Neil Gaiman’s American Gods vs. Starz adaptation

I’m not the biggest Neil Gaiman fan, as I suspect some people are. I like his work. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the television version of Neverwhere, which I believe was my first introduction to his work, but I had always heard great things about Sandman and was not disappointed when I finally got my hand on the Sandman Volume 1 compendium. Likewise, I found a copy of the Sleeper and the Spindle online and was so taken with it that I bought a copy to read to my daughters.

My wife and I are both big Ian McShane fans, from his work on Deadwood, and so of course we watched the first two seasons of American Gods with vigor. I had tried to checkout a copy of the 2001 novel from the local library, but never got around to it until this past week, when we were a third of the way through season three. There was a bit of dialog between three African American gods that touched on race — as the show has often done — and I was determined to find out how much of that was from the twenty year old book. So I finally reserved a copy and read through it over the past few days.

I was immediately struck by the changes that were made. A lot of it made sense for a television adaptation of a novel that probably wouldn’t translate well to the small screen. Several characters have been given extended plotlines in the show where they were either killed off or not given as much attention during the story. I assume this was done to give more variety to the show, whereas the book centers almost entirely around Shadow and his interactions with others. The timeline was shuffled about quite a bit as well, as the carousel bit at the House on the Rock, which occurs early in season 3 happens in the first chapters of the book.

I would say that the book caught up with season three less than half way through. Then the book took a long detour as Shadow hid out at Lakeside for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like I was reading an adaptation of Fargo, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it makes it to the show. Given the lack of action that happens there until the epilogue, I would be very surprised. Seems almost like it would take a whole season of the show for them to cover that, and would make for awkward television.

After Shadow leaves Lakeside, though, I couldn’t put the book down. I think I spent two and a half hours last night reading through to the end of the book. Gaiman is a terrific writer, and really crafted a wonderful book. I’m hoping that the producers of the Starz show can stay focused long enough to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion. There seems to have been enough changes from the source material that they may yet be able to surprise me for the finale, but the pre-WWII musical episode that I just watched has me worried that they’ve jumped the shark.

The show does have some of the most gorgeous visual production that I’ve seen. The carousel trip was especially good. But besides peppering elements from Gaiman’s Anansi Boys novel, I’m worried that Starz may be dragging out production of the series to a schedule beyond what it can support. I just hope they don’t try to stretch it out for four more seasons or something as a cash cow. Depending on where season three leaves off, I would think 5 total should do the trick.

Now excuse me while I add Sandman Volume Two to my wish list.

Principles by Ray Dalio

I got a copy of Ray Dalio’s Principles for Christmas this year, and I’ve been keeping it very near to my desk over the past six months. The book is a list of the rules that Ray has come up with in his personal and professional life over the past 40 years as the founder and CEO of Bridgewater Capital, one of the most successful and important investment firms in the world.

Dalio made the podcast rounds last year after his book came out, showing up on Tim Ferris’s and a few others. Then I started hearing his book mentioned by others about how good it was, so I decided to put it on my Christmas list. It’s as good as gold.

The book is three parts: the first, a brief biography and history of Bridgewater; the second is his life principles, and the last, almost half the book, is his work principles. In the intro, Ray invites the reader to skip past his bio and get right into the core of the book, which I gladly did. The physical book itself is laid out very well as well, black and white and red colors, with not one but two ribbons (black and red) to be used as bookmarks.

The center of the book has a summary of the life and work principles for easy reference, about 20 pages in total. A lot of thought has gone into the layout, and they’re grouped together in a orderly and consistent fashion. One can either skip to the principle one’s most interested in, or do as I did, and read straight through. I actually started with parts two and three before finishing part one.

But enough about the book itself.

Ray’s Principles have a couple of overarching themes, the two that most struck me were around his ideas of radical transparency and automating your decision-making process. The concept of radical truth comes from the principal of ’embracing reality and dealing with it,’ which he says is ‘invaluable for rapid learning and effective change’. He uses a type of OODA-loop for planning, executing, gathering feedback, and planning the next iteration, for which this is valuable. But the impact of this transparency in work and personal relationships is important as well. It’s also about being open-minded, both to avoid convincing yourself that you are right, and to accept feedback from people who are more ‘believable’ about certain topics that you. This topic of believability comes up in many principles, and is most relevant when it comes to settling disagreements.

The sections under the section titled ‘to build and evolve your machine’ are my favorite, and are ones that I keep coming back to in my day-to-day life. It’s helped me to step back and focus on my life and work as a system, allowing me to do a sort of meta-analysis around my daily habits and routines, and around the business processes that I take part of at work. As someone involved with a small business, the ‘perceive and don’t tolerate problems’ principle is one I’m taking very seriously. There’s a lot of leadership and management stuff in here as well that I’ve tried to incorporate as well.

I’ve been treating Principles as sort of an operating manual. It serves as a workbook for thinking about the way that I interact with colleagues and how I approach my job. I’ve been trying to get buy-in with my team, and have considered buying everyone a copy in order to do so. Dailo has given a great gift to the world with this book, and I cannot give it a higher recommendation.

You can get a digital copy of the book via the IOS app.