The Book of the Celestial Cow - In Which Death Is Not Allowed to Take a Holiday

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November 12th, 2007


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12:22 am - In Which Death Is Not Allowed to Take a Holiday
After loving American Gods, I really had no choice but to read its follow-up/sequel, Anansi Boys.

It's not necessary to read American Gods to appreciate Anansi Boys, as the only common character is Mr. Nancy (Anansi), who appears in the first chapter and promptly dies. You might infer from my wording that Anansi Boys is perhaps a more lighthearted romp than American Gods, and you would be correct. Thus, it's far easier to love, and love it I did, from very early on. Hell, it had me from the title of the first chapter, which is "Which Is Mostly About Names and Family Relationships." I am a sucker for that style of chapter title, as it lends itself to chapter titles like "In Which a Pot of Coffee Comes in Particularly Useful."

Anansi Boys is the story of Fat Charlie Nancy, a relatively normal Londoner with a fiancée named Rosie, who, in the space of a few days, learns not only that his dad has died...but also that he has a brother, Spider. Spider is...not so normal, being much more Son of a God and way into the trickster spirit. He proceeds to wreak havoc on Fat Charlie's calm and stable little life.

I was very pleased and amused that, after having detected a certain Arthur Dentness from Fat Charlie and Ford Prefectness from Spider, I turned to the back cover to find a quote from Susanna Clarke saying that the book "combines the anarchy of Douglas Adams with a Wodehousian generosity of spirit." And it is Adams-y, but it's also quite Gaiman-y. The humor and offbeat style is Adams, but the meat is Gaiman, who weaves in a recurring metaphor about songs and their importance and again plays with folklore. Also, his voice shines through, as he often makes asides to the reader about the story at hand as well as when he's telling us an Anansi story; by positioning himself as the storyteller, he turns the book itself into an Anansi story.

From beginning to end, the book is engaging and fun with characters you both love and love to hate (or just plain hate, depending on your feelings on Spider). It's a testament to the humor and style that I didn't care that for half the book, there really isn't a plot except "Spider fucks with Fat Charlie's life." Gaiman the storyteller, however, foreshadows the development of the real plot that emerges and keeps you itching for more. It's not as mindblowing as American Gods, but it's not trying to be. It's trying to be fun, and it succeeds.



After loving I Am the Messenger, I really had no choice but to read Markus Zusak's other well-known novel, The Book Thief.

The Book Thief, in the words of the narrator:
It's just a small story really, about, among other things:
*A girl
*Some words
*An accordionist
*Some fanatical Germans
*A Jewish fist fighter
*And quite a lot of thievery
The narrator is Death, and he is unlike any Death I've ever read or seen. This Death doesn't particularly enjoy his "job," taking souls when it's time. He is intensely fascinated by humans. He tries to understand them objectively, but the truth is, he's quite sympathetic. And he takes special interest in the life of Liesel Meminger, the titular book thief, a young German girl who grows up during World War II under the care of foster parents. To Death, Liesel's story—a story about acts of human kindness amidst the horrors of war, about the power of words and storytelling, about, as the blurb says, "the ability of books to feed the soul"—is an attempt to prove to him that "you, and your human existence, are worth it."

And they classify this as Young Adult.

The story is set in the small town of Molching, Germany, and Zusak populates the town with lively characters, making it feel like a tightly knit community. Some of these characters are members of the Nazi party, and most of them go around Heiling Hitler, but they're just people. They're not the ones doing the dirty work. Some of them don't even support the Nazi ideals; they just happen to, you know, live in Germany.

I read The Book Thief as a series of little stories. Each chapter is somewhat self-contained, a small prose piece; this isn't a book with R.L. Stine-style cliffhangers. These little stories add up to form the tale of Liesel Meminger and the important people in her life. Rudy Steiner, her best friend, who idolizes Jesse Owens and constantly asks Liesel for a kiss. Hans Hubermann, her foster father, who understands Liesel and her need for books like no one else. Rosa Hubermann, her foster mother, who shows her love for Liesel by calling her Saumensch (pig). And Max Vandenburg, a Jew Hans takes into hiding, who forms a beautiful bond with Liesel.

*** A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THE STYLE OF THE BOOK ***
Death will often break into these segments to
deliver information he considers notable or
important. Sometimes, I feel like he does it
just to be amusing.

Death is not only occasionally amusing, but he's a fucking poet. He can conjure up images with just a few words, and he can kick you in the stomach with effective paragraphing. You want to savor every word.

The book reminded me of The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in that they're both intensely personal stories set against the backdrop of WWII. It shows how regular people, everyday Germans, were affected. When I finished, I wanted the story to be real. I wanted these characters to have actually lived. I adored Liesel, loved Max, admired Hans.

Predictably, I was perhaps most enchanted by the multilayered narrative, the stories within stories, the larger story and the embedded tales, the meta-device of the narrator speaking to the reader and commenting on the storytelling (at one point, Death totally spoils the ending of the book and then kinda-sorta apologizes but not really because he's not really concerned with that sort of thing). This is a story Death is compelled to tell; he needs to tell us; he needs to understand it. He's only there for our ends, but there's so much that happens before that.

It's a truly unique book, and I highly recommend it. It's the kind of book you want to hug to your chest when you're done with it.

Which is what I did.
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: Silversun Pickups - Lazy Eye

(24 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:latropita
Date:November 12th, 2007 08:57 am (UTC)
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Damn, The Book Thief sounds really interesting. That SPECIAL NOTE BY DEATH makes Death sound like Drosselmeyer. Fucking narrators.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
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It's really interesting! And Death is so not like Drosselmeyer! He's much nicer. Narrators are great.
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From:electricmonk
Date:November 12th, 2007 09:47 am (UTC)
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Dealing with Dragons et al. had chapter titles like that, didn't they? I wonder where the trope comes from.

And I was just talking to someone about how I really ought to read Kavalier and Clay. Aw, books.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Dickens?
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From:electricmonk
Date:November 12th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
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Hm. I thought he did that thing where chapter titles were like "The boy in the iceberg — The painted lady — A blind bandit saves the day — There is much bitter work — The city of walls and secrets."

Wait, that was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
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From:electricmonk
Date:November 12th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
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Well, this title page, from 1598, does the whole descriptive thing. It seems to serve the same advertising purpose as a back-of-the-book blurb. Maybe they then did it for chapters when things were serialized to convince you to read each one. Um, except Dickens. Okay, it's a theory in progress.

Also, Robinson Crusoe might have the best full title ever. Or else Moll Flanders:
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.
/nerd. God bless the internet.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
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Hee. Oh, old-tymey titles.
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From:lynevere
Date:November 12th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
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It's the kind of book you want to hug to your chest when you're done with it. Which is what I did.
Awww.

Huh, I never knew that American Gods and Anansi Boys were related. I read the first third of American Gods while locked out of my hostel room in Panama, so perhaps I wasn't concentrating on the book as much as I should. Anansi Boys was a little out there for me. With Hitchhiker's Guide (I've not read any other Douglas Adams), I found the strange turns to be funny, but for Anansi Boys, they were just bizarre.

I did enjoy The Book Thief, though. My favorite parts were Rudy and the bond between Liesel and Max.

You make an interesting point about what's included in Young Adult books. I read a fair number of them (most recently Nick Hornby's Slam and Lois Lowry's The Giver), but I don't really know how they're classified. Sometimes (as with Slam), we think teens want to read about IMPORTANT TOPICS like teen pregnancy, drug use, or depression. Often, though, it seems the book is classified by the age of its protagonist and not its reader. (Although once a book is in the YA section, I guess the age of the reader becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
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Huh, I never knew that American Gods and Anansi Boys were related.
Seriously? But...Mr. Nancy.

Often, though, it seems the book is classified by the age of its protagonist and not its reader. (Although once a book is in the YA section, I guess the age of the reader becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
I mean, The Lovely Bones is about a fourteen-year-old girl, and it doesn't get stuck in YA. Nothing about The Book Thief says YA to me at all. It's just as deep and creative and enriching as any adult novel.
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From:lynevere
Date:November 13th, 2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Seriously? But...Mr. Nancy.

Perhaps some justification: The copy of American Gods belonged to the hostel, so I never finished that one, and I fell asleep during Anansi Boys (audio book). Hmm, it's increasingly sounding like I had no authority to be commenting in the first place.
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From:grammargirl
Date:November 12th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
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Yay The Book Thief! The best book I've read this year, hands down.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
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I came across a kind of snooty New York Times review of the book and wanted to punch it in the face.
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From:shpyum
Date:November 12th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
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Speaking of Death, have the read the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony? I kind of can't stand Xanth, but really loved Incarnations of Immortality, which includes a book where the main character is Death.

I thought Anansi Boys was actually darker than American Gods. *shrugs* I loved it better, though. I love Trickster beyond what is healthy for me. : )
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
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Darker, really? Huh.

I've never read any Piers Anthony.
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From:actoplasm
Date:November 12th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm guessing you've read "Neverwhere" already, right?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)
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That was my first Gaiman.
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From:actoplasm
Date:November 13th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
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Have you done the graphic novels too? Sandman, etc.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 13th, 2007 08:27 am (UTC)
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Yep. Click the link in this post; the American Gods post gives my Gaiman history.
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From:cucumbersarnies
Date:November 12th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
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I got the Book Thief for wastedfairy on her birthday. I shall have to steal it back at some point.

I'm still on a big Sandman kick- I'm up to book four now. It's so dense- if you don't read every frame properly, then you may miss something three books down the line. it's hard work!
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From:penmage
Date:November 13th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC)
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I rarely cry when I read books. The last thirty pages or so of The Book Thief had me bawling, nonstop. I would read one section, cry, regain composure, think I was okay. Then I would read on, and the cycle would start all over again.
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From:maidofawesome
Date:November 17th, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)
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Yes! The Book Thief is one of those books I want to get for everyone, because everyone has to read it. I only added it to my wish list because I liked the cover, and the reviews sounded okay - I found out afterwards that it had all this hype that had totally passed me by. It normally does, with books. I just got it for my friend's birthday this weekend.

I looooooved it. It made me cry so much at the end, great gulping sobs, even though you know it's going to happen that way, you still hope that it isn't, and... god. I don't think I've ever read a book that's made me cry THAT much at the end. I leant it to my dad after I read it, and he cried too - it's currently at my granny's.

I really liked Anansi Boys, too. It's lighthearted, but also awesome. I love Gaiman. I don't recall you ever saying if you've ever seen him at a con or anything, but he's just awesome. He's such an interesting, nice man, who is great at public speaking, and funny, and puts you instantly at ease in signing queues, even though you're the five hundredth person he's signed for that day. He's probably the only celebrity/idol I've met who wasn't a disappointment.

I haven't read Sandman, but I bought myself Absolute Sandman recently. I'm going to read it in December, when my exams are over. Smoke and Mirrors remains my favourite Gaiman book. It's the introduction, and the collection of stories, it just gives me ideas for stories in my head and makes me want to write. I can't really pinpoint why it gives me so much inspiration, it just DOES. And it's awesome.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:November 17th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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I've never met Gaiman, but I do hear he's pretty awesome in person.

Sandman is so totally awesome!! I hope you love it.

I liked Smoke and Mirrors, but, oh, I do love the introduction. I mean, what better treat than a glimpse into the man's writing process? Don't you sometimes think, "Where did this story come from?" GAIMAN TELLS YOU.
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From:maidofawesome
Date:November 17th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
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I think that's what I love the best about it. It gets me thinking about the process, and stories get born. I used to always read it on the coach home from uni, and then I'd get frustrated because I wouldn't have anything to scribble with...

I've read a couple of the Sandman books. I'm looking forward to reading it all at once.

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