There are two kinds of books in this world. Literary types will try and tell you otherwise, but we’re just trying to sound clever, the truth is that there are books that you enjoy (and these can be anything: sword and sorcery books, books about spies saving the world, books about cooking, books about eighteenth-century warfare in Japan, whatever) and books that make you think. There aren’t the same thing. You can gain pleasure from both, and neither is inherently better than the other, but that pure and simple enjoyment is rarely, if ever, overlapped with genuine enjoyment.
American Gods does both.
I first read this book during my own road trip in America: a long car ride around New England that convinced me that a) my family should never share a car or, ideally, a continent, ever again, and b) that this country that has long held a fascination for me has something about it that is uniquely interesting and worthy of examination. American Gods was the perfect compliment to that trip. Long, rich and more than a little strange, it was a fantastic companion in tiny motels, huge, luminously green forests and plastic-and-concrete shopping malls. I’ve re-read it every year since.
On the surface, this book is simply the story of a man named Shadow, who gets released from prison early following the death of his wife and accepts an odd job on an aeroplane from a man who may or may not actually be Odin. Of course, it goes rather deeper than that. What Gaiman manages to do is give us an outsider’s view of the soul of America. It is, fundamentally, a book about immigrants- by using the experience of the gods transplanted to America by their believers, Gaiman comments on the nature of modern America, and how it relates to the past and itself and, perhaps, the future as well.
That’s the thinky bit. The fun bit is there, too, in spades: there’s humour (Shadow is, fundamentally, rather dryly funny, and the book always keeps one eye on the ridiculousness of its own premise, an underrated trait in genre fiction), mystery, and the occasional incredibly gross scene too, which you can use as a mark of your literary credentials/ a way to completely weird out your parents, whichever you prefer. The world it conjures is so vivid, the characters so real, that re-reading it does that most wonderful thing, actually transports you away from the mundane, and that’s the purest kind of enjoyment you can get out of any book.
(IIt’s no mean achievement, either, that there are an absolute ton of characters here and they’re all compelling and pretty well drawn. I have my favourites, of course, like everyone, but I was hard pressed to pick them)
Maybe I’m biased, I don’t know. Maybe I simply first read it at the right time, and it stuck with me for that reason. Maybe I’m a little in love with America, and Gaiman, and the things he says about belief, about countries, about people. But I can only recommend this book with the highest endorsement I can give: here. Read it. You’ll enjoy it. And it’ll make you think.
I'm an MA Magazine Journalism student at Kingston University. I'm also incredibly keen on books (I've got a Master's in English Literature, so I kind of have to be!) I've chosen to review one of my favourites American Gods by Neil Gaiman, as I'm currently in the middle of my annual re-read of it.
tagged in Neil Gaiman