Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

Best SFF Novels of the Decade: An Appreciation of American Gods

It’s hard to say exactly why I like American Gods so much.

Most of the time, if I like a book, it’s easy for me to point at the specific thing that makes it shine. Usually a book has one thing that stands out: the characters, the world, the language….

But Gaiman doesn’t lean too heavily on any single element of the writer’s craft. And as a result, I’m having trouble putting into words exactly why I’m so fond of American Gods.

To be fair, I have to admit that my attachment to American Gods is not entirely a rational one. Then again, love is very rarely a rational thing.

I first read American Gods when I was in grad school. It was a rough time in my life. I was weary, overworked, and slowly realizing that I did not fit well into modern academia. In a word, I was miserable.

What’s more, I was 2000 miles away from home. I grew up in Wisconsin, and after nearly two years in Washington State, I was terribly homesick.

At that time, in that place, reading American Gods kept me sane. Not only was it a book by one of my favorite authors. Not only was it a cornucopia of folklore and mythology. But it brought me a little taste of home when I really needed it.

Since then, I’ve reread it and listened to it on audio at least three times. I know the book pretty well. Despite this, even after thinking about it for days, I still can’t point at a specific reason why I love it.

I have to admit, it’s probably a combination of things. First and foremost, Gaiman is clever. I like cleverness in my books. I like being exposed to new information. I like unfamiliar ideas. I like it when a novel is realistic but still wonderful, and sensible while still being surprising.

The language shouldn’t be ignored either. Gaiman doesn’t flaunt his prose. He doesn’t rub your nose in lyricism. He keeps it subtle, always in service to the story. But you can’t deny that he has a brilliant turn of phrase. “He grinned like a fox eating shit from a barbed wire fence” is probably the single best piece of character description ever.

The heart of the matter is this: Gaiman understands the shape of stories. I’m not talking about plot here. Story is more than plot, more than character, more than event and tension and revelation. It’s an ephemeral thing. It is the dancer and the dance. It is the intangible something that moves us beyond like and into love.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I like American Gods kinda a whole lot. Whatever it is I want from a book, American Gods has it in spades. If you’ve never read it, you should. And if you have read it, you might want to think about reading it again….

Patrick Rothfuss always wanted to be fantasy author when he grew up. Now that his first (and now second) novel is published it’s generally agreed that he has achieved his dream. However, there is some debate as to whether or not he has, in fact, grown up.


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