Whenever we have a cold snap here in Wisconsin, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite pieces of American Gods.
I remember reading it back inWhenever we have a cold snap here in Wisconsin, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite pieces of American Gods.
I remember reading it back in 2002 or so. This was back in the day. Back when it was a bit of a secret that Gaiman lived in Wisconsin.
I read the following section of the book nodding to myself, thinking, "Yup, that's exactly what it's like."
Then I had another thought: "I bet this comes from that really bad cold snap we had here in Wisconsin about six years ago."
It was pretty cool for me, being able to guess where a this piece of this book got its start....
For those of you who haven't read it: here's the excerpt. The main character, Shadow, has just come to a small Wisconsin town, and he decides to walk into town to buy some warmer clothes and groceries.
* * *
The cold snap had come, that was for sure. It could not be much above zero, and it would not be a pleasant walk, but he was certain he could make it into town without too much trouble. What did Hinzelmann say last night—a ten-minute walk? And Shadow was a big man. He would walk briskly and keep himself warm. He set off south, heading for the bridge.
Soon he began to cough, a dry, thin cough, as the bitterly cold air touched his lungs. Soon his ears and face and lips hurt, and then his feet hurt. He thrust his ungloved hands deep into his coat pockets, clenched his fingers together trying to find some warmth.
Step after step after step. He glanced back. The apartment building was not as far away as he had expected.
This walk, he decided, was a mistake. But he was already three or four minutes from the apartment, and the bridge over the lake was in sight. It made as much sense to press on as to go home (and then what? Call a taxi on the dead phone? Wait for spring? He had no food in the apartment, he reminded himself).
He kept walking, revising his estimates of the temperature downward as he walked. Minus ten? Minus twenty? Minus forty, maybe, that strange point on the thermometer when Celsius and Fahrenheit say the same thing. Probably not that cold. But then there was wind chill, and the wind was now hard and steady and continuous, blowing over the lake, coming down from the Arctic across Canada.
Ten more minutes of walking, he guessed, and the bridge seemed to be no nearer. He was too cold to shiver. His eyes hurt. This was not simply cold: this was science fiction. This was a story set on the dark side of Mercury, back when they thought Mercury had a dark side. This was somewhere out on rocky Pluto, where the sun is just another star, shining only a little more brightly in the darkness. This, thought Shadow, is just a hair away from the places where air comes in buckets and pours just like beer.
The occasional cars that roared past him seemed unreal: spaceships, little freeze-dried packages of metal and glass, inhabited by people dressed more warmly than he was. An old song his mother had loved, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” began to run through his head, and he hummed it through closed lips, kept pace to it as he walked.
He had lost all sensation in his feet. He looked down at his black leather shoes, at the thin cotton socks, and began, seriously, to worry about frostbite.
This was beyond a joke. This had moved beyond foolishness, slipped over the line into genuine twenty-four-karat Jesus-Christ-I-screwed-up-big-time territory. His clothes might as well have been netting or lace: the wind blew through him, froze his bones and the marrow in his bones, froze the lashes of his eyes, froze the warm place under his balls, which were retreating into his pelvic cavity.
Keep walking, he told himself. Keep walking. I can stop and drink a pail of air when I get home....
* * *
And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons I love Neil Gaiman.... ...more
I've read this book many different times in many different ways.
I read it off the page when it first came out. Later, I listened to Gaiman's narratioI've read this book many different times in many different ways.
I read it off the page when it first came out. Later, I listened to Gaiman's narration of the audiobook when I was sequestered in the north woods of Wisconsin in a desperate attempt to finish book two. I watched the movie and enjoyed it.
My most recent experience of the book was listening to it with my little boy on a long car ride. I wasn't sure he'd be able to get into it. Not because of the vocabulary. He's very sharp for being 4.5. He's good with words. But sometimes he gets a little scared.
Despite my worries, he seemed to enjoy it. He paid attention, attention, asking for us to turn it back on after we stopped by the side of the road. A day later, he excitedly told me all about the story, apparently forgetting I'd been in the car too.
All of that was months ago. Fast forward to now....
* * *
"Dad," Oot said. "Do you know the guy who wrote Coraline?"
The question caught me by surprise. The two of us were driving to a party together, a friend was having a bonfire and I was amazed that he was thinking about anything other than smores.
"I do," I said. "His name is Neil Gaiman."
"Do you have his phone number?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Do you know where he lives?"
"I do," I said.
"Are you his friend?"
That brought me up short. For Oot, that's a simple question. If you meet someone and play with them, they're you're friend. Easy.
For adults these things are harder. And it's doubly hard for me these days. My life has changed so much over the last five years, and my previously established metric for friendship doesn't work very well any more.
You see, for the majority of my life, a friend was someone who would, say, help me move a couch. Someone you could bum 10 dollars off of if you needed to. A friend was someone who felt comfortable enough to come over to my house without calling first. Then, if I wasn't home, they would let themselves in, eat out of my fridge, and start watching TV.
While I'm terribly fond of him, Neil Gaiman has never done any of these things.
Then again, neither have any of the other authors I've met over the last few years. I'm painfully aware of the need for new friendship metrics, but I haven't managed to develop a good set yet.
That won't make any sense to my boy, but still, I try to be honest with him whenever I can. "I don't know if we're friends," I say. "But we're colleagues."
"What's a colleagues?" he asks, right on cue.
"That means we know each other and do the same job," I explain.
"Oh yes," he says. "You're both authors."
It makes me proud when he says that. I'm proud that my boy knows I write books.
"Do you know his address?" Oot asks, and it takes me a while to realize that he's returning to his previous line of questioning.
"I do," I said, not bothering to point out that knowing where someone lives and knowing their address is pretty much the same thing.
"Can you send him a letter?"
"I could," I say.
Oot pauses for a moment then, and I realize that this has been the point of the whole conversation. He wants to send Neil Gaiman a message.
"What would you like me to write to him?" I ask.
"You should tell him he *sure* knows how to write a scary story...."
* * *
So there you go. You don't really need me to tell you how I feel about one of Gaiman's books at this point. You know I love his writing.
Instead, I'm offering up my boy's unvarnished opinion. Did he think the story was scary? Absolutely. But he still wanted us to turn it back on as soon as we were back in the car.
What's more, he was still thinking about Coraline months later. And it was the first book where he's ever shown any interest in contacting the author.
So. Bravo, Neil Gaiman. You've managed to win over two generations of the Rothfuss household....more
Recently, on a car trip with my little boy, I decided to try listening to an audiobook.
In the past this hasn't been a success. He loves to be read to Recently, on a car trip with my little boy, I decided to try listening to an audiobook.
In the past this hasn't been a success. He loves to be read to in person, both picture books and chapter books. But he not a fan of listening to books in the car. At best he's indifferent, but usually he just asks me to turn them off.
Generally speaking, he'd prefer to listen to Macklemore's Thrift Shop, which he calls "The Sway Music."
But he's four now, with a vocabulary that's diverse to the point of being a little creepy. (I taught him "cruft" yesterday.)
So I plugged in the Audio of Gaiman's Graveyard book. For those of you who don't know, Gaiman reads his own audiobooks more often than not. Lovely accent aside, he's fucking amazing at it. Really irritatingly good.
We listened to it for about 10 minutes or so, then I heard him saying, "Dad? Dad!" from the back seat.
I sighed and turned it off, I expected him to tell me that this was boring and we should stop. Or that he wanted to listen to the Sway Music or one of his, as he puts it "Kid CD's."
But it wasn't anything of the sort, instead he said. "Dad! I'm listening to the story and I can see the pictures in my head!"
"Really?" I asked.
"Yeah," he says. "It's like a movie!"
I couldn't be happier. Neil Gaiman as his first audio. My boy has good taste. "What does it look like in your head?" I ask.
"There's a hill, and on the top of it there is a fence and a graveyard!"
We talk about the story for a little bit. He's slightly confused on some points: he thinks the boy's name is Jack, and he thought that the man who was coming to hurt the boy was invisible except for his hand. (Which is understandable, given the way Gaiman describes things, focusing on the hand and the knife.)
But generally he was getting it. More importantly, he was enjoying it.
I know this because for the next couple days, whenever we got into the car, he asked if we could listen to "the story of the boy that lived in the graveyard."