Hello, hello, and welcome to another edition of You Should Read This.

Quick catch-up on my stuff. First, the job-hunt continues. I’ve been sending out applications pretty regularly, and I’m keeping my eyes open. I’ve also sent in my application for a state librarian license, which should open up a few doors, and look good on a resume.

I’ve also started work on the City of Glass sporking. I’m still in the reading/note-taking phase (I’m not doing another spork-as-I-go), and I’ve reached the limits of Amazon’s “Look Inside” option, so now I’ll have to bite the bullet and purchase a copy of my own (I would save money and get it from the library, but I refuse to be seen checking it out. I have my dignity.).

But enough of that. You’re here for a book recommendation, and I’ve got one. Today, I’m going to tell you about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Blurb from Amazon:

First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic, lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Washington Post) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is the story of Shadow—released from prison just days after his wife and best friend are killed in an accident—who gets recruited to be bodyguard, driver, and errand boy for the enigmatic trickster, Mr. Wednesday. So begins Shadow’s dark and strange road trip, one that introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. For, beneath the placid surface of everyday life, a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and Shadow is standing squarely in its path.

Honestly, odds are pretty good that you’ve read this book already. And if you haven’t, all I should need to tell you is, “It’s by Neil Gaiman,” and leave it at that. But that would be lazy, so I’ll give you a bit more.

While this book might not be the one that established Urban Fantasy as a sub-genre, it’s certainly one of the best examples. Every culture’s legends and myths are true – Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Arabian, Slavic, all of it. And all those gods and creatures and whatnot are alive in America, where they mix and mingle.

And there are new ‘gods’ as well, of things like TV/movies, mass-communication, and even the idea of Government Conspiracies (yes, Agents from a Vague yet Sinister Government Agency actually exist in this book).

But what I think I love most about about this book is probably what drew me to the short-lived HBO series Carnivàle – it’s a uniquely American story. As much as this novel is about gods from all around the world, it only works in the great melting-pot of cultures that is the United States.

I think that might need some explanation. Yes, there have been other countries that have had globe-spanning empires and brought back the spoils of colonialism back to the homeland, and have subsequently become more culturally diverse (the UK is a prime example). But that multiculturalism was an unintentional side-effect of European countries grabbing up as much territory as they could (not that the US didn’t do its best to get in on the colonial game, mind). But the “American” gods in this book didn’t all come to the USA at gun-point – they came as immigrants, in the hearts and minds of immigrants, and found new lives in a new country.

That idea – the immigrant coming and finding a new life – is one of the major things that America is all about (much as some of my fellow countrymen seem to have forgotten).

Plus, there’s just a whole lot of visiting really weird, off-the-beaten-track locations. We’re talking about weird little tourist traps – “The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine” that sort of thing – that I can’t imagine fitting in a non-American setting.

(There’s actually a neat little discussion of this kind of thing. Basically, those tourist traps are the American equivalent of ancient temples from other parts of the world.)

But I should also come clean – I do have slightly ulterior motives for discussing American Gods. The TV network Starz is adapting the novel into a series, and it’s scheduled to premier in April, so now might be a good time to pick it up, or re-read it. Heck, I’m considering grabbing the 10th Anniversary edition.

But even if that wasn’t the case, this is absolutely a book that deserves to be read. Yes, there is one very weird scene at the beginning of the book (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you’ll know it when you see it), but I think of that as the Tom Bombadil/Old Forest stuff in Fellowship of the Ring – if you can get past that bit, you’ll be fine.

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Comment

  1. Castor on 13 February 2017, 22:43 said:

    I love this book so much! It’s one of my favorites. I have high hopes for the show, too, since Neil Gaiman is so involved in the production.

    The Anansi Boys spin-off (?) is also really good, but American Gods has a much more epic feel to it, I think.

  2. Juracan on 15 February 2017, 11:54 said:

    Quick catch-up on my stuff. First, the job-hunt continues. I’ve been sending out applications pretty regularly, and I’m keeping my eyes open. I’ve also sent in my application for a state librarian license, which should open up a few doors, and look good on a resume.

    Good luck! Job hunting was not a fun process for me; I hope you have more luck than I did.

    I’ve also started work on the City of Glass sporking. I’m still in the reading/note-taking phase (I’m not doing another spork-as-I-go), and I’ve reached the limits of Amazon’s “Look Inside” option, so now I’ll have to bite the bullet and purchase a copy of my own (I would save money and get it from the library, but I refuse to be seen checking it out. I have my dignity.).

    Oh good. I was worried we wouldn’t get to finish the trilogy with you. I anxiously look forward to it!

    I think that might need some explanation. Yes, there have been other countries that have had globe-spanning empires and brought back the spoils of colonialism back to the homeland, and have subsequently become more culturally diverse (the UK is a prime example). But that multiculturalism was an unintentional side-effect of European countries grabbing up as much territory as they could (not that the US didn’t do its best to get in on the colonial game, mind). But the “American” gods in this book didn’t all come to the USA at gun-point – they came as immigrants, in the hearts and minds of immigrants, and found new lives in a new country.

    Honestly I came into this article deciding I was going to talk about how there are these random asides every so often that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything except thematically…but now that you’ve pointed this out, I suppose that doesn’t need to be said. Because it fits into this: the expression of the immigrant experience.

    That being said, this book has a butt-ton of mythological and historical references that are difficult to keep up with. Having a basic grasp of the mythologies involved is necessary to understand what’s going on in the main plot (so that’s mostly Norse, some Egyptian and pop cultural stuff), but so much more if you want to get every single reference. If you’ve already read the book and aren’t concerned spoilers, this website is incredibly helpful though not completely comprehensive.

    Also speaking of roadside attractions in the novel, Neil Gaiman shared this video on his Facebook page about the House on the Rock, which is heavily featured on the novel.

  3. The Smith of Lie on 15 February 2017, 18:58 said:

    American Gods is what ignited my love for a “ancient gods in modern setting” subgenre.

    As a non-American I sort of blundered through it without even noticing the themes of immigration. But it has something that I associate with it (though given how many years ago I read it, that might be my own delusion). A feeling of that American culture at it’s most local and unique level. I’m not sure if I am using the therm correcly, but I believe I’ve seen it denoted as “Americana”.

    In this day and age a lot of global popculture is strongly americanized. But it is very shallow picture of America most of the time. The works that couldn’t be relativel easily transplanted to a different modern, western country are few and far between. There’s something almost generic about many modern settings.

    For me the American Gods were at times downright exotic, despite the general exposition I had to media depicting American culture. The more recent work that felt like this was a completly different medium and setting – Over the Garden Wall. It in many places seemed to tie strongly to what little I could recognize of American folklore.

    And now, hoping you’ll forgive me the above rant, I want to say I can’t wait for the City of Glass spork. I hope you won’t suffer too much of Sanity loss on it. Probably no more than if you set out to read Necronomicon.