Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman

I love this novel by Neil Gaiman. I give it five stars.  It may not be jam-packed with action and that's okay.  I can read George R.R. Martin for that.  The true brilliance of the book comes within the narrative, within finishing the story of Shadow, son of Odin, and how American Gods is among many things, an allegory of the modern times.

On the surface, the story is a tale of manipulation.  The old Gods, Loki and Odin, have created a grand scheme by which they will gain power when the old and new clash.  Underneath, we find themes of the young abandoning and devaluing the old (think of nursing homes where no one visits), a lack of communication and understanding between generations, and a fundamental definition of what it means to worship.

What the hell is worship anyway? It's an interesting concept. The easiest definition is to say "worship is something that we do when we go to a church." However, as Gaiman points out cleverly in his novel, it is a much trickier devil than that.  So what are the Gods then?  Well Gaiman would say to you that they are simply beings who historically got a lot of attention.  And the reason that they got that attention defines who they are and allows them to live on for centuries and have certain magical powers. And when the attention stops, they get bitter...really bitter.  Does any of this sound familiar? Are any of you out there who are reading this thinking...I really wish I had more attention?  Are you striving to be the next American God?  I would love it if the attention-hogs in my life would sit down and read this novel. But they can't/won't read.  Attention-hogs are too busy getting attention, right? Who has time for reading?

Gaiman says over and over in his book, "This is not a good country for Gods." He's right. In America, everyone believes to some extent that they ARE A GOD which is why it isn't a good country for one.  They think, "You should be following me; you should be worshiping me and be thankful that I say hi to you." You see it everywhere, especially amongst the beautiful and the young. To elaborate, I've noticed that these people think that they are deserving of attention simply because others want to sex them up.  The word I'm searching for here is "entitlement."  The problem is, everyone in this country has got this to some degree or another--more common I think amongst men than in women. The one out of a thousand that doesn't...well, he or she has got to choose between the 999 that do think they're gods and decide whether or not he or she would like to worship that person.  You can guess where I stand, I'm the one in 999 that says "fuck you" to all the gods in my life.

I work with people who I think believe they are gods.  The same goes for some acquaintances.  You know the problem with these "American Gods" is that just like in Gaiman's book, they do nothing for you.  They just take your worship, they gain power from it, and they are absolutely useless otherwise.  They have no true interest in you at all; they just want your worship.  Heck Odin as Wednesday even steals from people to get money to entertain his buddies.  He's a thief, a deceiver, a womanizer, and a con-man.  Way to go Odin.

Everything the gods do for you is a leg up for them in some way.  And if they need to destroy you to get what they want (the war of the gods), they do so without even thinking about it.  Laura in Gaiman's book is a perfect example of this (she's one of my favorite secondary characters btw).  They destroyed her to get Shadow on the right path, only it backfired with one of the greatest tropes I've seen in a novel--coin tricks.  Personally, this book gave me a lot of perspective on life and I think I could do with less gods to 'worship' and more people like Shadow--a man that is so aptly named that he stays out of the light and thus by doing so, becomes a true hero that shines brighter than any of the other characters in the book.

This book is a masterpiece of American literature. It's a novel about America written by someone not even born on this soil.  Thank you, Mr. Gaiman and I shall read more of your books.  Oh and by the way, it goes without saying that his prose is perfect, the pacing is wonderful, and the colorful characters are taken straight out of a comic book for uniqueness, grotesqueness, and sheer fantasy.


  1. You have peeked my interest. Great review. I like the cover of American Gods. And what Gaiman said definitely has merit.

  2. Wow, sounds like a really good read - and you are SO right about people and their sense of entitlement. I don't do too well with people like that, and I've known quite a few!

    Thanks for the recommendation! :-)

  3. I've heard this book is the bee's knees. So now I have even more reason to scoop it up. Thanks!

  4. I'm always skeptical when someone describes a book in such glowing terms.

  5. I really liked the book although (spoiler!) it's disappointing when there isn't really a final cataclysmic battle between old and new gods.

    Terry Pratchett also says many of the same things Gaiman does in novels like "Small Gods" which is why it's not surprising that they combined their talents on "Good Omens" which is also a great read.

  6. I really want to get the new anniversary edition. It has more words. It would make a good re-read.

    And I liked Anansi Boys even more than American Gods.

    Speaking of narcissism, new studies say that narcissitic behavior is up by more than 33% in the last 2 decades.

  7. Sounds like an interesting book (even though I think it technically counts as British literature, since Mr. Gaiman is from the UK). I'll have to pick it up sometime.

  8. I don't think I'd seen a real review of this, but this explains a lot why some people love it and some really don't. I wish I could remember who didn't and provide that 'God' assessment to see if that might be why (I suspect it might)

    As much of an attention whore as I can be, I try very hard to be a 'come on, let's all play together' type. I mean SURE I'm leading the Naked World Domination Tour, but I promise as a Goddess, I only want us to enjoy ourselves *shifty* (and in all honestly, i don't see myself as better or more valuable--I just play hard) I will definitely put this on my list. One of my favorite books I read this year was Gaiman's Graveyard Book, so I am happy to read another.

  9. @Ciara: Thank you for stopping by :). I tried to help out with a title for your book but oy...titles are hard.

    @Crystal: You know, and the book didn't all come together for me until the end. I really wasn't liking it and then bam...I was like...this book is amazing.

    @Kelley: "Bees Knees" is now my favorite saying.

    @Sarah: Fair enough.

    @Mutt: Yeah...there really are no amazing jaw-dropping moments in Gaiman's book.

    @Andrew: I'm going to read Anansi Boys. The comment on Narcissism doesn't surprise me at all.

    @Hart: You are my diva and goddess you naked tart you :P

  10. Not a genre I normally read, but I have to say, after this review - I'm going to! Sounds really interesting and love the correlation to Gods and the present day epidemic of narcissism.

    Thanks for the recap - love it!


  11. I've heard a lot about this book, but I have yet to read it. I want to though, especially after this review. It seems to be one of those books that make you sit back and reevaluate yourself when you're done.

  12. @PM: I think Gaiman is an excellent writer to study so even if it isn't your genre you can absorb a lot of good things by just paying attention to his words.

    @Marlena: It is exactly that kind of book.

  13. At first I thought this was going to be a pure book review post so I almost skipped it. Should have known better. Seems my TBR list just found another addition along with some good life advice.

  14. I read this book so long ago I barely remember details -- but you've made me want to go re-read it. Since that worked out well for Catch-22, maybe I will.

    @andrew: I didn't like Anansi Boys as much; compared to the weightier feel of American Gods, Anansi Boys felt like a spin-off.

  15. I am way too important to read this book.

  16. @Briane P - Well, Anansi Boys is, by definition, a spin off. But I don't think American Gods is "weightier;" I think it's... more global. It's a look at society whereas Anansi Boys is more about family. Not that it doesn't also deal with belief and why we believe things.

  17. You beat me to it!

    This is an excellent review.

    Okay, I'm on the last pages of a book. This is NEXT. I could use a real thought-provoking book.

    Sometimes the best people to comment on our society are people outside of the society. I have such a different perspective on where I grew up now that I no longer live there. I never would've seen it, otherwise.

  18. That sounds like an AWESOME book! I love books that have a strong religion in them. I find them fascinating.

  19. Sounds like a fascinating book.

  20. On Amazon, a lot of his negative reviews say, "He needs an editor." And all I think is, what the hell!? This book is awesome.

  21. Yes, I see that type of behavior a lot. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the review.

  22. @Steph: Thanks for taking the time to read. I try to structure my reviews so that they offer something you won't get from a generic review. Plus, mutt knows first-hand I read A LOT into my books.

    @Briane P: I have to say, I'm gonna read Anansi Boys. First though I need to work on the TBR pile and get some stuff loaded into Goodreads.

    @Munk: Smartass. But I love you for it.

    @Andrew: I feel like I'm left out of the conversation lol

    Theresa: I think you will enjoy it. Keep in mind that it is adult fiction. There is sex in it, though tastefully written. It is not squeaky clean like some YA fair ala Harry Potter or Twilight.

    Peggy: I think you would like this book then Peggy. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Belle: Maybe I should do a give-a-way? eh?

    Libby: Sometimes I think that Amazon Reviewers suffer from IQ 80.

  23. I haven't read enough Neil Gaiman, I'll have to try and grab this one.

    Thanks for visiting me, I look forward to getting to know you (and following you when the button comes back - f5 didn't work).

  24. Ever since I saw THOR, I've been eating up stuff with Norse mythology. How come this isn't taught in schools (at least mine didn't). I find it much cooler and more human than greek mythology.

    I love Gaiman. I better read this one.

  25. Um...>blush< well... feel free to jump back into your own thread at any time! See, the problem is that I've been a Gaiman fan for, well, longer than I'd like to admit. Since before he wrote books, if that tells you anything.
    I will say, though, at this point, my favorite of his is The Graveyard Book. I will also say that Don't Panic is very excellent, but it's non-fiction.

    Although I'll respond to your comment on my blog, I just thought I'd say about House... It's really 1st person. The opening, though, is the narrator of the first chapter talking to the reader. That's only present in that opening and doesn't happen in the rest of the book. I'll add some more to the teaser, so you can see the voice that it falls into.

  26. I loved American Gods and this is a great review. You should try Neverwhere, which is also good. Entitlement is the new black.

  27. American God's was a really good book. It had moments that blew me away. I ate it up.

    But I don't think I appreciated it quite as much as you did. I thought the ending was a little less... climatic than I hoped. Still, Gaiman tells a pretty good story.

  28. I have not heard of this author before, but will be checking Amazon for a Kindle version after posting this comment! Your review is compelling, insightful and makes me want to start reading NOW. Thank you for the introduction to what I'm sure will be a fantastic read!

  29. I've looked over the book a little and while I am not a Gaiman reader, I definitely dig the larger message. I once had a friend tell me "everyone is the hero in their own story"- which is the same idea. I disagreed to the extent that I do not think EVERYONE is- perhaps NEARLY everyone but some of us are just trying to do our best at being the best person we can be. Some don't think they are HEROES or GODS. But I think you're right, the numbers are small and most people think they are doing better than the next guy. And I will go a bit further and say that religion only aids the illusion of godhead. I recently read David Foster Wallace's little essay "This is Water" he tries to make a case that religion has it's place. The problem is that religion points it all back to me- I am a Child of god. I am a little god. I am god. Not every person takes religion this way but SO MANY do which is why religion is rife with problems and factions.

  30. I agree with Julie F when she said "entitlement is the new black." Great review!

  31. hmm, I'd never heard of this one before. Sounds interesting. :)

  32. I have a friend who askes me if I've read this book yet everytime we meet.

    I really like the point you make about people feeling that they are somehow deserving of status. It's not something restricted to America either; you encounter the 'ehm entitl'd' mentality here often.

    Gread blog on the book, I think you might have convinced me to read this one next!

  33. I LOVED this book. Definitely one of my all-time favs for Neil Gaiman, and I pretty much love everything he writes lol.