks, I think, and just listen quietly.