Why I Read This Book
I was looking for some light reading to get me through the 20+ hours flight back to Vietnam. So I headed to the fantasy section of the bookstore.
When I saw this book on the shelves, I snatched it up, because people had been recommending this book to me for years.
I had limited experience with Neil Gaiman before. (I read a book he co-authored, but it's difficult to tell how much of the flavor of that book was him, and how much was his co-author).
As I walked up to the cash-register, the clerk commented how much he loved this book. "Neil Gaiman's one of my favorite authors," he said. "His writing style is great. It's just like having someone sitting next to you telling you the story."
So, let me start by adding my own affirmation to the common consent--Neil Gaiman can write well. He writes very readable prose that keeps you turning the pages.
And, he's got a great imagination. Whatever else you may say about this book, it certainly is imaginative.
Let the reader be warned, however, that this is one of those books that takes its sweet time.
It's a book that values creating an atmosphere over a fast-moving-plot. A lot of time is spent describing places, people, and scenes. For example the author spends pages several chapters describing life in one small town in Wisconsin.
Some of this is, no doubt, because I bought the 10th Anniversary Edition, which contains an additional 12,000 words that Neil Gaiman's editors had originally cut out for the first edition.
I suspect that Neil Gaiman's editors had been right the first time. (Although not knowing which 12,000 words the editors had cut out, I can't say with certainty. But there's definitely a lot of fat that could use trimming in this book.)
Even the original book edition apparently had a reputation for its love of description. To quote from the Guardian review of the original mass-market paperback (LINK HERE):
There's something raw about American Gods, too. It's a polished piece of writing, no doubt about that, but it has that simultaneous urgency and sprawl of a writer finding their feet. Gaiman's latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a perfectly-formed parcel of tight writing and economic plotting; American Gods spills over the edges of the page as Gaiman gives himself an almost runaway-truck freedom to pile anything and everything that tickles or interests him into the novel.The good news though is that Neil Gaiman can pull it off. He writes well enough that he can take a lot of digressions, and still keep the reader with him.
Also, there is tons of detail and conversation packed into this book.
Some of the little details casually dropped in conversation will turn out to be important to the book's plot later. 90% of it will not. But then that's a good way for the author to hide his foreshadowing and his red-herrings--just cram so much detail into the book that the reader doesn't even know what's important and what's not.
It's a good book, but I'm not entirely sure this worked as a good airplane read. I was looking for something a bit more fast-paced to help distract me from how miserable I was on a 20 hour flight.
Instead I got the opposite of fast-paced. And by the end of that 20 hour flight, all those dream sequences in the novel were beginning to irritate me.
So...let the reader be warned ahead of time: a long sprawling novel, slow-paced lots of descriptions, lots of dream sequences.
Now, to the positives:
There are a lot of colorful characters in this book. Neil Gaiman has mined through some of the more interesting stories in world mythology so that you don't have to.
I had already known about Thor and Odin, of course, but from this book I got my introduction to Chernobog (W), Wisakedjak (W), and the Zorya sisters (W) from this book.
As well as all sorts of interesting little tidbits of information. (Did you know that Paul Bunyan is not so much an authentic American folk legend, but rather something created by a New York advertising agency around the turn of the century?)
There's a lot of fascinating stuff.
And it's well written.
So I'd give it my recommendation. Just be warned about the slow pace beforehand.
Connections With Other Books I've Read
* At one point, Stranger in a Strange Land is mentioned as a book that is in one of the charater's car.
Video review here and embedded below:
Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky talking about Wikileaks and Julian Assange