The Jambar Column: Henry’s reading nook

By Henry Shorr

This week, we return to my reading nook. With the trifecta of holidays passing, I would like to sing the praises of my favorite book, “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman.

“American Gods” fits so many niches. It’s a story about war, love, friendship, duty, cons and so much more. Gaiman also finds a way to bring attention to many oft-forgotten parts of this beautiful country. 

The story follows Shadow Moon, a reformed convict whose wife recently passed away in a car accident, on his journey across America to recruit gods in a war between old and new deities. 

Recruited by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, Shadow encounters friends, foes, gods and monsters all while being chased by agents of the enemy and his dead wife.

Each of these gods has been brought to America by immigrants who worshiped them and are sustained by people continuing to pray to them and keep them in their hearts and memories. 

Some main players include Anansi: The West African trickster god, Kali: The Hindu goddess of death, and Czernobog: The Slavic god of chaos and darkness.

These gods are working against new gods, such as media, technology and the highways to maintain some semblance of relevance and power in a changing America.

Shadow’s story is broken up by “coming to America” vignettes which tell the tales of immigrants throughout the continent’s history, bringing their respective gods with them. Gaiman writes of Viking settlers long before America’s beginning, an Irish immigrant in the colonies, as well as slaves from Africa coming over in the Transatlantic slave trade.

The characters find themselves in big cities like Chicago and New York, small towns like Cairo, Illinois and Blacksburg, Virginia, and obscure roadside attractions like the House on the Rock and the Center of America.

I read this book about once a year. I keep going back to it because it’s compelling, comforting and contained. It pushes its characters forward in ways that make sense but also breaks my heart. 

The stories of so many different cultures and belief systems all fitting together remind me that no matter what some in this country would have us believe, we always have been the great melting pot.

I don’t want to give too much away because I want people to read it, but there are twists and turns that are both well-foreshadowed and unexpected. Gaiman keeps readers on the edge of their seats with great action sequences interspersed with a healthy dose of exposition and character growth.

If you do read it, I implore you to think on how these different cultures you read about impacted you throughout your life and what people from your culture brought with them when they came to this majestic land.