American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Novel
by Neil Gaiman

Published: 2003-09-01
Paperback : 592 pages
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37 clubs reading this now
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Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming -- a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in ...

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Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming -- a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

One of the most talked-about books of the new millennium, American Gods is a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an American landscape at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. It is, quite simply, a contemporary masterpiece.

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Discussion Questions

1. American Gods contains both the magical and the mundane, a fantastic world of divine beings and bizarre happenings and a world of prisons, rundown roadside attractions, and quaint small towns. How is Gaiman able to bring these worlds together in the novel? How does he manage to make their coexistence believable?

2. What is the cultural significance of the war between the gods of old and the "new gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon"? In what ways have Americans transferred their devotion from spiritual to material and technological gods? What are the consequences of such a shift?

3. Gaiman, who now lives in the U.S., is originally from England. How might his perspective as a relative outsider affect his view of America? In what ways can American Gods be read as a satire or critique of American life?

4. What makes Shadow such a compelling protagonist? What are his most appealing qualities? At what crucial points in the novel does he demonstrate courage, compassion, intelligence, a willingness to sacrifice himself? What does his relationship with Laura reveal about him? What is the significance of his obsession with coin tricks?

5. What role do dreams play in American Gods? What are some of Shadow's more vivid and unusual dreams? Why does the Buffalo Man tell him in a dream to "believe everything"?

6. The narrator, discussing how we relate to the suffering of others, writes that "Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out thorough other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page and close the book, and we resume our lives." What does American Gods reveal by letting readers see through the eyes of a collection of down-at-heel and nearly forgotten divinities? What vicarious deaths does it allow us to experience?

7. After shortchanging a waitress, Wednesday tells Shadow that the American people "don't sacrifice rams or bulls to me. They don't send me the souls of killers and slaves, gallows-hung and raven-picked. They made me. They forgot me. Now I take a little back from them. Isn't that fair?" What are the implications of a god like Odin becoming, essentially, a con-man? What is the biggest con he tries to pull off in the novel?

8. What do the old gods need to stay alive and vital? What means do they use to get what they need? What is Gaiman suggesting about the nature of divinity, sacrifice, and devotion?

9. Late in the novel, the narrator says that "Religions are, by definition, metaphors.... Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world." Would you agree with this assertion? What are the gods in American Gods metaphors for? What is the difference between a world view based on worship, sacrifice, and belief in the divine and a world view based on the accumulation of material wealth and comfort?

10. Who are some of the more colorful and vividly drawn secondary characters, human and divine, in the novel? What do they add to the overall impression of the book? How do they affect Shadow?

11. What does the novel imply about the reality of life in small-town America? What darker truth lies behind the pleasant idyll of Lakewood, Wisconsin?

12. At the end of the novel, Shadow thinks to himself: "People believe.... People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen." Would you agree that what people believe in are largely projections of their own needs and desires? In what ways does the novel itself confirm or refute this idea?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Blaire T. (see profile) 07/06/19

by gina v. (see profile) 05/16/19

by Tricia P. (see profile) 04/09/19

Tricia - 4
Lisa -3
Lorraine - 3.25

by deborah b. (see profile) 11/16/17

by Wendy N. (see profile) 04/28/17

by Barbara M. (see profile) 03/12/16

I don't think the book was poorly written, but it just was not my kind of book.

by Peggy B. (see profile) 06/18/15

  "Wonderful!"by Laura D. (see profile) 12/09/12

I read this on my own and wish I had read this with my book club. There is so much symbolism and metaphor and meat in this book as well as a gripping plot. While this was a relatively long and challenging... (read more)

  "A Head-Trip Across Small Town America"by Ricki M. (see profile) 11/26/12

The story Gaiman has created is both fantastical and mundane at the same time. The side stories about various gods are highly interesting - and sometimes graphic, so not for the squeamish. His ideas... (read more)

  "Brilliant - Neil Gaiman at his best"by Jodie B. (see profile) 03/14/12

One of the reviews for this book said "You long for writers like Neil Gaiman...." and I have to say, at least in my case, that could not be more true. The way Gaiman creates unique characte... (read more)

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