Even if you’ve never read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, you have probably at least heard the title. Maybe you’ve seen the new hit show on Starz. I haven’t, because I don’t have cable, and even while I was visiting my in-laws who do have cable, I didn’t get to see it because their package didn’t include Starz. Ah, well.
Though I haven’t seen the show, and though I do believe the hype and greatly look forward to it becoming available via my local library or Netflix, I know, without watching a minute of it, that it does not compare to the book. I know this because the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, who may be a god himself, is the greatest book ever written.
If that sounds extreme to you, then you’ve definitely never read it. Look, OK, everyone has their favorites. For a long time, my favorite book was 100 Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For an even longer time, I couldn’t pick a favorite book because there are just so many amazing books in this world. I still adore 100 Years Of Solitude, and I still believe there are countless worthy books on this planet. But I have also crowned American Gods as the best. At least in my literary pantheon.
Book of the Weeks 6/5-6/18/2017: American Gods
by Neil Gaiman
Nail Gaiman is a self professed lover of Norse Mythology; in fact, ‘Norse Mythology’ is the title of his latest book, so it’s no surprise that the deity cast to star in American Gods is Odin, the leader of the Viking Gods. Of course, this is Odin in the Americas. The basic premise of the book is that the gods-all the various gods from all the various pantheons-traveled to the Americas with the immigrants who worshiped them. Like those immigrants and their families, they Americanized; they became a blend of old-world and new-world ideas and ideals. And, like the presence of religion itself, their powers have diminished as belief in them has waned.
The main character of the book is not a god, however, at least not fully. You’ll have to read the book to find out what I mean by that. The main character is a recent parolee named Shadow; so named, it would seem, for his dark hulking figure and mysterious demeanor. He has the misfortune of learning, upon returning to the free world, that his wife and best friend died in a car accident together; his best friend’s penis deep inside his wife’s throat. Needless to say, he’s got a lot on his mind.
Shadow is a lost man, haunted by grief and, unbeknownst to him for a while, also the revivified-but still decomposing-corpse of his wife. He doesn’t know where to go or who to trust, so he doesn’t put up all that much resistance when he gets wrangled into a war between the Old Gods-Gods like Odin and Isis and Loki-and the New Gods, of drugs and cash and celebrity.
American Gods is a book that could only have been written by Neil Gaiman, a Brit who relocated to the states and recently fathered a son with the beloved American folk singer he married. It is a narrative about Americana unblemished by foolhardy patriotism or that special vitriol which only lifelong American citizens can feel, but also not without a sense of tenderness toward America, nor the sensationalized greed upon which the modern day United States thrives.
Once upon a time, I had never read American Gods, nor anything by Neil Gaiman, besides a single Sandman comic The Ex had snagged from jail. When I entered into community college, in an attempt to get enough ‘As’ to land a seat at a four-year college despite having dropped out of high school, classmate after classmate told me to read American Gods. That I would love this book. That it was so totally me. And when they described it, I agreed it sounded really cool. But for some reason I ignored them….all the way until the last month of grad school. I finally picked up a copy of American Gods, and became an instant Gaiman addict.
American Gods is an adventure. I don’t mean that it’s a book about an adventure, though that is also true; I mean it is an adventure to read. Gaiman writes stories with the same pen Life uses. To read his books is to experience his books. And as wondrous and creative as all of his books are, American Gods is by the by far the best. It is exciting, emotional, intelligent, suspenseful, condemning, life-affirming, romantic, terrifying, inspiring, creative, and just plain fun. It’s a big book, but you’ll be heartbroken when you turn the last page and have to walk out of that world. If you need any more incentive to read it, American Gods won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, which are the two major sci-fi and fantasy book awards, respectively. I recommend American Gods to every thinking, feeling human in this world-or any world anywhere.
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