American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

I have to say – I love it when book club disagrees – when our star ratings go from 1 to 5. Makes for some lively discussion! This book is long and this is a busy time of year, so only two of us finished the book, but partial reviews are included.

Robin: I loved this book from the very first words. I was not even into the body of the book, but reading the first quote (each chapter has one). This quote was from Richard Dorson (A Theory of American Folklore). I knew I was in for a treat when I saw the same theory I had for writing “Tales of the Elemental Goddessses” – that all the gods and goddesses and other mystical beings are sustained by those who believe in them. Gaiman’s theory of certain road side attractions which are places of power, recognized by people, even if only on a level of being attracted to the place without knowing why – YES! I have felt this in my travels BIG TIME. Not knowing why I stopped and snapped a photo of a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, or drive thirty miles up a pithy dirt road to see a small cave of strange rock formations. I laughed at how Gaiman uses our American Folk tales in his work, slipping them into scenes or thoughts (The mutant KFC). Tricky writing when we are suddenly in another time or place or character’s mind, but he pulls it off wonderfully, describing the scene (like “entering the casino one is beset at every side by invitation—invitations such that it would take a man of stone, heartless, mindless and curiously devoid of avarice, to decline them.”) and moving you to this new place with such enticement, you are not worried about what you just left behind. I developed a special fondness for Whiskey Jack, I liked him already but loved “I’m a culture hero,” he said. “We do the same shit gods do, we just screw up more and nobody worships us. They tell stories about us, but they tell the ones that make us look bad along with the ones where we came out fairly okay.”

Of course, I can hardly wait to discuss this with the book group – I want to ask Connie, in particular, “How do I slow down and read this book in such a way to gain meaning out of every crazy word? What does it all mean? The two boys the size of apple trees? The disembodied head the size of a VW bug? Rate 5.0. Yep, you heard it. 5.0. Although I suspect there are some who won’t like this book.

Lynne: I realize there is more to this story than the plot line suggests: An ex-con is recruited to assist in a war between the old and new gods. However, I was not drawn in to the characters and their interactions, so I couldn’t get past the plot and found it boring and ridiculous. For the most part I am not a fan of zombies and other supernatural fantasies, so that was definitely one strike against the book. Occasionally I get a kick out of fantasy stories where the message is more tongue-in-cheek, but this particular story was so dark and depressing from the start that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters or their purported dilemma. I’m going to rate it 1.0 and that may be generous.

Linda: There was something every fifty pages that brought me back into it, it kept me reading just when I was slowing down. Throughout I had no idea what the endpoint would be. It’s about how gods come and go, but why the American Gods? I’m not finished. Is the end any different? His message changes. I didn’t have the intellectual fortitude to get through it. I felt like I was reading a book by someone who’s main point is that he is smarter than his readers. Rate 1.0

Gloria: It’s too strange for me. I love Shadow and Wednesday, I love the characters, but not the story. I’m on page 200 and I’m not going to finish it. He starts out and robs a bank, but he’s a god, he’s supposed to be doing good, isn’t he? That doesn’t work for me. There is just too much going on. (Why did you like Wednesday?) He’s an old fashion gentleman. I like the idea of an American god. Rate: 1.2

Connie: I haven’t read it yet. But I think it’s more didactic, preachy. It has a message. I am interested in Mythology, and the stories we tell. For example, Joseph Campbell. Have you read what he says about a myth? It is not something that is not true (false) – it is the guiding principle of how we make sense of the world. The thing we are least likely to recognize as a myth is what we think is true. Shared culture defines our lives – like ancient religions, spring rites of passage, native ideas of the land/earth – but we have come to a time now, oh – people think we don’t need this anymore, but people are lost. Sam Keen, said look how people connect to Star Wars. Moyers interviews Campbell – he says Star Wars connects us back to the myth, “Use the force”  works because then Luke doesn’t need the technology, draws on himself, connects to a spiritual side. I just started the book, but maybe Americans are adrift? What is our mythology? What is it turning into?

Kristina: I am not finished, but with what I have read so far I would rate it  below a 3.0. I think the whole mythology thing is very fascinating, like Paul Bunyan, it is kind of sad that we don’t have our own gods.

Cindy: I didn’t read the book yet. But I am thinking American Gods – So like Zuckerman and Jobs, they have an air about them, people think a certain away about them, so it gives something to them. They have some kind of power to give or take away. If you think about it metaphorically, if he’s talking about the technology – we have it, but look at the price we have to pay.

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