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.