Chloe Gordon, a 32-year-old filmmaker, describes herself as “an individual who considerably mockingly engages” with the work of the novelist Dan Brown. She has learn all however one of many eight books Mr. Brown has revealed underneath his identify.
So when she stumbled upon an web rumor that recognized Mr. Brown because the writer of a tongue-in-cheek relationship information from 1995 referred to as “187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman,” she instantly purchased it on Amazon.
The 96-page novelty ebook, which was initially revealed underneath the identify Danielle Brown, promised very brief descriptions of males the writer thought-about unsuitable romantic companions — a ebook of crimson flags, if you’ll. “Men who suppose Lamaze is a well-known French automotive race,” for instance. “Men who decoupage.” “Men with pet rocks.”
But when she opened her mail, Ms. Gordon realized that the mistaken ebook had arrived (“Heretics of Dune,” a 1984 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert). She forgot about it for a few 12 months after which went on Amazon and purchased the ebook once more. This time she obtained Elizabeth Taylor’s 1988 weight-reduction plan memoir, “Elizabeth Takes Off.”
Having struck out twice on Amazon, Ms. Gordon tried eBay. She paid a vendor for the ebook, and some days later obtained a refund and an electronic mail explaining that the ebook didn’t exist within the vendor’s stock. She ordered a duplicate from a distinct vendor. This order, too, was canceled and refunded.
Ms. Gordon, who lives in California, didn’t surrender. She ordered the ebook on AbeBooks, a subsidiary of Amazon. Once once more, she didn’t obtain “187 Men to Avoid” however, this time, “The Ghost Light” by Fritz Leiber.
She started to anticipate receiving mistaken books. On July 19, she filmed herself opening her most up-to-date Amazon package deal, which turned out to be a duplicate of Bill Cosby’s 1992 musings on youth, “Childhood,” and posted it on Twitter. “Oh no,” she groans. “This is worse — it’s getting worse!”
“This breaks my mind day by day,” Ms. Gordon mentioned by phone on the afternoon her unsolicited copy of Mr. Cosby’s ebook arrived. Every ebook she obtained appeared to have the identical bar code printed on its cowl — and a lot of the books’ again covers featured an extra stick-on label from their resellers insistently figuring out them as “187 Men to Avoid.” Every label was patently unfaithful.
And why did the error seem to increase to each impartial secondhand vendor, too? “I nonetheless, to today — I’ve no proof that this ebook is actual or exists,” Ms. Gordon mentioned.
Information in regards to the slim, square-shaped ebook is tough to return by. But each the unique 1995 version and a Berkley Trade reprint revealed in 2006 are listed in numerous locations on-line. The covers are virtually equivalent — a pigeon-toed blond cartoon lady in a cherry crimson coat and floppy hat clutches herself protectively as she stands earlier than a big meeting of suited males. The 2006 reprint amends the duvet textual content to learn, “Early Humor from the Author of ‘The Da Vinci Code,’” and recasts the writer as “Dan Brown Formerly Writing As Danielle Brown.”
Data from NPD BookScan, which has tracked ebook gross sales information for the reason that early 2000s, reveals that the 2006 version offered about 1,200 copies.
Ms. Gordon started to entertain conspiracy theories, together with in regards to the attainable existence of a “particular person at some warehouse someplace that’s placing the mistaken bar code on every little thing.”
But what can be a warehouse worker’s motivations for falsifying inventory numbers of an obscure, out-of-print relationship humor ebook from 1995?
“There’s probably not a model of this that completely is smart,” Ms. Gordon mentioned. “If I’m utilizing my Dan Brown mind, it’s clearly Dan Brown placing the bar codes on pretend books in order that nobody ever sees this actually embarrassing ebook that he wrote within the ’90s.”
Proof of Existence
In 1995, the 12 months “187 Men to Avoid” was revealed, Mr. Brown was working as a highschool English instructor at his alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and he had begun writing his first novel: the thriller “Digital Fortress.”
His circumstances overlapped neatly with the writer bio of “187 Men to Avoid”: “Danielle Brown at the moment lives in New England — instructing college, writing books, and avoiding males.”
In Lisa Rogak’s second unauthorized biography of Mr. Brown, “Dan Brown: The Unauthorized Biography” (a 2013 follow-up to “The Man Behind the Da Vinci Code: An Unauthorized Biography of Dan Brown,” revealed in 2005), Ms. Rogak, an exhaustive if usually unsanctioned chronicler of celebrities’ lives, wrote that Mr. Brown had written “187 Men to Avoid” together with his future ex-wife Blythe Brown.
According to Ms. Rogak, the couple (who weren’t but married on the time “187 Men to Avoid” was revealed) had discovered inspiration for the ebook in “the ludicrous characters and relationship and mating strategies of the women and men they’d witnessed” whereas dwelling in Los Angeles.
Ms. Rogak’s analysis additionally turned up a uncommon public acknowledgment from Mr. Brown of “187 Men to Avoid,” given in an interview about his novel “Angels and Demons,” which was revealed in 2000.
The interview, which was revealed on The Book Review Cafe, a defunct web site, consists of this citation from Mr. Brown: “Yes, I did write a ebook earlier than ‘Digital Fortress.’ It was a foolish little humor ebook whose title will ceaselessly stay a secret! The ebook, I imagine, is now out of print (rightly so).”
Mr. Brown’s writer mentioned he was unavailable for remark for this text. A publicist for Ms. Brown mentioned she was additionally unavailable for remark.
Despite Mr. Brown’s want for secrecy, “187 Men to Avoid” has been a element on his Wikipedia web page since January 2006.
It was added there by Elonka Dunin, a cryptographer and administration guide. Ms. Dunin, who has made tens of 1000’s of edits to Wikipedia articles, is an acquaintance of Mr. Brown.
In a phone interview, Ms. Dunin mentioned she met Mr. Brown because of a 2003 contest marketed on DanBrown.com. Entrants who solved a sequence of puzzles integrated into the ebook’s mud jacket can be eligible to win a free journey for 2 to Paris, the place a lot of the novel takes place.
Two of the puzzles on the mud jacket associated to “Kryptos,” a sculpture by the artist Jim Sanborn that’s situated on the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va. The art work incorporates 4 encoded messages — one among which stays unsolved. (Ms. Dunin is called an professional on the sculpture, which is legendary amongst puzzle-solving lovers.)
“He needed to talk with me about ‘Kryptos’ since he was going to be speaking about it the subsequent morning on ‘Good Morning America,’” Ms. Dunin mentioned.
Ms. Dunin mentioned she stayed in contact with Mr. Brown after their dialog, and later corresponded with him to verify biographical info whereas increasing his Wikipedia web page. Her greatest guess is that she realized of the existence of “187 Men to Avoid” from looking out Mr. Brown’s identify in a library catalog.
A seek for “Dan Brown” within the Library of Congress catalog turns up a success for “187 Men to Avoid” and categorizes it underneath the heading “Mate selection — Humor.”
To Err Is Human
We can say, then, that “187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman” is the work of Dan Brown, and probably, to some extent, Blythe Brown, now his ex-wife, however then his future spouse. (The extent to which Ms. Brown was a collaborator on Mr. Brown’s books has been a matter of much litigation.)
But the id of the ebook’s writer doesn’t itself clarify why Ms. Gordon obtained so many different books which might be being offered on-line underneath its title.
The ebook Ms. Gordon obtained from her first ordering try got here from an organization referred to as ZBK Books — an Amazon reseller that operates out of three northern New Jersey amenities.
Reached by telephone, the proprietor of ZBK Books, Shirzad Zarei, was apologetic in regards to the mix-up. He was additionally assured he might clarify the way it had occurred. The thriller, he mentioned, was possible set in movement the primary time somebody — wherever — listed “187 Men to Avoid” for resale on-line. Like the secrets and techniques of Leonardo da Vinci as imagined and explicated by Mr. Brown, this situation stemmed from a code hidden in plain sight: the ebook’s bar code.
Bar codes assist companies monitor stock and gross sales. In the case of books, the bar code is a graphical illustration of a numerical sequence referred to as an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN — completely different combos of 13 digits that establish revealed books, together with alternate variations of themselves. (Hardcover editions of “The Da Vinci Code” have a distinct ISBN than paperbacks, as an illustration.)
When a ebook is listed for on-line resale for the primary time, the info the vendor enters in regards to the title can grow to be the default info generated for all future scans of its distinctive ISBN. (If different sellers subsequently discover an error, they’ll report the itemizing as incorrect.)
“The first particular person that attempted to promote it used in all probability simply entered some mistaken info,” Mr. Zarei mentioned of “187 Men to Avoid.”
Because unaffiliated resellers are working from the identical shared ebook information, Mr. Zarei mentioned, “if one among us is making the error, everyone seems to be making it.”
A Glitch within the Matrix
While Mr. Zarei was capable of clarify how the error had flourished like a weed within the on-line ebook reselling ecosystem, he couldn’t decide the essential query of its existence: Why had so many books been printed with what seemed to be the very same bar code?
“That’s actually not what we might name greatest observe,” mentioned Brian O’Leary, the chief director of the Book Industry Study Group, a publishing commerce affiliation.
Although the books mailed to Ms. Gordon have been as unalike as members of the nightshade household, shut inspection turned up hint similarities. All of the books have been revealed between 1984 and 1995. All have been revealed by G.P. Putnam’s Sons or its paperback affiliate on the time, Berkley Books.
The widespread lineage led Mr. O’Leary to take a position that the reused bar codes might have been the results of “a manufacturing downside” on the writer stage.
For occasion, Mr. O’Leary mentioned, “while you’re laying out a ebook and you set the duvet collectively for the primary time, you might not know the ISBN.” Perhaps, he mentioned, somebody had inserted a “dummy” bar code and ISBN, in order that, say, the writer and artwork director might see what the completed product would seem like. If so, it could have been the case that they often forgot to later swap out the “dummy” parts for the true ones.
Or maybe they remembered, however solely midway. Bar codes have been nonetheless gaining recognition within the Nineteen Eighties, in spite of everything. (A consultant for Penguin Random House mentioned the writer was unable to find an worker who felt they’d “the correct perception” to reply questions on this occasion of bar code confusion.)
It’s attainable, Mr. O’Leary mentioned, that “any person simply mentioned, ‘Oh, we’ll change the ISBN with out considering, ‘We want to vary the bar code’” — which is supposed to encode that very same quantity.
“187 Men to Avoid” was in all probability not the progenitor of the shared bar code; the publication dates for “Heretics of Dune” and “The Ghost Light” predate it by 9 years. But it’s believable that out of all of the completely different books printed with this bar code, “187 Men to Avoid” occurred to have been the primary to move underneath the scanning laser of a web based used-book vendor.
It’s nearly inconceivable to know what number of books have this bar code, based on Mr. O’Leary. In different phrases, if Ms. Gordon sticks to her present technique, there is no such thing as a technique to know what number of on-line orders for “187 Men to Avoid” she should place earlier than she receives the proper merchandise. It’s attainable not one of the sellers will ever possess this ebook once more, regardless of what their inside information present.
Still, she stays optimistic that she’ll purchase it will definitely.
“I’ve to remain constructive,” she mentioned. “I’m going to get this ebook if I’ve to go to New Hampshire and pry it out of Dan Brown’s palms.”
Alexandra Alter contributed reporting.