Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

Book: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

This book found its way into my life against odds. Or rather, against two factors that make it a “unique” addition to my collection of Things I’ve Read.

1) Okay, so once upon a time I was forced to watch the movie Stardust. It was not good for me. Not my “thing,” if you will. And ever since that time, I was sort of the opposite of inclined to read Gaiman. Hesitant, if you will. One might even say that I was disinclined! BUT I realize, especially in retrospect, that my having that attitude was like someone who hasn’t read Harry Potter (but has seen the first movie) turning a back on J.K. Rowling just because 11-year old Daniel Radcliffe is’t exactly Oscar material. Travesty, right?! (Not that I don’t like the movies–I love them. But I think I love the mostly because I love the books, and not necessarily in their own right). Anyway, let me tell you, those folks are missing out because Harry Potter is awesome.

2) I basically didn’t read anything other than memoirs about nutty people from Sophomore year on til latelyish.

Those two factors kept it off my radar for quite a while. However, I kept stumbling upon Gaiman excerpts that I liked, and kept hearing recommendations from creditable sources. So when Mr. Turvey sent me this book to peruse, I couldn’t just dismiss it to the bottom of my bookshelf with some vague “oh, yeah, i’ll read it eventually” response (he did, after all, endure many a chick-flick-novel just for me) (whatever, he loved them all, but that is neither here nor there). Thus, I gave it a go!

Aaaaaaaaaand it wasn’t so bad! Actually I enjoyed it. Which is surprising to admit. But no, I did. Even though he talks about elves and gods, and a really scary prostitute god swallower thing in the third chapter, and gets kind of cynical about humanity, Mr. Gaiman points out some pretty valid insight into the universe, and his writing is definitely impressive, in its own way. It reads very visually/a lot like a movie, which is neat. With lots of dramatic literary lighting. And symbolic character names. And I bet they all have jagged haircuts. Not a book I want buried with me, but worth reading ‘fer sure!

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He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

For the most part [American history] is uninspected, unimagined, unthought, a representation of the thing, and not the thing itself.

Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.

“Like I said, don’t piss off those bitches in the airports,
” said Johnnie Larch, in the back of his mind, “or they’ll haul your sorry ass back here before you can spit”

All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory.

“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
“What?”
“The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.”

The quickest way is sometimes the longest.

All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.

It’s easier to kill people, when you’re dead yourself…I mean, it’s not such a big deal. You’re not so prejudiced anymore.

So yeah, Jesus does pretty good over here. But I met a guy who said he saw him hitchhiking by the side of the road in Afghanistan and nobody was stopping to give him a ride. You know? It all depends on where you are.

The brief winter days leading up to Christmas were like moments of light between the winter darknesses, and they fled fast in the house of the dead.

The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.

There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.

“Some things may change,” said Wednesday, abruptly. “People, however…people stay the same. Some grifts last forever, others are swallowed soon enough by time and by the world.”

What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.

The secret is this: people gamble to lose money. They come to the casinos for the moment in which they feel alive, to ride the spinning wheel and turn with the cards and lose themselves, with the coins, in the slots. They may brag about the nights they won, the money they took from the casino, but they treasure, secretly treasure, the times they lost. It’s a sacrifice, of sorts.

There are accounts that, if we open our hearts to them, will cut us too deeply. Look — here is a good man, good by his own lights and the lights of his friends: he is faithful and true to his wife, he adores and lavishes attention on his little children, he cares about his country, he does his job punctiliously, as best he can. So, efficiently and good-naturedly, he exterminates Jews: he appreciates the music that plays in the background to pacify them; he advises the Jews not to forget their identification numbers as they go into the showers—many people, he tells them, forget their numbers, and take the wrong clothes when they come out of the showers. This calms the Jews. There will be life, they assure themselves, after the showers. Our man supervises the detail taking the bodies to the ovens; and if there is anything he feels bad about, it is that he still allows the gassing of vermin to affect him. Were he a truly good man, he knows, he would feel nothing but joy as the earth is cleansed of its pests.

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes—forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There’s not a chance you’d mistake one for another, after a minute’s close inspection), but still unique.

Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.” With individual stories, the statistics become people — but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?
We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.
Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.

“I’m alive” said Shadow “I’m not dead. Remember?”
“You’re not dead” Laura said “But I’m not sure you’re alive, either. Not really”

Even for my kind, pain still hurts. If you move and act in the material world, then the material world acts on you. Pain hurts, just as greed intoxicates and lust burns. We may not die easy and we sure as hell don’t die well, but we can die. If we’re still loved and remembered, something else a whole lot like us comes along and takes our place and the whole damn thing starts all over again. And if we’re forgotten, we’re done.

“Listen — I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” She stopped, out of breath.
Shadow almost took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Instead he said, “Okay. So if I tell you what I’ve learned you won’t think that I’m a nut.”
“Maybe,” she said. “Try me.”

Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?…And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn’t room for them both in the world. And that some kind of war is kind of likely.

“Gods are great,” said Atsula, slowly, as if she were imparting a great secret. “But the heart is greater. For it is from our hearts they come, and to our hearts they shall return…”

Neither path is safe. Which way would you walk — the way of hard truths or the way of fine lies?

It’s easy, there’s a trick to it, you do it or you die.

We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness. All of the things that Shadow had done in his life of which he was not proud, all the things he wished he had done otherwise or left undone, came at him then in a swirling storm of guilt and regret and shame, and he had nowhere to hide from them. He was as naked and as open as a corpse on a table, and dark Anubis the jackal god was his prosecutor and his persecutor.

Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.

None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you — even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition.
Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.

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Filed under: Neil Gaiman,

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