American Gods is one of the strangest most wondrous books I’ve ever read. I finished it yesterday and I knew that I planned to review it in some way, shape, or form. Because I felt like it was an important exercise to think critically about a book the rest of the world has decided is a land mark novel.
However as soon as I finished it I didn’t have the words for a review and if you do not have the words already forming in your mind you cannot force yourself to write about something, or else it will be false and your readers, however few of them there are, will feel betrayed by your lack of honesty.
So I sat on it a while, I went about my day and did not think about American Gods until right before I went to bed. Just as I snuggled myself into my squirrel covered bed sheets (yes I’m aware that I am still 5 years old) with a book by John Green in my hand ,eager to be read, the first words of the review came into my mind, they were:
I remember my first encounter with American Gods was several years ago in a small bookshop in Christchurch New Zealand. I remember the red of the book and the silver tree on the front cover and the word ‘Gods’ capturing my eye. For a child of twelve the book would be the biggest book I’d ever read. I remember reading the blurb and thinking to myself ‘that sounds really cool’ (I was like most boys of twelve in a state of fascination with gods, myths and legends and anything that could give me the feeling of being in a world where those things were real I would read). So I took the book to my most trusted advisor, Mum, and got her to read the blurb. I asked her what she thought. She had a read, she flicked through the pages and she said, in a perfectly motherly voice, I don’t think this is for you, it’s too grown up. And I thought okay that’s fair but I really want it. And she retorted rather quickly that I wouldn’t enjoy it and I probably wouldn’t understand it (and in hindsight she was very correct, after finally reading it there are many many things I wouldn’t have grasped).
So I put the book back where it belonged and didn’t dwell on the opportunity I’d missed and went on with my life. Reading many other books about myths, gods and legends.
So I have now read a book that drew my attention at a formative age, that I just so narrowly missed because of mother’s wisdom. I find myself pondering a questions What would I have told my younger self about American Gods? I would have said buy it. Buy it and enjoy the fact that you’re not going to understand half of it. Enjoy the fact that the words and the sentences and the paragraphs will confuse you. Because above all American Gods will make you think and consider ideas you didn’t realise you could consider. It is a book, much like the only other Gaiman work I’ve ever read that forces you to think about ideas and humanity. It forces your mind to grow and soak in all the knowledge that’s been poured into it.
I remember as I read being constantly hounded by the question of where is this book going? And what on earth is the point of all this? And the book doesn’t answer those questions until the very end and yet it’s one of the best payoffs to any piece of popular culture that I’ve ever experienced. It’s a book that somehow forces you to keep reading, because you’re fascinated by the world that Gaiman depicts and the ideas he chooses to lay out on the page. Gaiman asks you to come on a journey to the centre of the human psyche and of the great land of America.
I’m sure reading this book as an American would have a profoundly different affect but as an Australian at the bottom of the world I feel like I understand more about America. More about the psychology of the country as Gaiman himself uses the book to discover what he thinks about the land he calls home.
All in all Gaiman said it best himself in his introduction, that (and I paraphrase because the book is not with me whilst I write this so I have to rely on the fickle mistress of memory) American gods is a grand sweeping winding novel. And all in all that is all you can say. It is a true epic that explores fascinating concepts of belief, trust, hope, gods and humanity. I loved it. And I am better for reading it.