Saturday, March 14, 2009

This Book Is... American Gods (plus new books!)

So, I've been doing my Movie Rundowns for several weeks now, and I figured it was about time that I branched out. I'm reading again, and I figure that I should try to formulate my thoughts about books into words. Thus, this is the first installment of This Book Is... where I will tell you both what I read, a bit about it, and how I felt about it.

Standard rules apply, I'm going to stay away from long-winded analysis and definitely any spoilers will be tagged heavily as such. That said, they'll likely be a little more involved than the majority of my movie ones, because at the end of the day books just (tend to) have more stuff in them, and also to be less easily recognized by people glancing through.

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman

American Gods is a strange book. But then, so is most of what I've ever read from Mr. Gaiman. The book itself is about Shadow, a man just getting out of prison who receives some bad news about returning to the life he left behind. This is the catalyst for him to take a job offer from a mysterious stranger who has far more up his sleeve than he's letting on.

This is a book about religion and belief. The main theme of American Gods is that all the old gods, the beings that existed and were worshiped thousands of years ago from religions that have all but died out were beings that gained their power because of the belief of the people. When people who believed came to America, the gods came with them, but as the people of America abandoned the notion of gods the beings were left to wither and shuffle, old and forgotten, through a world that moved on.

The idea of existence being reliant upon belief is one of those things that's always been a powerful message to me. I like it when truth is malleable and reality relies upon subjective forces. It's one of the most compelling themes both in the media I'm drawn to and my personal writing and philosophies.

The book itself does a solid job of looking in at this from an outsider's perspective. It tends towards a lighter read than I might have preferred, I would have given a lot to have another 20 pages or so about the various gods' pasts and how the country shaped and changed them. But alas, there's a plot to happen.

My main complaint with the book, actually, is that the plot tends to get in the way. There are things that feel like they're tied up with the most perfunctory of passes. I think that's likely because the idea is more evocative than the story tied around it. But by the time the book spent its last pages tying up a loose end I was happy to let dangle, I ended up feeling a little let down by it.

That said, outside of a weaker ending that I'd like, the book itself is thoughtful and well-written. But then, Gaiman has always been a witty guy. I need to check out his stuff, and maybe dig into Anansi Boys, which takes place with some characters from American Gods.

All in all, I have to say I enjoyed it. It's a quick enough read (took me five days of mild effort), and there are certainly ideas in there that I think are good to explore.

This Book Is... Good. (****)


On an unrelated note, now that I decided to start reading again, I decided to take myself book shopping last night. There's a lovely little used book store around here that has all sorts of amazing things. It was quite shocking to see how full they were last night. I guess "In These Economic Times" you can't put a high enough premium on reselling your stuff and buying stuff on the cheap.

Here's what I walked away with:

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Be Cool by Elmore Leonard
The Grifters by Jim Thompson
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

And all that for $25. Not a bad shopping trip, if I do say so myself. I'll be reading Save the Cat first, as it's a book on screenwriting and Script Frenzy is coming up. Look for a blog on that as soon as I finish with my current novel, which will hopefully be sometime in the next ten days.

And that's all for now! Look for my Movie Rundown on Sunday, assuming I watch anything else this week. If not, I might just push it all back a week. We'll see.

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