i. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ii. Dracula – Bram Stoker
1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom – Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Talking to people at work requires a fairly deft hand at small talk. Well, for those people you don’t work with often. A few years ago one of my fallback questions when work was getting so silent that I could hear the onions and capsicums crying out as I cut them was “So…what music do you like?”. This was then usually followed by a conversation espousing the values of various genres of music. Except country, trance, or thrash core metal. Nowadays that question has changed to “So…what have you been reading?”.
What surprises me most is the frequency with which I receive the answer “oh, I have a whole stack of books waiting for me until after exams. I’ve been too busy studying/on prac/with assignments.”
I know that not everyone is as obsessed as me with reading. If I leave the house without a book in my purse, I know that that day is going to be terrible. Which is why I always make sure I have a book in my bag. Two, if I’m almost finished my first one. I read before bed, on break at work, on public transport, on the toilet, with breakfast, and if it’s a spectacular day I just curl up and read for hours on my lounge. I can’t not read. I guess that’s called an addiction?
It took me almost two weeks to finish American Gods. That is shocking. I suppose I fell into the same situation as my fellow sandwich artists/uni students: I just didn’t have the time. But whenever I could snatch a few extra minutes I had my nose buried in Gaiman’s beautifully constructed alternate world. That was in between moving and organising and studying and writing and working as much as I can. Actually, come to think of it, two weeks isn’t so shocking considering my schedule.
The version of American Gods I ended up with was an extended version (yes, they do those for books too. Not just for the Lord of the Rings trilogy). In his introduction, Gaiman spoke about how he had to work even more closely with his editor to try and flesh back out the story lines he had had to cut when the book was first published. What I’m pretty sure we, the readers, ended up with, was a compromise between Gaiman’s first manuscript, his published book, and bits and pieces of scenes that Gaiman threw in just for our pleasure. Plus, an interview with the genius himself was included in the final pages. I would completely recommend this version to anyone who has not yet read American Gods.
I just want to point something out for those of you who still are not familiar with Gaiman’s talent. On the cover of this book, tucked away in discreet but proud white font, is a list of the awards that this particular novel had won throughout its existence. Here’s a breakdown of these awards for your convenience:
- Hugo – Science Fiction
- Locus – Literary
- Nebula – Science Fiction/Fantasy
- Bram Stoker – Dark Fantasy/Horror
- SFX – Science Fiction/Fantasy
Basically this list tells me that Gaiman’s work is so beyond definitions that, instead of just awarding him the one award and pigeon-holing him into a genre that only kind of fits his story, the literary community showered him with awards from various genres just so each aspect of his work could achieve some acclaim. A-maz-ing.
Now for the nitty-gritty: the story itself. The way this story is put together is just sumptuous. Woven throughout the main story of the American gods are scenes from the lives of various American citizens during various centuries and their various experiences with their gods. None of these stories are tied back into the main through-line of the book, except for maybe in theme. But this works for me. The book is so long and so detailed that brief escapes from the density of the text means that when we are thrown back into the main story, we are refreshed and can take in more of what Gaiman is telling us.
Gaiman portrays two sets of gods in America, a place “no good for gods”: the old ones with which everyone is familiar: Odin, Loki , Horus, Easter, Anansi, Kali, and many many others. And the news ones: (get ready for this, because this is brilliant) Media, Cars, Internet, Flight, Drugs. I loved that Gaiman brought everyday things up to the same level as Odin the all-father and his ilk. Because we do worship these things; all of us, not just the Americans. Think about it: you use the internet everyday. And when it stops working, you feel lost and abandoned. Just like when things go wrong in your life and you start to blame your religious figures: God, Jesus, Allah, what have you. It is such an apt statement. And I love that Gaiman was the one to deliver it to us.
Gaiman also touches on the idea of belief and its power. We, as a collective, can change reality with what we believe. You just need to look at history to know that this is true. Belief can bring the all-powerful gods of old to a new land. Lack of belief can reduce these gods to worse than beggars. You can read this theme of belief anyway you wish to. I choose to think of it as a way of talking about self-belief: believe in yourself and you can do whatever you set your mind to, however impossible it may seem to others. Lose that belief and you go nowhere and do nothing.
I don’t want to talk too much about the plot. Partly because it is so intricate and trying to give an overview will not do the book justice. Partly because for the first third of the book I was so distracted by the lyricism of Gaiman’s words that the plot washed over me and I had to go back and re-read multiple pages, only to have the same thing happen again. And partly because I hate to spoil things for anyone. Pick up this book and read it cold, like I did. It’s a better experience for you.
If this book had been written by anyone other than Gaiman, I would ream them out for this next point. But, as it is, I’m not entirely sure that the repeated mistake wasn’t some genius move that I am just too unintelligent to understand. Throughout the book “worshipped” was misspelt. It was spelt “worshiped”. Or “worshiping”. Now to me this is a glaring mistake and it seems that Gaiman’s editor – or, and it doesn’t bear thinking about, Gaiman – has misspelt the word. BUT is Gaiman making some kind of literary statement about worship and how imperfect it is in the secular world that we live in? I honestly cannot tell you. But it is jarring to read when all my life I have been told that it is spelt with a double ‘p’.
This book is a must read for anyone. Whether you read sci-fi, fantasy, or chick lit. There is so much awesome (and I mean that in its original dictionary definition, not the colloquial word meaning ‘epic’ or just plain ‘good’) crammed into American Gods that you are doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t already on Amazon/on your way to the book shop, and buying this book.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman (aladyunkown.wordpress.com)
- Neil Gaiman on libraries, reading and daydreaming (crownlibrary.wordpress.com)
- Neil Gaiman to teach at Bard (timesunion.com)
- Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman (dangerousminds.net)
- #3 “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman (infernal imagination.wordpress.com)
- Author Neil Gaiman for U.S. education secretary? (washingtonpost.com)
- American Gods – Neil Gaiman (doctorgaines.wordpress.com)