2017 Reading List: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

We started a book club at my office. There are about 10 avid readers who are excited to read something new, get together during lunch, and talk about books. So this next book on my Reading List is not something I would have picked out on my own. Our first BarkleyREI Book Club book was American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

You may have heard of this book because of the TV show on Starz. But I hadn’t.

I was a bit dubious when I heard that this would be our first book. Our group has some diverse tastes and everyone likes a wide range of subjects and styles. I looked up the synopsis of the book and I could barely follow it. It seemed complicated and weird.

But wouldn’t you know it, it must be the most popular book in the country right now, because I had to put my name on a hold list for a digital copy from the library. There were 25 digital copies available and every single one was checked out. And I was 90th in line. I ended up getting a hold at the “real” library. Every book in the whole county was checked out. But at least I was next in line.

This book was very interesting, very weird, sometimes confusing, and surprisingly entertaining. I ended up liking it much more than I expected.

The general plot, without getting as complicated as Wikipedia, is this: a man named Shadow has just gotten out of jail and finds out that his wife has died. As he is on his way back home, he is intercepted by a man named Wednesday who changes his life by offering him a job. The job is to drive him places and do his errands. Shadow is suspicious but doesn’t have anything to lose. They drive around and meet a series of unusual characters. There are so many characters that this is what makes the book confusing. His dead wife comes back to “life.” Shadow starts to realize that the people he’s meeting are gods, and that there is about to be an epic altercation between the old gods and the new gods. He is on the side of the old gods, probably for no other reason than they recruited him first.

I wasn’t sure why Shadow was the one they chose. It seemed random and coincidental. But don’t worry – you’ll find out at the end!

Wednesday has Shadow stay in a small town to keep him out of sight and not draw attention to himself. Shadow isn’t sure why, but he makes the most of it. He makes some friends, and starts to live a somewhat normal life. But Wednesday keeps coming back to whisk him away so that they can recruit some more old gods to their cause. The old gods aren’t convinced that they need to join the fight. They’re old and tired and dying off, but they try to say that that’s better than dying in a battle.

There are some side stories that are going on all this time. Shadow keeps seeing his dead wife, which still confounds me as to why she needed to rise from the dead in the first place, although she does play a pivotal role in Shadow’s journeys.

I won’t give away the ending, because the ending was what made the book. The rest of it was all just twists and turns.

I think this book was filled with symbols, although I had a feeling I missed a lot of them. There were religious references and codes of ethics and metaphors. I was trying to read quickly, since it was a fairly long book and I only had it from the library for three weeks.

Mostly I was just entertained and I really didn’t pull any deeper meaning from the book, although I could have. When I read that this book was about the “old gods versus new gods,” I was expecting a little more background on the old gods and I was hoping to relate a little more to the new gods. I thought the new gods would be like credit cards, shopping malls, computers, cell phones, but instead they were “Mr. World,” “Mr. Town,” “Mr. Stone,” and I didn’t feel any connection to them being especially new. They were just mean and haughty.

The book didn’t make me want to watch the TV series. I liked it, but I wasn’t so enthralled that I needed to see what some producer imagined it would look like in real life. I enjoyed picturing it in my own head and leaving it at that. There are a lot of people who really like the show, though, but they say that it really diverges from the book, and it’s more of an interpretation and closer to fan fiction (fan TV show?) than an actual straight TV show rendition.

We haven’t had our book club meeting yet, so this post is purely my own thoughts on the book. I’m excited to see what my co-workers think and if they have any new insights.

 

Have you read American Gods or seen the TV show? What do you think? 

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