So I finally got around to reading (in the audiobook sense) Neil Gaiman’s (dare I say masterwork?) American Gods. Awesome. Epic. Beautiful. True. Clever. Relevant. Now I know what all the fuss was about.
Who out there has read it? If you haven’t, get out there and read it. I want to discuss it with somebody! But there’s nothing that I want to say that I don’t consider spoilery (in the sense that I wouldn’t have wanted to read such a post in advance of my reading). I feel the same way about Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution. So if anyone has read either of those books, make yourself known to me. Let’s have a chat.
The audiobook was masterfully read by the inimitable George Guidall.
The experience was also noteworthy because it was the first time that I listened to a book on one of those pre-loaded audiobook gadgets that the library has now. You get a thing, you stick in a battery, plug in headphones, turn it on, and out comes the story. It was a great experience, and I’ll be returning to that library to raid their collection.
Aside from the convenience of having such a small and portable version of a book, without the annoyance of changing CDs, and even with options for the speed at which the narrator speaks, audiobooks solve a deeper problem that novels often have. They conceal your relative location in the book. With a normal book, you can physically feel how far you are from the end, just by the weight of the book on your hand . With a normal audiobook, you have the same phenomenon, just measured in progress through the stack of CDs. If you have read more than a few books in your life, this information (which is probably impossible to filter out) can be a spoiler all by itself. It is generally clear at the start of a confrontation or conversation whether it will tend to resolve issues or ramify issues. (This phenomenon and the difficulty of circumventing it are best discussed in Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter; a Scribr version of this whole book can be found at this blog post — the relevant portion begins on page 408.)
But perhaps the spookiest thing came at the very end of the book. If you are at all familiar with Recorded Books productions, you know that they end by suggesting two other Recorded Books items that they think you will also enjoy. Now, usually these book are in the same genre as the book you just heard and/or shame thematic elements. Something like that. In this case, one of the books suggested was Cod. This is a “biography” of cod (yes, the fish, cod) and purely nonfictional telling of how cod has played a significant role in the shaping and the history of our civilization. (It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.) Now, I don’t see any connection of any kind between that and a fantasy tale of the conflict between the old gods and myths and the new “gods” of television, internet, and credit card, for the soul of the American people. But here’s the thing. It just so happens that I have read Cod. And it just so happens that I thought it was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. So was the voice in the machine just lucky? Can there really be some deeper connection to which I am utterly oblivious between the two books? Or some reason why readers of American Gods would be atypically likely to take a suggestion to try out Cod?
What’s it all about, Alfie?