American Gods by Neil Gaiman

[Warning: Spoilers. If you haven’t read American Gods yet, be aware. ]

I have just now finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This book was recommended to me by my friend, Anna while we were still in college-- a recommendation that was repeated a few weeks ago by her husband, Andrew. Needing a break from LOTR and having bought the book on kindle’s $2 sale several months ago, I decided to give it a try. I liked American Gods, but I must say that at parts I found it disconcerting just how annoying and/or un-godlike the gods were portrayed. In fact, I almost stopped reading it halfway through. However, now I’m  really glad I stuck with it.

The story is about gods and the humans that they interact with, as well as their interactions with each other. The gods in the story run the gamut of Native American folk legends to J-C Biblical characters to Norse mythology. There was very little in the novel of Greek mythology, therefore taking me out of my element (the reason for Zeus’ absence is probably that this novel is about the gods that immigrants brought to America—literally the American gods—and by the time Greeks were coming over, they weren’t really worshipping their mythological gods to the same extent as other groups).  It was interesting to see the parallels between gods and also the differences, but the best part was perhaps Gaiman’s imaginative expression of how they interact together: friendship, rivalry, and all-out war. The modern American gods: cars, trains, airplanes, and the internet, for example, also make a fantastically annoying appearance (and make me re-think my devotion to every one of them).

The protagonist, Shadow, is a human and an unusual hero. At the beginning, he is in prison and passes his time reading Herodotus (a man after my own heart.)  Yet, as the story progresses and you come to understand him better, Shadow’s presence begins to make more sense. In fact, Shadow is a true hero in the Greek sense and the most tragic kind—his father, who is a God, sacrifices him. He’s a pseudo-Christ-like figure, but unlike in the story of Christ, Shadow’s father is sacrificing him for personal gain. I won’t tell you more, but Shadow’s experiences of life and death (and life again) with the gods is fascinating. Gaiman’s inclusion of a mystery story on the side provides a break from the god drama when necessary.

I would definitely recommend reading this book. It is more of a fun read than an educational one, but it also definitely teaches more about mythology: just be careful, some of the gods are of Gaiman’s own creation. 

Three interesting story elements to look forward to:
1.     Shadow’s undead wife who, after her death, kills anyone who threatens her husband
2.     Roadside attractions are the actual seats of power for the gods, not churches.
3.     The god of technology is described as a fat, lazy kid with a  black trench-coat that reminds me of every Dungeon and Dragons junkie I’ve ever met, only really annoying and really rude

I give American Gods 3.5 stars out of 5.
WARNING: There is some adult content. I wouldn’t let my kid read it if they were under, say, 17.

Favorite Quotes:

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each others’ 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. We know the shape, the shape does not change. There was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or other, 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—unique in detail, forming patterns we have seen before, but as like one another as two 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.)
            We need individual stories. Without individual stories 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 life, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless….
We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. The are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, 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 pages or close the book, and we resume our lives.
            A life, which is, like any other, unlike any other.
            And the simple truth is this: there was a girl and her uncle sold her.”

“He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.”

Kaitlyn’s Book Rating Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.

5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.