Reading:”American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

 

2017-04-22-23-25-06.jpgYes, I know, there is no need for another sort-of-review of any of Neil Gaiman’s books because there are already thousands of highly qualified writings about his work out there. He is a prolific writer, has a wide, diverse and also devout audience (of which Wonderguy is a proud member) and countless different platform—a lot of them highly professional and influential—have already discussed his numerous works. Still, thoughts are free and unicorns are still a thing, so let me reflect on my personal adventure with Shadow, Wednesday and all the other blokes who are setting the stage for a reading experience that was by far not as smooth as The Graveyard Book (my favourite Neil Gaiman book so far, though I have some more reading to do), but still gave me one of my favorite characters.

First off, I have to confess that I do not “like” and therefore hardly read any fantasy novels. I never read the Harry Potter-series (though I always wanted to read something by J.K. Rowling and A Casual Vacancy made that happen, but that’s another story) or Lord of the Rings  and I was surprised to find out that Philip Pullman was NOT in Independence Day (though: kudos to a fellow atheist, may the bridges we burn light our way…). Apart from an occasional Terry Pratchett I am hardly Neil Gaiman’s target audience, which might be a reason why reading The Graveyard Book, with its comparably small cast and fictional world, was ‘easier’ and much more enjoyable to read than American Gods. Another reason might be that Wonderguy told me to read Norse Mythology  before American Gods to be well-prepared and—truth to be told—this sort of preparation pretty much killed my vibe. I am all for some deeper insight into the backgrounds of stories and novels, but my enthusiasm has its limits and Norse Mythology exhausted these: starting with all the ridiculous names I never had a chance of remembering (for e.g. Gullinbursti the boar, Svadilfari the horse, or inanimate objects like a chain called Dromi)  followed by the mind-boggling number of protagonists, I lost track of the stories most of the time and confused everyone with everything except for the main ‘characters’  Loki, Thor, and Odin. [At the risk of sounding indifferent to fascinating historical knowledge: I’m an atheist which in this context means that religious and mythological symbols and/or characters are interchangeable and mostly irrelevant to me; the Norse mythology may be far more colorful than many of today’s religious symbols, stories and myths, but to me, in the end it is just another ‘metaphysical instrument’ for explaining seemingly inexplicable events and experiences while at the same time using this power of illusory knowledge to control the people seeking help and guidance.]
By the time I actually started reading American Gods I was already exhausted regarding the stories and adventures of Odin a.k.a. Wednesday and his various henchmen thanks to the enlightening ‘research reading.’

But Shadow kept me going. Through all the exhaustive dream sequences and fantastic elements which would otherwise rather discourage me to continue reading a book, I wanted to know what would happen to Shadow. Of course I acknowledge and appreciate the immense research work Neil Gaiman must have accomplished for this novel—no one needs me of all people to state that Gaiman is a master of his craft. Moreover, I loved the stories he tells in small subchapters throughout the novel about how the various gods and mythical creatures came to the US; they feature different voices and perspectives which introduce interesting and captivating insights in how myths and ‘gods’ can be created, transformed, and sometimes even killed off. 
Though the book dragged on at times—at least for someone who is not that much into fantasy—there were of course quite a few surprising twist and turns that made it an entertaining read, not only for the sake of finding out where Shadow’s path would lead him. Gaiman is a great author and knows his way around language, which always makes him a great read, even when delving into a genre one usually avoids (yeah, the “one” is me…).
With Shadow, American Gods features a protagonist that seems familiar, even though I cannot thoroughly explain how and why; he reminds me of Bukowski’s Hank Chinaski, various protagonists in war literature (Joker in Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers, Walter James in Larry Brown’s Dirty Work, some of the guys in Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried  and Paul Berlin in Going after Cacciato as well as Colby Buzzell’s depiction of himself in the midst of the Iraq War) and probably some others I can’t remember right now. Shadow is the one you want to have with you on a road trip (yeah I know, what a surprising remark considering parts of the book); he is the one you want to ask how to handle the ugly shit—even better, you want him to handle the ugly shit; in short he is the big brother I always wanted. He is THE one invariable in the midst of an ugly and violently changing world—and I’m not referring to the sort of Ragnarok Gaiman describes in  American Gods. Maybe Shadow is in some ways an all-American hero which makes him seem so familiar; maybe it’s something personal in regard to ex-cons in literature, I don’t know. I do know that his character, his story was the reason I finished the book. 

Again, this is in no way a book review; though I work in the field of literary studies, I don’t do reviews here (or elsewhere, for that matter). Literature is art and art has no limits (sort of); different people like different things, that’s all. It’s just another account of my reading experience and reading adventure, this time with Neil Gaiman. It was not the first, it won’t be the last, though it was a difficult one. But it was more than worth my time.

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Chick(s) without kids

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Today, by chance I listened to the episode “Choosing to live child-free” of the What would a feminist do?-podcast (you can listen to it here); I haven’t thought about that issue for a while, but what the three women – host Jessica Valenti and her two guests, authors Meghan Daum and Danielle Henderson – talked about resonated deeply with me: I never wanted kids and therefore, at 30+, I don’t have kids.* [I will continue to talk about the conscious decision to not have children, NOT about involuntary childlessness. For obvious reasons I’m in no position to talk about the latter, nor do I want talk about something I know nothing about. So let’s continue with the less tragic part of this vast subject.]

Whilst all my female and even male friends are breeding like there’s no tomorrow, I would rather drop dead than seriously think about having a baby. Usually, I’m the sole master of my life, my time, and my priorities which is a privilege I treasure very much, even though this means I have less financial security than someone else my age who leads a ‘traditional’ life. But for me, that’s worth it. I can read a book at any given time, I can stay up and work all night, I can withdraw from the world every time I feel the need to be alone and no human being depends on me. This is exactly how I want it.

On an intellectual level, I can understand why people want children: all these myths and stories about having children as a sort of symbolic immortality, having someone to take care of, humans having a biological urge to breed – I get that.

On an emotional level: no way. Why someone would sacrifice all her time, energy, health, well-being, money and sleep for a being that will not be able to take care of itself for at least 10 to 14 years and at times will treat you like shit and still take all your energy, money, and well-being is a mystery to me. There is nothing lovely about that, it rather reminds me of leeches or tapeworms. Also,  there is nothing sweet about babies or toddlers; they smell, cannot communicate properly, and cry a lot. I can take that for a while concerning my friend’s kids – since I don’t want to lose close friends just because they choose a different path, I am indeed in regular contact with human beings who can stand tall beneath my kitchen table –, but not much more because I don’t want to. Most kids are boring and I don’t know what to say to them; like many people (and as stated in an earlier post) I’m really bad at small talk and this gets worse the younger my conversation partner is.

The most important aspect is one I mentioned before: I don’t want anyone to completely depend on me; this is a sort of responsibility I am NOT seeking. Thanks to some of my issues there are days when I’m glad I can take care of my own most basic affairs – I never felt the need to extend this experience to other human beings. As weird as it may sound, at times I really NEED to be alone because otherwise I know I might get a panic attack or fall into one of my dark holes due to the sensory overload of all the people and the world around me. I would never risk my solitude, ever. Especially not for kids.

My mom once said that when she listens to me explaining why I don’t want kids she gets the impression that having a family is like being in solitary confinement in Alcatraz; I told her that I would choose solitary confinement in Alcatraz over children at any given time.

In the end it all comes down to this: individuals deciding what to do with their lives. It’s as easy as that. But because some of those individuals are biologically female it gets out of hand; religion, society, politics, medicine, and other people want to interfere with decisions that are none of their fucking business. At which point the never-ending cycle of explaining and justifying yourself starts again, again, and again.
Still, let’s wish each other just the best, no matter how we decide to live our lives. 

 

*Yeah I know, what a statement! Groundbreaking, never heard before, and totally trivial! But also still relevant, because as a woman who consciously decides to not procreate, therefor NOT blessing the world with another set of urgently needed no-necked monsters, you do know that at certain points in your life – with your family, friends, in-laws, colleagues, acquaintances, and at times even strangers – you will have to discuss your decision again and again. And again. Because breeding is the ONLY thing that gives the existence of a female human being any sense and fulfillment AT ALL. So your refusal to do so is unacceptable and has to be challenged. [And now the rant is over, I promise.]