Saturday, September 24, 2005

After the Book Festival...

Signed for a bit more than four hours at the National Book Festival for a lot of people. I'm not quite sure what the value of "a lot" was here (although I'd guess at 800+ and could by off by 2-300 in either direction), just that I had been getting through people as fast as ever I've signed before, and I feel honestly kind of dazed right now.

(The Book Festival press release says I "signed 500 books" -- but I think that means 500 copies of Anansi Boys. I signed a lot more things that weren't Anansi Boys.)

Am right now as excited as a small child at Christmas to know that I do not have to get up at 5:30 am tomorrow to fly anywhere, having signed until midnight the night before. I shall, instead, sleep until I wake, which, in the state I'm in right now, is a thrilling sort of thing and only spoiled vaguely by my suspicion that I'll wake up at 5:30 am anyway. But any night that I can get more than three hours of sleep plus whatever I can grab on a plane has to be a good night. And I shall eat with George R R Martin and Michael Dirda this evening, and I shall let them do all of the talking.

* * * *

There. The asterisks indicate the passage of time, also a very good meal, some nice red wine, and excellent conversation. First actual meal (as opposed to something gulped down while signing books) in a week. Suddenly the world seems a much more pleasant and hospitable place.

(I promised George I'd tell the world about his signing tours of the UK and the US in October and November -- you can read all about it at


Elizabeth Hand is a marvellous writer and a perceptive critic, and she gave me a decidedly mixed review for American Gods in the Village Voice some years ago, but it was the kind of review that, though it wasn't entirely positive, left me happy that she had at least read and was criticising and had understood the novel I had written, even if she didn't feel it was particularly successful.

Still, remembering that review, my heart sank a little when I saw that she'd reviewed Anansi Boys in the Washington Post. And then I read her review, and by the end of it I was prepared to battle her enemies or whitewash her fence. It begins,

With Anansi Boys , Neil Gaiman's delightful, funny and affecting new novel, the bestselling author has scored the literary equivalent of a hole in one, employing the kind of self-assured storytelling that makes it all look so easy. One can imagine Gaiman's legion of fans putting down the book and rushing en masse to pen their own riffs on traditional folklore and contemporary pop culture. But it's hard to imagine anyone topping Anansi Boys , if only because it's a tall tale to end all tall tales, inspired by the trickiest of all trickster gods, Anansi the Spider, whose origins lie in Ghana.

Tales of the West African deity traveled with slaves to North America, where the clever spider became the anthropomorphic figure known as Aunt Nancy, Anancy, or Bre'r Ananse (a counterpart to Bre'r Rabbit, another African American trickster). In Gaiman's last full-length novel, American Gods , Anansi made an appearance as the (mostly) human Mr. Nancy. In Anansi Boys , Mr. Nancy cedes center stage to his sons, Fat Charlie and Spider. As the novel's catchphrase puts it, "God is dead. Meet the kids."

Only Anansi isn't exactly God; he's a god, sort of the god next door: "In the old stories, Anansi lives just like you do or I do, in his house. He is greedy, of course, and lustful, and tricky, and full of lies. And he is good-hearted, and lucky, and sometimes even honest. Sometimes he is good, sometimes he is bad. He is never evil. Mostly, you are on Anansi's side. This is because Anansi owns all the stories." Anansi isn't exactly dead, either, though it's true that Fat Charlie's troubles begin when he attends his estranged father's burial. Fat Charlie "was only ever fat for a handful of years. . . . But the name Fat Charlie clung to him, like chewing gum to the sole of a tennis shoe." He grew up in Florida but now lives in London, where he is engaged to a nice girl named Rosie, who won't sleep with him until after they're married. He works for the loathsome, weaselly Grahame Coats, a talent agent who for years has been fleecing his clients, including the delectable Maeve Livingstone, widow of Morris Livingstone, "once the most famous short Yorkshire comedian in Britain."

[Plot description cut here. Go read the review.]

Gaiman first came to prominence in the late 1980s with The Sandman , the brilliant series that helped reinvent comics and put graphic novels on the map as Literature with a capital L. His previous full-length books, while wildly popular, are hit-or-miss, hobbled by epic ambitions that can occasionally seem pretentious and clever conceits that overpower other concerns such as characterization and pacing.

In Anansi Boys , he gets it all right: Here, Gaiman's storytelling instincts are as remarkable and assured as Anansi's own. As Fat Charlie frantically attempts to undo the damage he's caused and save his brother Spider, and the world, from the forces he's unwittingly loosed, Anansi Boys becomes darker, richer, wiser than any of Gaiman's earlier works.

Here's old Mr. Nancy, in his ghostly guise: " 'Now, Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. Now, all over the world, all of the people they aren't just thinking of hunting and being hunted any more. Now they're starting to think their way out of problems -- sometimes thinking their way into worse problems. They still need to keep their bellies full, but now they're trying to figure out how to do it without working -- and that's the point where people start using their heads. . . . That's when they start to make the world.' "

Lewis Hyde titled his noted study of the trickster mythos Trickster Makes This World . With Anansi Boys , Neil Gaiman has made it his own world, too, and given readers a first-class ticket for the journey there.

And what made it so good for me was not that she likes Anansi Boys or that she says good things about it but that again, reading her review I felt, with a sense of giddy happiness, that she had read and was describing the novel that I'd written -- that she liked it, and it had worked for her, was a bonus.

Which reminds me...

I just bought the audio book of Anansi Boys, and that reader, Lenny Henry, is truly inspired. I sure wish he had done American Gods. He's pitch perfect on every English accent (not just the ones from England). I haven't even finished it yet, but I'm blown away by this guy! Tell the publisher to pay him whatever it takes to get him to do more. I listen to good audio books over and over.

Oh, and the story is pretty great so far, too.

Linda Frasier

Lenny's reading is pretty wonderful. (You can listen to, or download, the first track of the MP3 CD at if you want to hear what it sounds like.)

While Lenny himself writes about Anansi Boys, and me, and comics and things at the Headline site --

Neil, the Mall of America signing details ( are up, and are they a doozy. It's wristbands from Sam Goody starting at 9AM, and that's when the line starts. Only one item can be signed per person, ONLY "Anansi Boys" will be signed, no photos, and the book will be available for purchase starting at 6PM -- 30 minutes before the signing begins at 6.30. Tell me this isn't how it's going to be, I'm begging you. Shawn

I don't know -- I've sent an email to Jack Womack at Harpers to find out. But the Mall of America sets its own rules, and I don't know if we can do anything to change them (they certainly seem a great deal more stringent and less reader-friendly than anything else that's happening on the tour).

I do plan to do a proper Minneapolis signing on a Saturday afternoon at the end of November or the beginning of December at DreamHaven Books, and can guarantee (based on previous signings) that it will be hospitable, pleasant and fun, and that there will be no security guards or wristbands present.


Forgot to mention that the Cambridge reading and Q&A was really fun last night. But it was.