American Gods/Anansi Boys (Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics) - Neil Gaiman
Hey, you ever wanted to see Lucy's tits?

I need to take a breather before I jump into Anansi Boys, even though it is drastically shorter than American Gods, so I'll be taking a break to finish Atlas Shrugged and A Storm of Swords before I even consider really finishing this book.

With all that said, what do I really think of the book that is destined to be one of the best things that HBO has ever decided to adapt into a television show?

I hope you appreciate the following, because I took notes - I actually took down notes, on paper, so that I could try to bring order to the chaos that is this book. Certainly this book is no point A to B and so it's very easy to leave something out, as Shadow's journey takes him all over the place and back again, and as Mr. Wednesday is fond of pointing out, Gods are as easy to maneuver as making cats stand in a straight line.

While trying to be as succinct as possible:

During the best parts of this book, I am reminded of the Kevin Smith movie, "Dogma", with the fun of a regular Joe/Jane interacting with some panicking spiritual beings, set to a journey through America.

Shadow is not so much a "character" as he is a personality that is perfect to just seem to go with the flow with what happens to him. This is very good thing, if you can disregard Shadow's role in the whole scheme of things, but if you are like me, you are constantly left wanting this guy to be more of a real character and not a cut out that is transported from one interesting moment to the next. I am glad that he does appear to be a step up from the card board cut out like of Bella Swan, but we are cutting it a little bit close.

Staying positive about the character of Shadow, I was fond of how the first paragraph of the book leaves the audience with three cold facts about the man that later come back to either be challenged or strengthened through the course of the story:

1. He finds enjoyment through learning coin tricks
2. He has hit rock bottom and the current path of his life is so much a given to him that he does not seem to begrudge fate at all. The only bit of his harsh reality that seems to have left a large mark on his personality is that he lives by the mantra of doing your own time while in prison and not anybody else's
3. He loves his wife, Laura

In this way, with one paragraph we have saved what could have been an exhaustive amount of exposition told through dialogue and the book gets off to a great start, making it obvious that the main focus of the story is Shadow. Could you imagine if Shadow was a better character who was worthy of such a strong focus? But I digress... Gaiman makes great use of description in such a way that it doesn't bog down the narrative too horribly and you really only feel the length when you have to tolerate what Shadow calls thoughts but I call stupids.

I don't know what Gaiman was thinking when he put what he did for the openings of the chapters - poetry or random quotes that seemed to either make no sense or, at times, sets a completely different mood than what the chapters are actually made of. It's dumb, wasteful and pretentious at worst and just annoying and useless at its best.

We also get into the themes of two main things, almost above even the rather obvious focus on Gods and those are "magic"/sleight of hand and grifting. This is a little unusual, because if Shadow is anything, he is not the deceptive type, but as the story chugs along, it becomes a very fun diversion, as, I think, it was meant to be.

There are four other themes that run under the workings of everything, like underground rivers, and those are friendship, loyalty, servitude and sacrifice. These don't pop up in ways that seemed cliched to me and in a story like this, these themes seemed to add interesting twists to the story.

Speaking of moving through the story, we also get dosed with a massive amount of Americana, tinged with little bits of European flavor here and there. It works to, hopefully, draw you into the story with charm that ranges from warm and, sometimes, close to home and in other instances, subtly macabre. I could imagine that if I was in no mood to experience all of the rampant Americana, I would have loathed the book like poison, but I cannot imagine anyone I would be a friend to who would hate this sort of fun. The macabre and the ordinary sometimes brush up against each other and hint at some elements of horror, adding some disturbing/disquieting moments, usually when you least expect it.

I will also like to point out that life seems to be in an eternal limbo/winter for everyone in this story, including the Gods in all of their differing forms. Resources are meager and if anybody still has a sense of humor, it is heavily tempered with a sort of humble desperation. Safety and comfort is a very rare luxury and throughout the book, Shadow begrudges his inability to find/understand what a home is supposed to be.

Shadow is both incredibly lucky as well as being incredibly unlucky at the same time - he gets into sticky situations and Flash Gordons his way out of it and yet never seems to ever get on top, constantly starting over time and again and forever being the outsider to everything.

On the negative side, there are inclusions that are meant to add... something - and I am not fully certain how I was supposed to react to these pieces - that add nothing but take up a large part of the narrative. Any moment that Samantha Black Crow (Jesus. Really? What.) is in the scene I want to stop reading almost immediately. This comes to a head when she takes up almost an entire page with a monologue about things that she believes in. Yes; a list of what a character who is somehow less interesting than Shadow talking about herself and how she's incredibly quirky and interesting. Fucking hipster. Everything having to do with the Vagina Monster known as Bilquis similarly always has the ability to make you stop reading rather abruptly and adds NOTHING to what I cared about in the story. Aside from these two female characters, most of everything else was, to me, bearable. Bilquis is just slightly more bearable because she is a giant vagina who swallows men. And not a hipster.

Opposite to these female problems are the interludes, which are known as Coming to America and Somewhere in America, which are usually quite amazing and work to cleanse the palate of what would otherwise be a complete overloading of Shadow's rather underwhelming personality in this story.

Speaking of characters, nearly every character, but especially the Gods, is an interesting addition to the overall story. You can easily connect to what makes characters different from one another and there are moments to nearly every one that you will remember once you put the book away. After having read the book, I can say that I have a renewed interest in learning about the different Gods who appear in the story, even if they are only mentioned in passing.

The two different sides in the story - the "good" and the "evil", if you will - are drawn in quite an interesting manner, having obvious differences as well as a few surprising similarities between the two that makes their fight compelling. The "good" guys can actually be pretty fucked up - Mr. Wednesday is a skeevy and jerky asshole and throughout the book Shadow has to deal with people who wear skulls around their neck as a necklace, people who see mass murder as a feast and the type of person who would obviously never be able to pass off as sane or normal human in everyday society. It appears as though the main difference between the "bad" and the "good" guys is that at least the good guys are sincere and, usually, truthful in their intentions.

I love that everything seems to be double-sided or in threes - if you look closely enough, you will see more than one part of everything and nothing is as it first seems. For example, although it seems quite obvious that being a God is preferable to being a mortal, Shadow begins to get the impression that a human being has more freedom and autonomy than a God would ever have.

What is it that makes Shadow special? Well, to me, I would argue that he could have been written better in a wide variety of ways, but when you're talking about what makes him special to the other characters of the book... Well, you will have to wait a ways through the book to get a definitive answer to that puzzle, but I do believe that it is well worth the price of admission.

It's fun to read once, and I can see myself skimming through it sometime in the future to re-live some of the better parts of the book, but I am looking forward to seeing what a great production team can do to turn this into a television series. Frankly I think that another medium would be kinder to a cardboard cut-out like Shadow and I would like to see a medium that does not require a reader to have to slog through his sometimes tedious inner dialogue.