Thursday, May 03, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 41

There. I'm home again from all the travelling, and now it's time to recharge my batteries, as I'm pretty much spent. Tonight I holed up in a small recording studio, reading short pieces (and a long one) for the next spoken word CD. More recording tomorrow night. More Avalon tomorrow. And I think I may start the second draft of DEATH as soon as that's done: it'll be more fun than waiting to see if there's a strike coming or not.

And meanwhile, let's talk about the triumvirate of KIRKUS, PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY and BOOKLIST reviews (and LIBRARY JOURNAL makes up a quartet).

Overall, I'm not sure how much influence reviews have in the real world. I've seen a publisher (Workmans) get scared by a bad review in the New York Times and more or less dump a book -- but the book itself - Good Omens - has gone on to become a perennial bestseller in paperback without them. (It's just about to be reissued in the US in a new cover.) And I don't know of any other publishers who have ever reacted to reviews at all, good or bad. (They send them to you, and I think they circulate them around in-house, and they are pleased by the good ones and try very hard to keep the bad ones from you. But they don't DO anything different when faced by bad reviews, if you see what I mean.)

More to the point, I've seen books with amazing reviews, not to mention awards and enthusiastic plaudits from enormously famous writers sell the same number of books, or less, as the ones that don't get the reviews etc.

(Are sales important? Not as such, but they're the only way authors and publishers have of keeping score and comparing things: without sales you'd not know that, for example, Neverwhere in mass-market paperback was much more successful than Stardust, although Stardust did slightly better in hardcover. I suspect that Stardust will be much happier in the forthcoming 'trade paperback', the larger format, with a cover that makes it look more like a fairy tale for adults -- which it is -- and less like a generic fantasy novel -- which it certainly isn't.)

Most reviews come out when the book comes out. This is sensible, and strongly encouraged by publishers (who warn reviewers on the slips that go out with review copies not to review the book before publication date) because otherwise people cannot read a good review and then nip immediately down to the bookstore and buy a copy of two of the book.

There are exceptions to the embargo, though. PW, Kirkus, and Booklist all print their reviews a good way before the books come out, because they are reviewing for the trade: for bookstores and for libraries and for insiders. And their reviews become the Early Word on the book. (On several occasions I've had a good Kirkus review of one of my books followed up by movie and TV people calling to get hold of it, so I assume that they read it too, as a good place to go hunting for what they call 'properties' and the rest of us call 'stories'.)

Kirkus, PW and Booklist each put a star beside books they especially like. People pay a lot of attention to the stars. (If ever you've seen the phrase "Kirkus starred review" after a quote on the back of a bookjacket, that's what it meant. )

Obviously, the reviewers don't always agree. Neverwhere got a great review in Kirkus, I remember, and a stinker in PW (which said that it just showed I was a comics writer and the book would have been okay if only it had had pictures). But since then I've been very lucky with my early reviews in all the periodicals (and/or lucky with my reviewers -- BOOKLIST names its reviewers but Kirkus and (I think) PW reviewers are anonymous, and so get to utter pronouncements like the voice of God).

So today my editor, Jennifer Hershey, phoned. She was just on her way to an international book fair in Jerusalem, but wanted to call and read me something before she left the office.

It was the Kirkus Review of American Gods.

She read it to me, then she faxed me a copy.

I'll put the whole thing down here, because this is the first official review the book has got, and by this point, I hope, you're as curious as I was. Obviously, it's copyright Kirkus reviews (although I don't think they'd mind me putting it up here). It's from the May 15th edition...

An ex-convict is the wandering knight-errant who traverses the wasteland of middle America in this ambitious, gloriously funny, and oddly heartwarming latest from the popular fantasist. (STARDUST 1999, etc.)

Released from prison after serving a three-year term, Shadow is immediately rocked by the news that his beloved wife Laura has been killed in an automobile accident. While en route to Indiana for her funeral, Shadow meets an eccentric businessman who calls himself Wednesday ( a dead giveaway if you're up to speed on your Norse mythology), and passively accepts the latter's offer of an imprecisely defined job. The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore -- or indeed, anywhere on Earth he recognises. In dreams, he's visited by a grotesque figure with the head of a buffalo and the voice of a prophet -- as well as by Laura's rather alarmingly corporeal ghost. Gaiman layers in a horde of other stories whose relationship to Shadow's adventures are only gradually made clear, while putting his sturdy protagonist through a succession of tests that echo those of Arthurian hero Sir Gawain bound by honor to surrender his life to the malevolent Green Knight, Orpheus braving the terrors of Hades to find and rescue the woman he loves, and numerous other archetypal figures out of folklore and legend. Only an ogre would reveal much more about this big novel's agreeably intricate plot. Suffice it to say that this is the book that answers the question: When people emigrate to America, what happens to the gods they leave behind?

A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of all cultures, a unique and moving love story -- and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman. (Author Tour.)

And it has a star beside it.

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