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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Wonder: Reading progress update (215 out of 541 pages)

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

I tried watching the X-Files for the first time recently but I didn't get past a couple episodes (I can hear dozens of you closing this post immediately). For 20 years I remained on the fringes of conversations about the X-Files and I has this idea of what it was: a mysterious, out there, genre-defying experiment. The opening credits were all I had actually seen and what I know stemmed from them and the iconic "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster. The poster was a declaration, a desire to find an end you already decided on. I imagined inexplicable coincidences, hints of the fantastic and two FBI agents applying rudimentary tools to discover something that is beyond our understanding of the universe. What I got was UFOs and werewolves.


Aliens exist and there is a labyrinthine government conspiracy to ... something, but obviously we can't know about it, or other things.


As I have begun to read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I am reminded what it is I thought I would find in the X-Files that never materialized: the feeling of wonder. Gaiman is not coy about including the supernatural in his work, but it is always super-natural. The worlds he writes step outside of our own, but are somehow still compatible with it. It is as if there is some spectrum that we don't even know to look for but would reveal that nothing is really how we see it. The reader, along with the protagonist Shadow, learn names, some sketches of a back story for the gods, some glimpse of what this all is, but the best parts remain a mystery. What are full powers of these gods? What do they do? What does it mean to live in this world? How does this affect anyone besides Shadow and the occasional superstitious immigrant?


There is a certain school of Sci-Fi that revels in the technicalities; Gaiman is not of that school. Shadow has been told several times in my reading so far that he doesn't get paid to ask questions, and each instance feels like a gentle rebuke of the reader: This is not a world to understand. There will be no rules about how one kills a god, or some mundane scientific explanation (midichlorians!). You're on a road trip with a god, what you need to know is that he needs to raise cash. It seems like a strange thing for a god to want, but then, why would a god need a car, or a valet, and why would he be on a road trip anyway? If you wanted to answer some of these questions you would probably have to answer them all, but Gaiman opts to answer none and moves on with the story.


The effect is to leave the reader off balance. It is a whole movie with the camera tilted slightly askew. Balls roll across level surfaces and men stand comfortable straight on apparently steep ascents. So our gods act: petty and grand, magical but always short on cash, ancient but unmistakably American. The facts are beside the point, this is a world beyond what we understand, it is strange and magical, but no practical explanation could do justice to how it makes you feel. It just sort of makes you wonder...