American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

I will begin the first of many Neil Gaiman posts with one of my all-time favourites - American Gods. 

“They were never in my sleeve,” said Sweeney. He chortled to himself, rocking and bouncing as if he were a lanky, bearded volcano preparing to erupt with delight at his own brilliance.

She told them all these things, and they believed, because she believed.

Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.
– W.E.Henley, Madam Life’s a Piece in Bloom.

Stupid as a man who bought his stupid at a two-for-one sale.

I'm a sucker for a good simile, and this one is just so, so good! It makes me chuckle every single time I read it.

All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.

“You’re fucked up, Mister. But you’re cool.”

“I believe that’s what they call the human condition,” said Shadow.

There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.

This has stayed with me through the years. It makes so much sense, I see it in daily, every day life as well as in the big-picture-politics around us. 

He was close enough that Shadow could see his face: old but contented, the face of a man who had sipped life’s vinegar and found it, by and large, to be mostly whiskey, and good whiskey at that.

Hello, all this business of sipping vinegar and finding it to be whiskey - I mean, come on. Come on. This is just so good.

What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.

It smelled of people who had gone away to live other lives, and of all they had eaten and dreamed.

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories.

A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.

Simple. Succint. True.

“Stay, stay a while,” she whispered. “I will be there. I will be with you soon.”

“It doesn’t matter that you didn’t believe in us,” said Mr. Ibis. “We believed in you.”

A trail of lightning speared across the clouds, and Shadow wondered if that was the thunderbird returning to its high crags, or just an atmospheric discharge, or whether the two ideas were, on some level, the same thing.

It's lines like this that make Neil Gaiman so magical to me. This is just a random line nearly towards the end of the book, but it has left me with a lasting sense of wonder when I see and hear thunder and rain. It's so subtle, so brilliant, how one line like this can invoke awe in someone's life which they then carry with them forever.

People imagine, and people believe: and it is the belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.

He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.

In conclusion:

To be honest, I am unable to fully express my feelings about this book other than saying "I love it, I just love it" over and over. I really DO love it, though! This book made me feel weird, the very first time I read it. 

I come from a religious background, but I am not religious myself - it took many years of grappling to figure out where I stand on the spectrum of religion, to finally understand that religion, and belief can be separate from each other. American Gods sparked my thoughts on belief, belief in SOMETHING. Shadow's struggle with his life and his experiences, his internal journey to coming alive because he believed in something as opposed to letting life pass him by; I related to Shadow. 

This book amazes me, because it ought to repel me. All this talk of gods, and traditions, and powerful places, and rituals, I do not like this talk. But this book drew me in the first time I read it, and its allure remains constant - because it isn't really about all of that. I don't think so. For me, it is about struggle, and acceptance, and surrender. I have a tattoo of the books that have most impacted my mind by the time I was 20, and this is one of those books. I love it.

Started – I actually don’t remember the first time I read it. I think I was around 14 or 15, so probably around 2005.
Finished – Four days after I started it!

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