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Only the Gods Are Real - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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September 26th, 2007


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03:29 am - Only the Gods Are Real
A long time ago, corbeau, Neil Gaiman fangirl that she is, sent me a copy of Neverwhere. I really liked it, but I didn't love it. I think I was looking for more of an explanation of what was going on, although I enjoyed the fantastical adventures.

I can't remember whether I read Good Omens before or after that, but I also found myself disappointingly underwhelmed after all the hype. Again, I really liked it, but I didn't love it, as much as I wanted to.

Last year, I finally read The Sandman, which was fucking amazing overall even though there were lots of little things that didn't work entirely for me.

I also read Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short stories, about half of which I really liked and half of which left me vaguely confused, I think.

Last month, I read Stardust, which was pretty good but not as satisfying as I had wanted it to be.

I felt bad because I thought I was the kind of person who should totally love Neil Gaiman, but his work seemed to be very hit-or-almost-hit-but-not-quite-goddammit for me.

And then I started reading American Gods, which has won like every award known to man. I was immediately thrown before I even began when jeeperstseepers informed me that it was a very serious book. I had thought it was something quite whimsical, the premise being that gods are real and living in America. How silly! Zeus is a gas station attendant! Ra sells sunglasses! Hoo hoo! I thought it was like that. But no. Mostly.

The basic premise is that gods are real and living in America. All the gods, from all the cultures, they were all brought here in the minds and beliefs and customs and traditions of the men and women who form this melting pot. It's a great idea. Even better is the fact that there's an imminent war between the old gods and the new gods, the upstarts of technology, representatives of the Internet, television, cars, and everything else the modern age worships.

Stuck in the middle is a man named Shadow, just released from jail and enlisted for services by a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday. If you're up on your Norse mythology, you have a good idea who he really is.

Of course, the delicious thing about this book is that Gaiman really did his fucking homework, and you won't recognize half the gods without Wikipedia. He steals from a variety of mythologies and religions; as far as I can tell, the only gods he made up are the modern ones. All the other figures who make appearances can be found somewhere. They live in our collective consciousness.

For the first 400 pages or so, I will admit I was wary. While there was a plot, it was rather thin and mostly seemed to consist of Shadow meeting god after god after god, how cute. I enjoyed it all well enough, but I was afraid it would all be pointless. There were constant mentions of the coming storm, and I really wanted to get to the damn storm. Around the 400-page mark, however, some earlier characters made return appearances, and I began to get the sense that setup mode had ended and now we were moving into the payoff section of the book.

(Note: about ten to fifteen percent of the book doesn't really pay off, and it's just there for flavor. At the ends of most chapters, Gaiman provides an interlude spotlighting a god, and he does it because he is a storyteller who loves telling stories, and I love that about him.)

By the end of the book, I discovered that I retroactively liked everything better. I know you're supposed to appreciate the journey and not the destination, but the destination sounded so cool I really wanted to get to it, and when I finally reached the destination, I appreciated the journey a whole lot more. It's completely weird because I recognized quite a few things at the end that normally bug me about Gaiman but instead totally worked for me in this book. Somehow, he made me buy it all. The sum trumped the parts.

American Gods really makes you think about the power and nature of belief (much like Hogfather), especially the way it works in America. It gives you a very cool perspective on the country, the wacky country that formed a strong personality out of everyone else's.

American Gods is the first Gaiman work I have really loved since Sandman, unexpected as that love would have seemed at some times. It's a rich tapestry of dreams and mythologies and belief systems and cultures, like America itself.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
Current Music: Nirvana - Drain You

(29 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:anoel
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
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That sounds so good! I've been wanting to read American Gods and The Sandman for a long time but haven't gotten around to it. I should probably get to it.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
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You should definitely get to it! They're rather similar in some ways, since they both show Gaiman's love of putting his own spin on classic myths and mythological characters, often mixing them up a bit.

Also, Delirium from Sandman makes a small cameo in American Gods. It's amusing.
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From:vaspider
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
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If you liked American Gods, you should also like Anansi Boys. I have a special weakness for the latter for reasons which should be obvious, and also because tibicina made me skyrocket out of my chair by handing me an autographed copy as a gift. And yes, I did squeal and run around the room (literally) when Aunt Nancy appeared in American Gods. I'm easy to please.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
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I plan to read Anansi Boys after my next book. I didn't get a huge sense of Nancy at first, but he was more interesting by the end.

And, hee. I had some celebratory gestures like that too (for instance, of course any time a Hindu god got a mention).
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From:mrbroom
Date:September 27th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)
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Anansi Boys is more about his sons than it is about him, but it's also basically one of his stories. Which makes much more sense after you've read it. But you'll love it. I'm re-reading it right now, in fact.
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From:twenty8penguin
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:50 pm (UTC)
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King Lear and Battlestar... what a perfect combination.

As for Gaiman, I know what you mean - I enjoy his books but I have not loved any of them. (Of course, I haven't read American Gods, so I may have to retract that later.) The Stardust movie, on the other hand, was one of the best romps I've had this summer. It was hilarious and touching and all those other things.

I have to be in a certain mood to read Gaiman. Same with John Irving, actually. I adore "The Fourth Hand" and "Garp" - but I cannot even finish "Son of the Circus".
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 26th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
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King Lear and Battlestar... what a perfect combination.
Isn't it? Once I got the idea, I made hobviously make it for me.

As for Gaiman, I know what you mean - I enjoy his books but I have not loved any of them. (Of course, I haven't read American Gods, so I may have to retract that later.)
So it's not just me!! And, yes, you may have to retract if you read this one. The last 200 pages totally make the first 400 worth it, turning it into 600 pages of awesome. It's lovely.

The Stardust movie, on the other hand, was one of the best romps I've had this summer. It was hilarious and touching and all those other things.
Yes!! I enjoyed it so very much.

I have to be in a certain mood to read Gaiman. Same with John Irving, actually. I adore "The Fourth Hand" and "Garp" - but I cannot even finish "Son of the Circus".
I've only read Owen Meany, which I loved. It's actually similar to American Gods in that so much of it is like, "Is this really important? Why is he telling me this? God, get on with it," until you get to the end and it all comes together.
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From:stephl
Date:September 26th, 2007 11:01 pm (UTC)
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You'll like Anansi Boys, I'm guessing. It's different than American Gods, though -- less epic, more biopic. All the same, it's by turns lovely, funny, infuriating, alarming, and frightening.

American Gods was so *big* -- I remember thinking I needed to let it percolate and then re-read it one day. Maybe that day is imminent.

And I *so* totally want to go to the House on the Rock.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 26th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm looking forward to Anansi Boys now. I was unsure at first. And you're right, American Gods is quite big. Like, I almost don't want to start my next book today, but I'm really excited about it.

I kind of want to go Backstage.
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From:sisterjune
Date:September 26th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC)
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Ok, you don't know who I am but I read your journal alot. I don't usually comment (I have maybe a couple of times before) because as I said before you don't know me and I just thought it would be weird for me to just jump in and start fangirling in your journal since I'm really a stranger.

Anyway I'm commenting now cause I've had similar conflictions with neil gaiman's stuff. I like his stories and I love his style of writing BUT somehow it was rare for me to fully love a story of his (Although I confess I liked good omens ALOT but then again he didn't exactly write that one himself.) I don't really know the particular reason though. Anyway long story short, I've heard about american gods but I wasn't sure if it would be my thing or not and I didn't think about it much, but after reading your description I feel very motivated to go give it a look!
I love mythology, in fact I'm a big geek about it and have a bunch of books on various european and asian myths (sadly no african though) picking out which god is which in the book will be half the fun for me! So anyway I guess what I'm saying is...thanks for writing this? I'm sorry this comment had I point but I think it got lost somewhere. Basically I think you have good taste since I've listened to various artists and watched battlestar galactica, spaced, the office and recently skins all cause of your very convincing posts about them and loved (well not so much galactica anymore...) all of them! So yeah, that's all I have to say, sorry this was long and rambley. I'm usually more coherent than this...

PS. I love that you are an avatar fan and PROUD. that is cool.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 26th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
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Aw, thank you! I'm glad to have such had a positive influence on you. Don't be afraid to comment; surely the fact that I don't know people hasn't stopped them from commenting before. And we're both usually the better for it.

Anyway I'm commenting now cause I've had similar conflictions with neil gaiman's stuff. I like his stories and I love his style of writing BUT somehow it was rare for me to fully love a story of his (Although I confess I liked good omens ALOT but then again he didn't exactly write that one himself.) I don't really know the particular reason though.
For me, it's that he seems to really enjoy building something up to be awesome and huge and epic and then having it be resolved in a sort of mundane fashion instead. He likes subverting the reader's expectations. And, dammit, I like having my expectations fulfilled, especially when I expect awesomeness.

I love mythology, in fact I'm a big geek about it and have a bunch of books on various european and asian myths (sadly no african though) picking out which god is which in the book will be half the fun for me! So anyway I guess what I'm saying is...thanks for writing this?
Hee! You're quite welcome! I think you'd love it if you're a mythology buff. I'm one too, but so much of it went way over my head; I had to Google a lot.

Basically I think you have good taste since I've listened to various artists and watched battlestar galactica, spaced, the office and recently skins all cause of your very convincing posts about them and loved (well not so much galactica anymore...) all of them!
Yay!! Thank you so much for letting me know. Sometimes I get so focused on the number of comments on each post that I don't think about the people who get something out of my posts and never tell me.

PS. I love that you are an avatar fan and PROUD. that is cool.
Hey, it's all the rage! In a couple years or so, the show is going to be huge if Nickelodeon has its way and, regardless, due to M. Night's involvement in the movies. I'm just trying to get everyone into it NOW before they all look like bandwagon jumpers later on.
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From:sisterjune
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:19 am (UTC)
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Awwww your welcome! <3

also your avatar comment made me LOL. I hope your right though! then I don't have to get all embarrassed when my younger sister is like "hahahha you watch a kids show!" >_
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From:seawench
Date:September 27th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
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I adore Good Omens, but then I was a Pratchett an long before I discovered Gaiman. It's a brand of humor that ripens over time, I think. Death as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse is more amusing, for instance, after you've followed his attempts at fatherhood, a midlife crisis and a music career.

Anansi Boys is the light, frothy book that you were expecting American Gods to be. It's very differently awesome.

I grew up in Chicago, so whenever one of the brood reached the age of understanding the gloriousness of insanity, my Dad would drive us all up to the House on the Rock. It really is every bit as strangely fantastic as described. I always thought it was sort of like what you'd find if you explored the back hallways and storage rooms of the Tardis.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 27th, 2007 04:46 am (UTC)
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I adore Good Omens, but then I was a Pratchett an long before I discovered Gaiman.
Same here. I definitely enjoyed the obvious Pratchettness of Death (and the obvious Gaimanness of Crowley and Azrael).

Anansi Boys is the light, frothy book that you were expecting American Gods to be. It's very differently awesome.
Neeeeat.
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From:queenrikki_hp
Date:September 27th, 2007 12:47 am (UTC)
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Neil Gaiman is very much an author I know I should like. Not that I'm really the best judge of his work as I've never managed to finish any of it. But there is something about him as a writer that I find interesting so that one day I hope to actually get around to finishing...well, something.
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From:latropita
Date:September 27th, 2007 02:28 am (UTC)
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Oo. That sounds really awesome. I'm in the middle of Stardust right now, and I liked Good Omens, but American Gods sounds like I would really love it.
From:ikcelaks
Date:September 27th, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
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Your experience with this book is essentially identical to my own, which is pretty cool since our tastes don't typically align all that well.

I still get a little giddy when thinking about American Gods, because it's just such a complete book. I think the initial reading experience would have been better if the plot had been more obviously purposeful, but I'm convinced that the vagueness was actually vital to bring the story together properly and at the right time. Shadow, and therefore the reader, needed to be somewhat lost and confused. The eventual payoff is so excellent that I no longer even care about that initial experience.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 27th, 2007 04:48 am (UTC)
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Shadow, and therefore the reader, needed to be somewhat lost and confused.
Totally. It's all a big coin trick, relying on literary sleight-of-hand.

The eventual payoff is so excellent that I no longer even care about that initial experience.
As I said above, the last 200 pages totally make the first 400 worth it, turning it into 600 pages of awesome. It's lovely.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 27th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
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Oh, yeah, his poetry doesn't really make a case for its own existence.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 27th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Well, tell him I said I wasn't blown away by either of those either and loved American Gods. Doesn't he know how much weight my opinion holds?

(I love a lot of the characters in Neverwhere too. ikcelaks compared the two books in a very apt way, I think. With American Gods, the sum is far greater than the parts; the book's overall amazingness makes up for any shortcomings in the details. Whereas Neverwhere is more appealing on a micro level (characters, action, etc.) but isn't as satisfying an overall experience.)
From:ikcelaks
Date:September 27th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
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That's my general view, but I should note that, while I agree that Neverwhere had more likable and superficially interesting characters, I think that the handling of Shadow (as compared to Richard) is one of the biggest reason why American Gods is the greater book. I've said something before either in the MM or with Tseeps (probably both) about my opinion on this, and I think I'll make a nice, unified LJ post later.

As a side note, I found Neverwhere to be one of the most humorous books I've ever read. I don't think any book has ever made me snicker as often as that one. I'm in awe of how effortlessly he inserts humor without allowing it to distract in the slightest. On a scale from one to ten, his prose rates at something like a thirteen. The words and sentences he writes are just so wonderful.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 27th, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I think that the handling of Shadow (as compared to Richard) is one of the biggest reason why American Gods is the greater book.
It's odd because Tseeps was saying she couldn't love it because the characters didn't do it for her, so I was kind of expecting Shadow to be as characterless as the protagonist of Neuromancer, but he was definitely compelling and interesting. I don't remember much about Richard Mayhew, though he seemed like a nice enough guy. But I loved Shadow's continual coin tricks.

As a side note, I found Neverwhere to be one of the most humorous books I've ever read. I don't think any book has ever made me snicker as often as that one.
Hm, I don't think it was like that for me. I think I laughed more through Cryptonomicon. Or Shopgirl. Or probably some Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. I don't remember much about Neverwhere, really.

I'm in awe of how effortlessly he inserts humor without allowing it to distract in the slightest.
One of my favorite moments/lines in American Gods is "So she showed him." Completely awesome, yet hilarious and scary at the same time.

On a scale from one to ten, his prose rates at something like a thirteen. The words and sentences he writes are just so wonderful.
I tried to pay attention to the prose and figure out what's so good about it, but I couldn't. I couldn't figure out what was so Gaimain-y about the actual writing.
From:ikcelaks
Date:September 28th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
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It's odd because Tseeps was saying she couldn't love it because the characters didn't do it for her...
As I recall, she had a hard time liking most of the characters, which detracted from her ability to care about them. I completely agree that few were particularly likable, and Shadow was so distant it was almost scary. It's not Shadow's qualities as a man that made him such a rich character; it's the depth with which he was presented and the compelling nature and depiction of his growth as a man that made me care so deeply. Richard, although he was significantly more likable, just wasn't given the same care and attention (as I saw it).

I think I laughed more through Cryptonomicon.
Ooo, I totally overlooked Cryptonomicon, which has a similar but not quite as morbid dose of humor. That's a really close call, and I refuse to put one over the other in terms of humor (Cryptonomicon owns as a total package.).

One of my favorite moments/lines in American Gods is "So she showed him." Completely awesome, yet hilarious and scary at the same time.
That's Gaiman in a nutshell. There doesn't seem to be much that is particularly idiosyncratic about the way he writes. He just has this way of maximizing a sentence's expressiveness.
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From:pixie37373
Date:September 27th, 2007 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Loved American Gods! It was my first of his, so nothing else has lived up to it yet.
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From:glasseseater
Date:September 29th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)

my name is katy, and I don't love neil gaiman as much as I should

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I sort of did the same thing- I liked Good Omens, I thought Neverwhere was cute, I had almost given up halfway through American Gods then it blew me away. I'm glad to read similar responses from so many other people (yours, of course, holds the most weight); for years I carried around this guilt for not completely and totally giving myself to Neil Gaiman.

I need to read the Sandman but books are expensive.

Have you read his (shudder) blog? I think some of my favorite writing of his came from there, although I haven't read it in awhile.

and somewhat relatedly, I believe you said you took a class on fairytalesandorfolklore? would you possibly have any recommendations from something you read/watched/experienced that you wouldn't mind passing on to me?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 29th, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)

Your name is Katy, and OMG you have a new icon

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Aww, it's definitely nice to know that I wasn't alone in my Gaiman experience.

You need to read Sandman, and that's why we have libraries.

I have occasionally read his blog, which I know is quite popular.

And wow, good memory. I did take a class in German fairy tales. What sort of recommendations are you looking for? I wrote a paper on E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Magic Pot," which is pretty neat. Otherwise, we just read some Grimm's stuff with talking sausages and shit.
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From:glasseseater
Date:September 29th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)

Re: Your name is Katy, and OMG you have a new icon

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I owe the library eight dollars.

I was just wondering if you read any history ofs, or any strange fairy tales only known to the monks of Rice University. I have this whole, thesis thing, about like, fantasy and stuff, and I need to act like I know what I'm talking about, which I don't, so I am researching like crazy so that I can fake it.

I can't say I remember anything about talking sausages.

and since you're giving me recommendations, my new icon is from scarygoround and you should read it. it is full of of whimsy, british humor, and ghosts. everyone loves ghosts!

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