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First global book club launches on Twitter with Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’

May 4, 2010

Neil Gaiman

The “Big Read” idea, in which one community reads a single book, has spread like kudzu since a Seattle librarian invented it in 1998. Now Jeff Howe, an editor at Wired magazine, takes it global. His “One Book, One Twitter” program encourages everyone on the planet to read Neil Gaiman’s prize-winning fantasy, American Gods.

“Usually such ‘Big Read’ programs are organized around geography,” writes Howe on his Wired blog. “Seattle started the trend for collective reading in 1998 when zillions of Seattlites all read Russell Banks’ book, Sweet Hereafter. Chicago followed suit with To Kill a Mockingbird a few years later. This Big Read is organized around Twitter, and says to hell with physical limitations.”

American Gods is a fantasy novel about an ex-con who travels across the country with “Mr. Wednesday,” who turns out to be the Norse god Odin. After several weeks of online voting, it beat out an impressive slate of other finalists, including Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison; The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy; and Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

As the Guardian reports, Gaiman loves the idea of “a worldwide book club,” but isn’t sure American Gods is the best choice — even from among his own novels.

“Some people love it, some sort of like it, and some people hate it,” Gaiman muses on his blog. “It’s not a book I’d hand out to everyone, because the people who don’t know anything about what I’ve written and who hate it – who might have loved Stardust, or Neverwhere, or The Graveyard Book or Sandman – probably won’t go and look any further.”

Still, American Gods won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker awards for best sci-fi, fantasy or horror novel.  Gaiman is by far the least literary of the finalists — readers will have a much easier time with American Gods than, say, Song of Solomon, or even Fahrenheit 451.

And he’s immensely popular. Gaiman’s Twitter account, neilhimself boasts 1,467,506 followers, which might help explain how American Gods beat out a Nobel laureate, a Man Booker winner, and two of the greatest American literary sci-fi writers of the 20th century.

Jeff Howe

Despite his reservations about American Gods, Gaiman is “thrilled to help kick off something new,” and pledges to do all he can to help.

“Which, today, will consist of making sure I let all the publishers around the world who have American Gods in print know about this, and, over the next few months, sending helpful or apologetic tweets to people who are stuck, offended, or very, very confused.”

That may be a bit premature, as only 1,500 readers had signed up as of today. If you want to participate, sign on at Twitter at @1B1T2010.

In the meantime, let’s play: Is American Gods a good choice for the first-ever global book club? Or should we be floating something more profound — say, Crime and Punishment or War and Peace or For Whom the Bell Tolls?

For that matter, I’ve always thought the Big Read a silly idea –what’s more solitary than reading? — but I guess any project that draws attention to books and literature is a good thing….

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 4, 2010 1:22 pm

    I find “The Big Read” a very interesting idea. Gives a different meaning to “making sure we’re all on the same page.”

    My first Big Read, so to speak–among a little clique of nerdy female middlerschoolers in a rural town in Southwest Virginia–was The Lord of the Rings. And, um, that was before the movies….

    But the Big Reads you refer too–isn’t it sorta kinda like watching a movie–a shared experience by a bunch of people you’ll probably never know but that you do have something in common?

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 4, 2010 1:49 pm

    Yeah, well, when I first heard about the Big Read it was in the late ’90s, when the Florida Center for the Book at the Broward County Library was giving it a go. I thought it was ridiculous to the point of hilarity. I’ve since moderated my view. The first one, back in 1998, was the idea of Nancy Pearl, at Seattle Public Library’s Washington Center for the Book. Pearl says: “Keep in mind that this is a library program, it’s not an exercise in civics, it’s not intended to have literature cure the racial divide. This is about a work of literature.”

    But as I mentioned above, anything that brings attention to books and reading, anything that can get people talking about books, is a good thing. For more on the Big Read, visit the National Endowment for the Arts website: http://www.neabigread.org/.

  3. Tommy Smart permalink
    May 4, 2010 2:09 pm

    Reading is a solitary sport. I only (mostly) only talk about the score with others after, not while, I have had my at bat. Other people’s thoughts on a book can muck up the field.

    Am I missing something?

    If I wanted to read a book, wouldn’t I just go to the library, buy it, or ask a friend to lend it to me.

    I wonder how many of the people who voted have already read the book they voted for?

    I do like that I am way ahead of the class. I read American Gods a while ago, and I am currently almost finished with The God of Small Things. Come to think of it, with the exception of 100 Years of Solitude, I have read all these books. Yes, I do want a cookie. I would be done with Roy’s work if I had not gotten sidetracked by Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis, some lovely Summer reading in there.

    Now I am wondering the effect all of this technology would have had on the two guys from yesterday’s blog.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 4, 2010 3:24 pm

      Tommy, I think it may be some people could benefit from being reminded, by a stunt like the Big Read, how much fun reading can be. I think probably a lot of people have been distracted from books by TV, computers and the general stress and busy-ness of adult life. If the Big Read can bring even a few of them back, then more power to it.

  4. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 4, 2010 4:37 pm

    Especially since so many newspapers have discontinued their book review sections.

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 4, 2010 4:39 pm

    Indeed. We need everything we can marshal to keep the conversation about books and literature — so robust in American culture such a short time ago — going.

  6. Bobbi permalink
    May 5, 2010 6:26 pm

    Chauncey, this is interesting — a version of the Big Read happening in the Maryland Division of Correction. http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/publicinfo/features/big_read.shtml

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 6, 2010 12:27 am

      Thanks for sharing this, Bobbi. This is not the first time literature has been used to good effect in prisons.

  7. May 8, 2010 10:52 am

    I just don’t get why anyone objects to these programs. No one forces you to participate. It gets people reading and talking about books (if they want to). What’s the down side? I know one (very successful) writer who objects to them on the basis that they unfairly elevate one writer’s profile — and sales, I guess — but I don’t really see how that’s bad, either, for literature as a whole. I’m trying the One Book One Twitter, because it was a confluence of two things I’d been meaning to do for awhile — read American Gods and check out Twitter. I wouldn’t call it the greatest literary experience of my life (so far) … but it is interesting.

  8. June 10, 2010 1:17 pm

    I’ve been meaning to read American Gods for some time, now. This whole idea is interesting, since it promotes both reading and conversation. I honestly don’t see a downside to it.

    Regards,
    WonderGoon

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