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Book Review! American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Guys, I’m distressed. Or maybe appalled is more accurate? It seems that an inappropriate number of people haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods yet and next summer will be the ten year anniversary. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

After a lengthy Twitter discussion on the awesomeness that is American Gods and Neil Gaiman himself, I decided that his book needed its own review on the illustrious Nerdist blog. Everybody should read it! Not just because I said so, either. (But isn’t that enough?)

All right. Let’s start with what it’s about: a dude named Shadow gets paroled from prison, just after the death of his wife. It’s very depressing. Eventually, we delve into the strange journey he’s about to take with an insanely unique cast of characters. The whole premise is mythology; the old gods who are all but completely forgotten — although the Greeks don’t make an appearance, actually — waging a war on the new gods, those that speak of modern technology and the like. As Mr. Wednesday (he’s the Norse God Odin, by the way) puts it, “There are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.” And he doesn’t like it. Would you? Especially if you were brought over by the immigrants, who clung fastidiously to their beliefs, only to be abandoned for glitz and glam and flashy little jerks riding around in limos? I wouldn’t like it one bit.

This is the sort of book that I’ve read more than a couple times and each time I stumbled across some tidbit that I managed to miss before, something that hits me like a slap in the face (“Oh MAN! I never noticed THAT before.”) and I think that might be the best part of reading this book.

Very rarely do people completely understand their first read-through. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommended this book only to receive a mediocre response a week later, something along the lines of “Yeah, I guess it was good…. I didn’t really understand Mr. Wednesday, I guess.” Usually, I say: READ IT AGAIN and, if they do, they come back with an “OMFG I GET IT NOW!” and are recommending it to their friends. In fact, I was one of those people on my first pass, but luckily, I didn’t remain that way.

Although there’s a scene where a woman swallows a man whole into her vagina (it really bothers me, I don’t know why…), the book is an enjoyable read and definitely a fine piece of literature. It makes the reader take pause and examine what it is that we hold dear nowadays as opposed to what people held dear a century or four ago. It’s a much deeper read than you’d expect right off the bat, leading the reader to question theology and the course of the world, and I do see how it could throw people off their first time around.

So! Read it. That’s my point. Then read it again. I hope you’ll enjoy it and if not, I’m sorry. (But not really, it’s awesome.) Thanks for reading my post, book nerdlings, and feel free to leave your questions, comments and words of wisdom right here or on Twitter or drop me an email! Yaaaay literacy!

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20 comments

  • This book is almost as old as me, and I still enjoyed it so much. The book makes you think and you want to research the characters to find the gods they portray. It was a bit difficult for me to read just because I’m not used to this kind of book, but it’s definitely worth the read.

  • I just finished my first read through, and I have to admit. I did enjoy the book alot, but I felt like I had possibly missed something. I’m glad I’m not the only one =-D. I’ll give it some time to sink in and read it again in a few weeks.

  • While I enjoyed the book immensely, I was a bit disappointed by the ending. The books seemed to build and build to what I expected would be an exciting and epic conclusion. But int he end it just sortuv fizzles out and ends more abruptly than I’ve have thought. Ironically this was the same issue I had with “Good Omens”.

  • like alot of books. this one is thought provoking. if you don’t have the time, watch tv. if you like using that thing thats holding your skull up and around then read,read,read. education doesn’t end with graduation. this is a definite must read. also stephen king’s under the dome is a great read, the angels game by carlos ruiz zamon. can’t praise the latter enough.

  • This is a great book – like reading Salman Rushdie, you need some cultural context to make sense of it, but if you’re already a mythology nerd it is golden.

    I listened to “American Gods” as an audio book. Along the same lines, and even better as an audio book was Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys”, read by Lenny Henry. Henry’s performance as a reader is as striking as Gaiman’s writing – if you only listen to one book, this is the one.

  • Great read. Not a huge fan of Gaimen’s prose, but I am enamored with stories and mythology, and how we respond to them, so I find this book brilliant. And being familiar with the upper midwest was just a nice little grace note for me.

  • Jessica, thanks for this. I’m a huge Neil fan. I’ve even gotten my stodgy grad program to recognize the value of Sandman.

    I always want to recommend American Gods to people, because it most concisely demonstrates his approach tot the relationship between people and our stories and beliefs.

    I rarely do though because people tend to get lost in the middle, and I have to harangue them to get to the big pay off at the end.

  • Unfortunately this was the first Neil Gaiman book I picked up about 6 years ago. I believe you’re right about the 2 times rules, because I read it and was like, “WTF?” I felt like I was reading it through a fog. Definitely not for Gaiman newbs. So I dismissed him for a while. Then I picked up Stardust (ok, ok, I actually saw the movie first) and Good Omens and Anansi Boys and Coraline and am working my way through Sandman… So I need to come back around and read American Gods again. Thanks for reminding me! :)

  • I read this about 9 years ago (makes me feel old since I was a senior in HS at the time)
    It’s a great book. For the last year I’ve been meaning to read it again. I THINK I got it on the first read through but I’m excited that maybe I didn’t.
    The interaction between the main character and the wife is amazing/heartbreaking too.
    If you haven’t read it, go get it now!

  • Lol, so to get it I have to commit to reading it twice!? I had a college roommate who was convinced I would like getting stoned if I got used to the sensation, a month of getting high on a nearly daily basis later I realized, I’m just not the pot type. There are way too many books that are awesome on the first go.

  • this is my favorite book of all time! I wish someone would make a serious film out of this book because the story is just so great, and impacts like a sledgehammer, within the first few pages, I was pulled in…I’ll re-read it again and again, it’s that good. I believe I bought it three times, hardcover, paperback, and audio tape.

  • Thanks Jessica, for spreading the word about this book. As the self proclaimed “world’s slowest reader”, committing to any book is a big undertaking. Even though I have about 10 books in line to be read, I think I’m going to read this one again.

  • Thank you. That is all I have to say. I feel the same way about this book and live with the same frustrations of under-appreciation for it among my friends and peers. I’ve probably read the book 3 times so far and every time I finish, I just want to start again.

    I’m a big fan of yours, but now I’m an even bigger one. Have you read Good Omens by Neil as well?