book review: american gods

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of my favourite stories ever. It’s about a man who gets pulled into a conflict between America’s old gods (Odin, Anubis, Anansi, leprechauns, et al) and its new (Television, Automobiles, the Internet). There are digressionary tales of people who brought their gods to America, but the main story is about this con artist who’s enlisted this guy to help defend the old ways.

One of the things it doesn’t deal with is the modern political dimension of religion. There’s a bit where they talk about the churches on every corner having nothing to do with holy sites where you have to make something, some sort of sacrifice. There’s an offhand comment about what a lucky son-of-a-virgin Jesus was, all stealing Mithras’ birthday and everything, but the political realities of America are left out. There is no discussion of Islamofascism or any of that political religious shit you can fill up with in the real world news. But there are paragraphs like this that make me love this book so much:

None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition.

Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.

So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true. Even so, the next thing that happened, happened like this:

There are more bits in there that I love, but the other day I watched a TED talk on metaphor and this bit leapt out at me. At work last night I was telling someone about the Pynchon bit about metaphor in V that goes:

Fausto’s kind are alone with the task of living in a universe of things which simply are, and cloaking that innate mindlessness with comfortable and pious metaphor so that the ‘practical’ half of humanity may continue in the Great Lie.”

That’s in the middle of a big chunk on the importance of poetry, which was worth the price of admission for me. So yes. Metaphor. Belief. Interesting stuff.

And this new copy of American Gods I received (in trade, not as an Xmas present) is signed by Neil Gaiman himself, from when he was in Winnipeg last month. I don’t have to get my 1st edition all banged up rereading it. So that’s cool.

But yes, American Gods is a great story. I’ve heard that there are people who don’t like it, and I honestly can’t understand why. I mean, I can understand the fact that some people don’t like beautiful wonderful things and would prefer to live in gray boxes without feeling or thinking about anything, but I don’t understand why someone would be like that. No accounting for taste I suppose.

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