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American Gods by Neil Gaiman
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it was amazing

Whenever we have a cold snap here in Wisconsin, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite pieces of American Gods.

I remember reading it back in 2002 or so. This was back in the day. Back when it was a bit of a secret that Gaiman lived in Wisconsin.

I read the following section of the book nodding to myself, thinking, "Yup, that's exactly what it's like."

Then I had another thought: "I bet this comes from that really bad cold snap we had here in Wisconsin about six years ago."

It was pretty cool for me, being able to guess where a this piece of this book got its start....

For those of you who haven't read it: here's the excerpt. The main character, Shadow, has just come to a small Wisconsin town, and he decides to walk into town to buy some warmer clothes and groceries.

* * *

The cold snap had come, that was for sure. It could not be much above zero, and it would not be a pleasant walk, but he was certain he could make it into town without too much trouble. What did Hinzelmann say last night—a ten-minute walk? And Shadow was a big man. He would walk briskly and keep himself warm. He set off south, heading for the bridge.

Soon he began to cough, a dry, thin cough, as the bitterly cold air touched his lungs. Soon his ears and face and lips hurt, and then his feet hurt. He thrust his ungloved hands deep into his coat pockets, clenched his fingers together trying to find some warmth.


Step after step after step. He glanced back. The apartment building was not as far away as he had expected.

This walk, he decided, was a mistake. But he was already three or four minutes from the apartment, and the bridge over the lake was in sight. It made as much sense to press on as to go home (and then what? Call a taxi on the dead phone? Wait for spring? He had no food in the apartment, he reminded himself).

He kept walking, revising his estimates of the temperature downward as he walked. Minus ten? Minus twenty? Minus forty, maybe, that strange point on the thermometer when Celsius and Fahrenheit say the same thing. Probably not that cold. But then there was wind chill, and the wind was now hard and steady and continuous, blowing over the lake, coming down from the Arctic across Canada.

Ten more minutes of walking, he guessed, and the bridge seemed to be no nearer. He was too cold to shiver. His eyes hurt. This was not simply cold: this was science fiction. This was a story set on the dark side of Mercury, back when they thought Mercury had a dark side. This was somewhere out on rocky Pluto, where the sun is just another star, shining only a little more brightly in the darkness. This, thought Shadow, is just a hair away from the places where air comes in buckets and pours just like beer.

The occasional cars that roared past him seemed unreal: spaceships, little freeze-dried packages of metal and glass, inhabited by people dressed more warmly than he was. An old song his mother had loved, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” began to run through his head, and he hummed it through closed lips, kept pace to it as he walked.

He had lost all sensation in his feet. He looked down at his black leather shoes, at the thin cotton socks, and began, seriously, to worry about frostbite.

This was beyond a joke. This had moved beyond foolishness, slipped over the line into genuine twenty-four-karat Jesus-Christ-I-screwed-up-big-time territory. His clothes might as well have been netting or lace: the wind blew through him, froze his bones and the marrow in his bones, froze the lashes of his eyes, froze the warm place under his balls, which were retreating into his pelvic cavity.

Keep walking, he told himself. Keep walking. I can stop and drink a pail of air when I get home....

* * *

And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons I love Neil Gaiman....
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Quotes Patrick Liked

Neil Gaiman
“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Reading Progress

June 29, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 8, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)

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René Henry What a masterpiece that book is. I just bought a new copy because the old one was read to shreads.

Scott It really is an amazing book. I remember going into it just knowing Neil was the "Sandman" guy. Now he's so much more after reading this.

message 3: by Christine (new)

Christine Perry I know this cold... it's why I live in Texas now:)

Becky It is an amazing book I read for the first time a couple of months ago, and I just love it. Genuinely one of my favourite books.

Devan Suber exactly what i thought

Laura (Kyahgirl) I have this book in my TBR, based on your review I think I'll go find it in its box in the basement. It was -35C on Sunday morning here so I can relate to the description of the cold. I can always estimate how far below -20 we are by how many inches of ice are on the inside of the kitchen window (and how long the dog puts off going outside for his morning constitutional!)

Evan Kennedy I read a lot, and American Gods is still one of my very favorite books. This is a controversial opinion, but I think it's Gaiman's masterpiece (and yes, that includes Sandman).

Robin My father grew up near you in Wisconsin. In the 1920s.
When laundry was "freeze dried" out on the line. No electricity out in the "woods". I miss hearing all the stories of cold cold Wisconsin (and Lambeau field).

message 9: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Yep. I remember that passage and reflecting on my experience in this same horrible situation as a teen - a walk to my grandparents house after a basketball game in rural Burnett County WI. Too far along to turn back, dangerously/stupidly close to being a Popsicle by the time I arrived at their house.

Charles It was cold, but not quite as cold as Shadow's wife.

message 11: by Greg (new)

Greg Mathews Somehow, I managed to be walking through a book store when the First Edition was on sale. And then the same thing happened with Fragile Things, and Anansi Boys, and Fortunately, the Milk. I do so love Mr. Gaiman. And Mr. Rothfuss, for that matter, because this also happened with The Wise Man's Fear. And I really don't visit bookstores all that often.

Jamie I read American Gods only last year, and coming to that part in the book I recollected my experience that same winter, because more than the frigid cold, I remember my anger at the Port Washington/Saukville school district for not shutting down in near -50°F windchilled weather.

I didn't realize Gaiman lived in Wisconsin at that time, but figured Minnesota would have inspired such dead on descriptions as well.

And I'm still pissed that I had to wait for the bus in that ungodly temperature to go school. Gaiman drudged up those memories clear as day.

message 13: by Brian (new)

Brian Kern I actually didn't care very much for American Gods. Gaiman's writing didn't move me the way some other author's works have and I found the plot somewhat predictable. Where things really fell apart was the ending involving Shadow and his role - the tree especially, and his dead wife. It was too disjointed.

Nicole By the way Patrick, thanks for introducing me to Gaiman and to Goodreads. I can't imagine my life without both. Which reminds me, I need to get back to your top books list too. You made some great recommendations so thanks for that too.

Katherine "Say 'nevermore.'"...

message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason Anderson This reminds me of jack London's "to build a fire". Here this guy is in civilization though. The last cold snap in oregon made me think of it. I work outside year round and had to drive 30 miles to our out post that's off the grid. Fun taking a torch to a generators oil pan for an hour to get it to start so the well can be ran. Anyways being out in the woods with poor cell coverage in that weather makes you think about how quick life can turn sideways on you.

message 17: by Jasmine (new) - added it

Jasmine I should refer people to this when they ask me how cold it is back home (home is Northern Wisconsin). Scary cold, I tell them, though that doesn't quite describe it. The kind of cold where one wrong decision, like deciding to go for a walk without a coat, really could kill you, just a mile or two from a warm house. As a teenager I was never allowed to go anywhere in a car without ice fishing boots and a full suit of snow armor "just in case".

message 18: by Kris (new)

Kris Teller what is a good Neil Gaiman book to start with?

message 19: by Don (new)

Don Satterfield Kris wrote: "what is a good Neil Gaiman book to start with?"

'Neverwhere' is a great Gaimen book to start your journey...

message 20: by Nicole (last edited Jan 10, 2014 11:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nicole Agreed! There are his adult fantasy books and his wonderful creepy books centered on kids. The Graveyard Book,The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Coraline are all fantastic reads as well. I would also start with Neverwhere, then tackle American Gods and then read the graveyard book.

message 21: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike I think the first one I started with was actually Good Omens, which is by him and Terry Pratchett, and an excellent place to start as well. Quite the fantastic novel.

message 22: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John my first and favourite Gaiman. Great review Patrick.

Rafael L. Toscano That is my first adventure into Neil Gaiman world - shame on me! I'm loving this ride!

Nicole M. Your review is beautiful and lyrical. I am in love with this book and I have pictured what the town looks like but really couldn't finish the whole picture until I read your review.
Thank you

Bryce  Miller Listen/read this book EVERY Winter!

message 26: by Amy (new)

Amy Greenberg Have read it many many times in the past ten years and now me an my husband listen to it as we go to bed. But first few times I read it I lived in Washington state, then the south for many many years. Well, about 4 months ago we ended up moving to Madison ,Wisconsin and have got to see and feel just a taste of this cold. And nowhere even near as cold as it can/will get. I have travled around the U.S. a few times and been to a lot of places mentioned in the book, maybe that's why other than Neil being my top Writter of all time I keep going back to this. The only part I couldn't resonate with personally was the cold. Well, now I can. And I've seen my first frozen lake and have wondered what's underneath the ice! So for everyone who can relate, stay warm these next few months!

Gibran Tocao Disappointing start to reading Gaiman. I'm much enjoying Anansi Boys. Everthing you wrote is on point.

Davin Sherman Rereading it again for the 2nd time and was just reading this part yesterday actually. 1st time I read it was really long ago so alot of the finer writing away from the major plot points still feels new to me and I think I am able to appreciate the writing even moreso now

Bluelily3 The twenty-four-karat line is one of my favorites.

Molly love it

Daniel Elliott Started off with AG. I thought he’d blown my mind into I recently started reading ‘The Sandman’. He introduced me to a new of storytelling that I never knew before or since.

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