Howdy there, and thanks for stumbling upon my blog!
My name is Drew, and I'm challenging myself to read 52 books in a 1 year span of time. I live in Chicago, where I am a full time student, and play on an awesome rugby team. Between those two, and eventually work, finding the time to read 52 books could be quite a challenge, so I hope you'll help me out by clicking on the "suggest a book" tab below, and helping me decide what to read next!
I hope, too, that you all can find books you might like through the the reviews that I write!
Thanks for visiting!

 

Ugh.

I moved yesterday! It’s exciting, but the whole packing, loading everything into a truck, unloading it, and then unpacking (which I still haven’t finished yet…) has left me with little time to finish any posts. I’ve got 3 more books lined up to go over. Four, if I finish my current one.

I’m posting now to say that I expect 3 posts up next week.

Book 2: Anansi Boys

September 24th 2010. Day 9.

NOTE: This post will contain mild spoilers for the book Ananasi Boys. It also contains spoilers for American Gods, which is the precursor to this book. I would suggest reading American Gods before you read this post.

When it comes to books, movies, video games, and to a much lesser extent, TV shows, I tend to be pretty sensitive to spoilers. When I’m really looking forward to something, I go into blackout mode, ignoring everything I can about it until it’s time to read it. I even get frustrated when I’m reading the back cover of a book, and they tell me something that I’d find out in the first several pages. I’m that ridiculous.
But, you aren’t me. And you may not have my sensitivities, so I’m going to be less spoiler sensitive. But still, I’m not going to give too much away.

(aside from when I say something like the rant above, I’m going to try and just jump into these from now on.)

 Anywho

The second book I read, and that I am going to review, is Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys is, in a manner of speaking, a sequel to American Gods. Though I think “successor” or “spiritual successor” do much better jobs of describing it.

I found the end of American Gods to be nice and definitive, and I was worried that a sequel involving the same set of characters kind of… ruining them in my eyes. But I also had enough faith in Gaiman to, you know. Not ruin everything.

And he didn’t! Hooray!

Anansi Boys starts shortly after the death of Mr. Nancy, a somewhat minor, but still significant character from American Gods, and follows the life changing effects that his death has on his son, Fat Charlie.

I noticed, in the first 3 pages, an interesting theme that Anansi Boys already had in common with American Gods, Fat Charlie is not close with his father. Granted, unlike American Gods’ Shadow, he was raised knowing who his father was. But, while his parents were still married, the practical jokes that his father played on him (which Mr. Nancy surely saw as harmless teasing, and Charlie saw as cruel harassment) created a distance between them. Later, when his mother’d had enough, left Charlie’s father, and moved to England, the rift grew larger, leaving us with the impression that he and his father had not communicated until his mothers death.

Also, similarly to Shadow, Fat Charlie isn’t aware of the implications of his parentage at the beginning of the story. He knows that his father is Mr. Nancy (they don’t give us a first name, really…), but it isn’t until near the end of the second chapter, after he flies back to the United States, that he is informed by his former next door neighbor that his father was a god.

"Of course he was!" said Mrs Higgler, fiercely, “But you can’t judge him like you would judge a man. You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god.”
  "A god among men?"
"No. Just a god." She said it without any kind of emphasis, as flatly and as normally as she might have said "he was diabetic" or simply "he was black."

One of the interesting things about the above passage, besides how it illustrates the somewhat more silly, Douglas Adams-esque tone that you see throughout this novel as opposed to the more sombre one of American Gods, is that this is one of the only times that a character is specifically referred to as being black, which leads me into my next point.

Aside from the example above, and the character Daisy, who is explained to have a father who came from Hong Kong, and a mother who comes from Ethiopia, race is never clearly stated for any of the characters. Not to say that Gaiman specifically and intentionally left out descriptors which pointed you in the direction of being aware that several (if not most) of the characters are black. What he did, was never make it in any way an issue within the book. He didn’t call attention to race, except to explain the background of one of the characters, while not skirting an issue at all. It was very tactfully done, in a way which I have seen several other writers attempt with much, much less success.

So. Fat Charlie Nancy flies to America for his fathers funeral, where he is told by his neighbor, Mrs Higgler, that his father was a god. She also tells him that he has a brother, who was banished when he was quite young. Charlie, understandably, is skeptical of all of this. He points out that he thinks he would remember having a brother, or that it might have come up at some point during his life. He, in fact, makes a whole series of logical statements, which doesn’t seem to have any effect on her at all. She just tells him to ask a spider, if he would really like to meet him.

Charlie returns to England, some plot related things happen, and he sees a spider. On a whim, he asks it to tell his brother he’d like to meet him.

And then, we meet Spider. A minor sort of trickster god, whom, upon deciding he likes something, takes it, does with it what he will, and then abandons it as soon as it loses interest, whether it be jobs (if he’s ever had one), apartments, cities, women. And, upon meeting Fat Charlie he decides that he likes Charlie. Not only does he like Charlie, he likes his flat, he likes his city, and he likes his fiancé. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

I really appreciated the approach that Gaiman took to this book. It was at times alarming and serious, wickedly funny at others, and even meanderingly goofy and delightful in a way American Gods never was. Anansi Boys, funnily enough, was much more mythological. Granted, there were less obscure references, and even less pointed-out-clearly-and-part-of-the-main-story-but-still-never-thoroughly-explained mythologies, but during breaks in the story, at the ends of chapters, and occasionally woven into the novel itself, were the stories of Anansi, the trickster spider (and occasionally rabbit) god of West African and Caribbean mythology. And these stories, though they seem to be almost tangential at first, are used in a number of surprising ways. To make transitions from one scene to the next easier to digest, to move the story along, to explain in a creative manner plot points that would not have otherwise made much sense, and even to develop characters, from time to time.

Gaiman explores themes similar to those in American Gods, though this time he seems to take it and run in a different direction. Rather than focusing on faith and belief, whether it be in a deity or in a person person, he focuses more on interpersonal relationships, and the bonds one tends to make throughout the course of their lives. Comparing the theme of family between the two books, however, becomes complicated. Because he explores some of the same sorts of familial relationships (the father son), in a similar, but simultaneously completely different way.

Rather than Shadow’s suddenly shockingly finding his father to be someone of questionable moral fiber, whom he has conflicting, possibly (probably, even) negative feelings towards, Gaiman this time puts us in the the shoes of Charlie, who knows his father from the beginning, and detests him. He then throws in the wild card of a surprising, selfish so likable that you want to throttle him brother called Spider, whom Charlie quickly comes to detest as well. And then, slowly, as they endure sudden shifts of paradigm, and trial after trial, we watch them grow, and we witness change, as Charlie begins the arduous, one sided task of repairing his relationship with his dead father, and coming to accept his brilliant, hedonistic, self absorbed brother.

Various other themes aside, Gaiman using striking devices and imagery, changing not only tone, but style. His characters are much more expressive, and much more introspective. When things start to change in their lives, we often find them not only asking why, but bemoaning their change of circumstances. They have obvious character flaws (besides being evil), whether they be over or under-confidence, self absorption, or in the case of Rosie’s mother, just being a prospective mother in law. And every single one of these well defined characters with their many, well defined qualities and failings, grow and change in noticeable ways, which is possibly one of the most satisfying aspects of reading Anansi Boys.

Gaiman also introduces an interesting way of telling his story, following the spidery, web-like sort of imagery you’d expect from a story about the children of a god-spider. 

"Stories are webs, interconnected strand to strand, and you follow each story to the center, because the center is the end. Each person is a strand of the story."

A self contained description of the style of the book, I honestly couldn’t think of a more accurate way of describing they method of storytelling used. You often read passages, sentences, and paragraphs that at first glance appear to be tangential, that do nothing more than set mood, or give you a moment to breathe and process the chapters you just read, only to get the the end of the book and realize that contained in all these bits and pieces, all these seemingly unnecessary passages and paragraphs give you a strong, beautiful, artfully crafted story that wouldn’t be nearly so complete without them. 

Again, I feel compelled to recommend this book to everyone that I know. It is thrilling and delightful, it is heartwarming and funny, but most of importantly, it is an excellent, well written story, and the perfect companion piece to American Gods. I honestly cannot praise this book highly enough.

On a slightly tangential note, watch Neil Gaiman appear on the PBS TV show Arthur on October 25th! Even if Neil Gaiman on his own was not enough, he will be appearing on an episode that seems to draw some sort of important metaphor from falafel! Neil Gaiman as a writer/cat, and falafel all at once. How can you say no to something like this?

Seriously. Watch it. I know I will!

And yes. I have 2 or 3 more Neil Gaiman books queued up to review. And I will bring this up every time I do one, until this episode airs. So be ready for that.

Book 1: American Gods

September 16th, 2010. Day 1.

[NOTE: This will contain small spoilers for the book American Gods by Neil Gaiman]. (Nothing you wouldn’t find out after reading the first chapter or two, anyway…)

So, the first book, this time through, is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

American Gods

Beautiful, yes?

The back cover reads:

"Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming— a battle for the very soul of America… and they are in its direct path.
One of the most talked-about books of the new millennium,
American Gods is a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an American landscape at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. It is, quite simply, a contemporary masterpiece.”

As far as I can tell, I am one of the few people I know who had not actually read this book. My mom and brother both own a copy, as do most of my friends, several professors, and every person I ran into at the bookstore as I was buying it.

The majority of readers, it seems, are originally familiar with Gaiman through his work on the graphic novel series The Sandman, myself included. I didn’t read the series the whole way through- I got waylaid on the issue where everyone is a cat, and my interest was caught by other things. But I remember being affected deeply by what I had read up until that point.

Anyway. I was in Borders a few weeks ago, looking for something new to read. I finished a couple of books that I had been reading before, which is some of what inspired me to start this challenge, and was looking for something new to read. Specifically, I was looking for DayWatch, TwilightWatch, or LastWatch (I read most of NightWatch shortly after seeing the film, and wasn’t completely disappointed with it), and I stumbled upon several books by Neil Gaiman, who I knew at that point as the writer of Coraline and Stardust (though I hadn’t yet read either of those), The Sandman, and as someone who influenced Susanna Clarke, writer of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And I thought: Fine. I’ll drop 15 bucks, and satisfy everyone who has demanded or suggested that I read this book.

My mother said, upon hearing what I was reading, said “Oh, that’s excellent! That should occupy you for 2 weeks or so.”
Less than a week later, I was done.

And now, onto the review portion of this post! Hooray!
(I swear, the rambling introductions before the actual review are going to be much shorter in the future.)

My first thought, upon starting American Gods was that I wasn’t sure how I felt about the name of the main character being Shadow. Knowing something of the concept of the book when I started reading it, I assumed that I was coming in on something similar to one of the Endless of The Sandman lore, in jail for some reason or another. It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t the case, and that Shadow was a nickname for the character, though something that spoke volumes in various ways about his character.

By the end of the first chapter, it stopped being awkward to read as a name. And by the end of the book, I honestly couldn’t think of calling the character by any other name.

And, in the end, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that a characters name was a little awkward to read at first, you’ve got a pretty good book on your hands.

American Gods starts with Shadow, the main character of the story, reflecting on his time in jail, and looking forward to life on the outside, where he’s got a job lined up working at his friends gym, and a wife eagerly awaiting his return.
This all changes, however, when he is called into the wardens office, and is told that his wife was killed in a car crash. Shadow is released a few days early, and catches the first flight home.

While en route, he encounters a man by the name of Mr. Wednesday, who, as the back cover tells us, offers Shadow a job, and seems to know far more about the various goings on in Shadows life than he should (far more than Shadow himself seems to).

Eventually, he convinces Shadow to take him up on his offer of employment, which sends them spiraling across America in its entirety, blurring the lines between reality and mysticism, exploring the relationships between family, friends, and employers, and forcing us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and the things that we create with our beliefs.

As I said before, I hadn’t read anything by Gaiman up to this point outside of the first several issues of The Sandman series, and it is hard to draw comparisons to other books of the genre, because this book honestly creates a new sort of genre. The closest comparison I can think of, to be honest, is The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams, which is for the most part only similar in subject matter, and actual quality of the writing, though the tone, approach, and feel are quite different between the two.

American Gods, though, did come to me quite highly recommended, and after weighing what I’d gathered from my friends and family, the jacket description, and the copious words of praise adorning the first several pages of my copy of the book (all combined with my viewing of the film Coraline, and my incomplete reading of The Sandman almost a decade ago), I was able to put together an idea of what I thought the book would be like, if not what it was going to be about.

With the vague allusions that everyone would send my way (always sensitive to not give too much of the premise away, and ruin any of the surprise) as to the concept behind the novel, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quote on the back, describing it as “By turns thoughtful, hilarious, disturbing, uplifting, horrifying, and enjoyable”, which surprisingly did the most of anything to skew my idea of how the story would unfold, my thoughts on it were this.

Firstly, that it would be similar to, though much more serious than the afore mentioned Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, in that a strong willed protagonist would unwittingly get drawn into the lives of Gods who had abandoned their home country (though, in the case of the Adams novel, it was more of a world), and were struggling to survive on the meager power and energy that the lack of belief had left them with.

Secondly, it would be akin to The Sandman in tone. Filled with bits that make you smile or laugh, but serious as a general rule, and creepy, in the way you’d expect from a good horror novel.

And lastly (not lastly, really, but as a last bullet point, of sorts), I expected it to be meandering, bordering on the epic.

Not to say that I was completely off base with those expectations. Some were more accurate than others. American Gods was simultaneously more and less serious than Adams’, though that’s more a result of the approach, than Gaiman’s.

What I mean to say, though, is that this book proved to me in the first several pages that I was wrong to go in with the expectations that I did. Upon first meeting Shadow, I was told immediately that he was not a Dirk Gently.

The best thing- in Shadow’s opinion, perhaps the only good thing- about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he’d plunged as low as he could plunge and he’d hit the bottom. He didn’t worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

It’s a little plain, I guess, but this is what really killed the idea of the unassuming protagonist becoming drawn into matters above his comprehension. Gaiman assumes the non-omniscient 3rd person narrative perspective, which makes getting to know the frustratingly introverted Shadow quite difficult, and at leads to several odd, but entirely delightful chapters where Shadow wanders around the town of Lakeside, buying clothes, eating pasties, and going to used book sales at the local library, just waiting for the story to move along without him.
He’s the type of character, you see, who doesn’t ask questions he’s not supposed to ask, and tries not to do what he’s told not to do. Which makes him hard to write about, but not as hard to write for, I’m sure.

Touching at all the right moments, hauntingly familiar, and incredibly visceral,American Gods is a wonderful, truly awe inspiring novel that I would recommend to anyone who is fortunate enough to come across it.
I was, however, a little disappointed, though, that I didn’t find it to be particularly disturbing or horrifying, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described it. It was, however, uplifting, thoughtful, hilarious, and enjoyable, and an excellent book in every way.

On loosely related note, Neil Gaiman will be appearing on the PBS TV series Arthur. On October 25th, 2010. He plays Neil Gaiman, a writer/comic book artist who is also a cat. The episode is called Falafelosophy. How can you not want to watch that.

Here is Neil Gaiman buying a falafel sandwich.

I don't even know.

It looks kind of like a half a pie, with lettuce blossoming out of it. And snails crawling across the top. I was baffled until it occurred to me that they were supposed to be falafel. And then I read the episode summary, and was so excited.

If you’d like to see something else in my subsequent reviews, just give me a heads up, and I’ll do what I can to improve. You might see some more stuff about this episode of Arthur, in the next month or so. But it’s so delightful, how could someone not enjoy it?

As a side note: sorry for formatting issues on the RSS Feed. Apparently I formatted the book cover image poorly. I’ll try and do a better job in the future.

So lets try this again.

Howdy out there!

Sorry about how I sort of dropped this for a couple of months. I’ve been reading a lot recently, but was having trouble making the 2 books a week threshold for a while, got discouraged, and fell farther and farther behind. I didn’t read anything for about a week and a half, and started reading again, making it through between 1 and 3 books in a week.

So, I’m making an addendum to this plan of mine. 52 books, in 52 weeks. A book a week for the next year. The problem, however, is that as of now, I’m hitting that goal with no real problems. Maybe I should aim for 75?

So, lets start again. I’ve read uh… 4 and a half or so books in the last 3 weeks? I’ve written out reviews for some of them. I’m currently making my way through the 5th, and am planning on something large and potentially detrimental to my “one each week” plan, for the next book. So I’m going to cheat a little, call today my first, and use some of those that I’ve already read in order to help me keep on track through the monster of a book that is coming next.

Anyway. Thanks for sticking with me guys, and uh… subscribe to the RSS feed. Whoo!