American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Shadow, the main character in this book, is an ex-con whose first experience as a free man is the death of his wife. Being soft-spoken, he is chosen by Mr. Wednesday to be his loyal friend and bodyguard. Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, both smooth-talking, go on a journey which teaches them how the past never really falls asleep (or dies).
“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”
Gaiman’s charm lies in the way he incorporates Gods into the everyday life of America, making them seem like an underground mafia, a world of their own, waiting for the storm to rise again. This book is not only about old gods and new gods, or about a broken-hearted ex-con, or about coin tricks, but it seduces the reader into believing that there really is a God of Thunder walking among us.
“Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true.”
The writing itself is quite poetic, and smooth, and takes you by the hand and leads you through the morphemic structures in the most perfectly imaginable way. It is a story inside of a story, intertwined with another story. It is a long and complex tale.
“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn the answers, you can never unlearn them.”
Reading Neil Gaiman’s work is an artistic exercise all by itself. The expanded version will make you tear the book in half from the shocking revelations it holds.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The world will end next Saturday, so what do you do? Whatever it is, in The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutterr, Witch warned you on time (but you just wouldn’t listen, would you?) so it’s your fault if you don’t have your time well planned.
“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody else], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”
The armies of the Evil and the Good are now meeting up to plan their strategies, tempers are flaring, and Atlantis is rising. It seems as if the thing is going exactly it should – according to the Divine Plan. But . . . the Antichrist is kind of lost, and we still have an angel and a demon living among mortals on planet Earth. Given that they’ve here since The Beginning, they have started to enjoy their life quite a bit, and are not really looking forward to the soon-to-be Rapture.
This satire is the supreme child of British humor and Biblical stories. The mash up might not seem promising, but it will hit the spot you wanted to keep safe.
“Aziraphale collected books. If he were totally honest with himself he would have had to admit that his bookshop was simply somewhere to store them. He was not unusual in this. In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand book seller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours – he was incredibly good at it.”
“Hell may have all the best composers, but heaven has all the best choreographers.”
The book is quite insightful, and extremely funny. It brings out the worst from mankind’s tendency to fear sins while laughing at them. Some parts of the book might sound a bit like cliches, but the semi-predictability of the characters is what makes the story so delicious.
Grendel by John Gardner
“When I was a child I truly loved:
Unthinking love as calm and deep
As the North Sea. But I have lived,
And now I do not sleep.”
If you are acquainted with Beowulf, it is highly recommended that you read this piece of literary art also. Grendel, the first monster of English literature, tells the story from his own perspective. The book isn’t that long, but its 200 pages will definitely keep you entertained. The author’s poetic prose will charm you quickly into thinking that Grendel might not be as cruel as Beowulf described him. But can you really sympathize with this terrifying monster?
“So childhood too feels good at first, before one happens to notice the terrible sameness, age after age.”
Gardner builds his book with themes such as nihilism and cynicism vs. belief and optimism, which are universal for every civilization in any historical era. His handling of such subjects is nothing but breath-taking. Gardner’s style of writing is impeccable in all of its vividness and color and the uniqueness of the monster’s voice.
“I know everything, you see,’ the old voice wheedled. ‘The beginning, the present, the end. Everything. You know, you see the past and the present, like other low creatures: no higher faculties than memory and perception. But dragons, my boy, have a whole different kind of mind.’ He stretched his mouth in a kind of smile, no trace of pleasure in it. ‘We are from the mountaintop: all time, all space. We see in one instant the passionate vision and the blowout.”
The story is written in a non-linear way, filled with flashbacks which show Grendel’s progression as he becomes much more than an unthinking monster-like being. As time passes, Grendel starts to embrace his role of “the monster” whilst philosophizing about his nihilistic nature. To appreciate Grendel completely, one should understand Beowulf and the philosophy behind that epic.
Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
The birth and life, teaching and acts, and the divine sacrifice of Jesus have been chronicled quite successfully. But, rarely does anyone examine the early years of the Son of God. The only individual who can present it well enough is Biff, the Messiah’s best friend.
“Children see magic because they look for it.”
Biff is resurrected just to tell us the miraculous story, filled with journeys of magic, demons, kung fu, and healing. He is there for his friends, he is Jesus’s sidekick, his troublemaking friend, quite sarcastic and lacking the self-control a person like him should have. His intelligence, wit, and resourcefulness play a crucial role when conquering the troubles he stumbles upon.
The story is told in a divinely interesting way. If you liked Douglas Adams, you’ll love Christopher Moore. Joshua’s search for the Magi is fully supported by his best friend, Biff. The journey will lead them to finding Joshua’s destiny. Facing a number of odd creatures is a lot easier when you have a friend like Biff by your side. They learn about how suffering, kindness, and mercy affect the people around them.
“He loved constantly, instantly, spontaneously, without thought or words. That’s what he taught me. Love is not something you think about, it is a state in which you dwell. That was his gift.”