Author: Neil Gaiman
American Gods is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I picked it up mainly because a friend of mine swears by it, but also because it had won a Hugo, and I’ve made it my mission to read all books that have won Hugos. Well, at least, if I can’t think of any books to read, I’ll go look at the list of Hugo winners for ideas. Regardless, this book was interesting to read, had a good story, fascinating characters, and I felt like there were many layers to it that I didn’t even begin to see. Yet at the same time, I still feel like I understood it all.
It’s the kind of book that upon the second read you notice a lot more things, and think “oh, that’s important later” on more than one occasion. As one example, passing reference to charms is made in chapter three, and another cryptic reference in chapter four:
“Charm, huh? Well, like they say, you either got it or you ain’t.”
“Charms can be learned,” said Wednesday.
(Chapter 4, pg 58)
It is only later that we realise how important this really is.
There are many interesting things in it, fanciful mythical stories and others told from unique perspectives, often in little sections on their own at the end of chapters, adding further depth to the story. My favourite was by story of St Domingo at the end of chapter 11, but also things like the characters themselves make me want to read up on where they came from. Upon every mention of the Zornya sisters I wanted to find out what their story was, what their history and the mythology behind them was all about.
At the same time I didn’t feel like I was reading nonfiction. Never was Gaiman just telling me about mythology, he was showing it to me, in a strange, modern, and wonderful way. And it was funny to read.
“Back in my day, we had it all set up. You lined up when you died, and you’d answer for your evil deeds and for your good deeds, and if your evil deeds outweighed a feather, we’d feed your soul and your heart to Ammet, the Eater of Souls.”
“He must have eaten a lot of people.”
“Not as many as you’d think. It was a really heavy feather. We had it made special. You had to be pretty damn evil to tip the scales on that baby.”
(Chapter 8, pg 161)
Phrases like “then vanish the penny in the usual way,” occurred every sentence or so. In this context, Shadow wondered, what was “the usual way”? A French dop? Sleeving it? Shouting “Oh my god, look out! A mountain lion!” and dropping the coin into his side pocket while the audience’s attention was diverted?
(Chapter 11, pg 236)
Wednesday slammed the car door when he got in, and sat there in silence, his face red with rage. He said, “Drive.” Then he said, “Fucking Albanians. Like anybody cares.”
(Chapter 12, pg 284)
At times it speaks of philosophy and religion, without sounding heavy or preachy. It is woven into the story such that you might almost miss it
“My people figured that maybe there’s something at the back of it all, a creator, a great spirit, and so we say thank you to it, because it’s always good to say thank you. But we never built churches. We didn’t need to. The land was the church. The land was the religion. The land was older and wiser than the people who walked on it. It gave us slamon and corn and buffalo and passenger pigeons. It gave us wild rice and walleye. It gave us melon and squash and turkey. And we were the children of the land, just like the porcupine and the skunk and the blue jay.” (Chapter 18, pg 400)
People believe, though Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they will not take responsibiity for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen. (Chapter 18, pg 418)
and it remains always enigmatic. Never was I bored, never did I feel like I knew everything that was going on but never did I feel lost. In fact I want to go explore it all over again.
One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream. The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.
The tale is the map that is the territory.
You must remember this
- from the Notebooks of Mr. Ibis
(Chapter 19, pg 427)