In honor of Wendell Berry: Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame

wendell-berry-1 Please don’t tell him, but I love Wendell Berry.  OK, tell him.  Just maybe not his wife. Tonight, he will be the first living inductee into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame and I will be there.  With bells on and dancing a jig. Wendell Berry is a Kentucky writer, but more than that, a Kentuckian.  He lives on and works the “dark and bloody ground;” he writes about the land and her people.  He celebrates it and mourns it and enjoys it and adores it.  He’s an environmentalist, a novelist, poet, essayist, cultural critic, anti-strip mining, anti-coal activist, philosopher and a Mad Farmer. He has been awarded so many prizes, they must fill an entire room.  The Jefferson Lecture, The National Humanities Lecture, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships, the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom Medal . . . and on. Wendell Berry does not merely give lip service to his beliefs; he enforces them by his actions.  In 2010, he pulled his papers from and ended his nearly-lifetime affiliation with the University of Kentucky in protest of the naming of the basketball dorm, “Wildcat Coal Lodge.” Congratulations to Mr. Berry.  In celebration, a few of my favorite of his words.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I knew her when I saw her
in the vision of Botticell, riding
shoreward out of the waves,
and afterward she was in my mind
as she had been before, but changed,
so that if I saw her here, near
nightfall, striding off the gleam
of the Kentucky River as it darkened
behind her, the willows touching
her with little touches laid
on breast and arm and thigh, I
would rise as after a thousand
years, as out of the dark grave,
alight, shaken, to remember her.
For An Absence
When I cannot be with you
I will send my love (so much
is allowed to human lovers)
to watch over you in the dark —
a winged small presence
who never sleeps, however long
the night.  Perhaps it cannot
protect or help, I do not know,
but it watches always, and so
you will sleep within my love
within the room within the dark.
And when, restless, you wake
and see the room palely lit
by that watching, you will think,
“It is only dawn,” and go
quiet to sleep again.
Parting from you,
rising into the air, I enter again
the absence we came together in.
My ways in house and field
and woods have reached an end,
dismembered of each other
and of me.  And you remain
on the earth we knew, already changing
into the earth you know.
Fire-driven through the air,
I go alone, a part
of what, together, we became.
From Jayber Crow:

“This is a book about Heaven. I know it now. It floats among us like a cloud and is the realest thing we know and the least to be captured, the least to be possessed by anybody for himself. It is like a grain of mustard seed, which you cannot see among the crumbs of earth where it lies. It is like the reflection of the trees on the water.”
     Congratulations Mr. Berry.
UPDATE:  Here’s a link to Tom Eblen’s coverage of the Hall of Fame event.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


     I was browsing my local book sellers a week or so after New Year and picked up a hardbound book on the fiction shelf. The cover was bright, green and black with blurred lines of type:  The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.  “Ah yes, I think I heard of this, NPR, maybe?” I said to my buddy, Proprietor Wyn Morris.  “It’s supposed to be the new Gone Girl,” Wyn nodded sagely.  “Really?”  “Indeed.”  I plonked down my cash and took it home, vowing to place it at the top of the “to read” pile.

     Here’s a link to the NPR review:


     Much like Gone Girl, there are exceedingly unreliable narrators though in this case, two women.  One the girl of the title.  She, Rachel, is on the train because she’s riding it into London, pretending to go to her office from which she’s been fired for getting wasted during a client lunch.  The train trip also allows her to spy on her ex-husband’s house and the nearby home of a young married couple (Megan and Scott) around whom she has created a elaborate fantasy.  As Rachel sips from yet another canned Gin & Tonic (yuck by the way), or pours herself a glass of wine from the brown paper bag on her tray table.  I couldn’t help but think train travel must be quite a bit different in the UK, but then again, I’ve only travelled by train in the US once that I can think of so for all I know loads of people are carting canned G&T’s with them all over the place.


     Megan is the second narrator of the novel.  When Megan disappears, Rachel over-involves herself in helping Scott to find his wife.  Unfortunately, since Rachel was near the scene of Megan’s disappearance and in a dead-drunk blackout, her help is mostly in name only.

     It would be impossible to describe much more of the plot without ruining your read.  I will say, for those who were disappointed in the conclusion of Gone Girl, you will not find the same frustration here.  There is quite the corker of an ending.


     Other than a breakfast of eggs and bacon, I don’t recall anyone eating any food in this book.  There was an incredible amount of alcohol however.  So I’ve taken that as my cue for menu planning:


1 (3-pound) chicken
Seasoned salt
House seasoning, recipe follows
1 (12-ounce) can beer
1 sprig rosemary

Preheat a charcoal grill over high heat. When the coals are hot and glowing, carefully push them over to the sides of the grill, leaving an open space in the middle of the grill. Wash and drain chicken. Coat the chicken inside and out with seasoned salt, pepper, lemon pepper and/or garlic powder. Open the can of beer and carefully insert a sprig of rosemary. Then, place the beer can into the body cavity starting at the rear of the chicken. Carefully place the chicken on the center of the grill, facing 1 of the banks of the coals, making sure not to spill the beer. Cover the grill and cook until chicken is done, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning the chicken as necessary. The chicken is done when the juice runs clear.


You’ve heard of vodka sauce?  Well, Macheesmo says his Gin Penne Pasta is even better.  I’m going to try it.  It would go well with the Drunken Chicken and the book theme.  Here’s the recipe link:


You CAN make them, but I’d rather buy them from Old Kentucky Candies or Rebecca Ruth.  http://www.oldkycandy.com

Another great dessert would be POACHED PEARS

Peel (carefully) pears.  If you want to serve whole, leave the stem intact.  If you want to serve halves, core them and halve.

In a stainless steel pan, mix four cups red wine with one cup of sugar until sugar dissolves.

Place the pears in the pan, then cover them with a plate to weigh them down and ensure even cooking.  Heat at simmer for ten minutes, then check doneness with a fork.  Continue to simmer to taste.  Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and serve warm or store in the poaching liquid until ready to serve.


You’re Not Drinking Enough, Don Henley

Crazy, Patsy Cline

Crazy, Gnarls Barkley

Family Tradition, Hank Williams, Jr.

Five O’Clock Somewhere, Alan Jackson

Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett

Friends in Low Places, Garth Brooks

Paula Hawkins’ Facebook page featured a link to a playlist created especially for The Girl on the Train:


This, by the way, has lots of potential for a movie.

Rachel — Kate Winslet

Megan — Sienna Miller

Anna — Carey Mulligan

Scott — Tom Hardy

Tom — Christian Bale

UPDATE: The movie version will come out later this year and I didn’t get a single actor right. The producers went with several American actors. Here’s a full list:

Happy Reading, Eating & Moderate Drinking!

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

mlk Photo courtesy Seattle Times As a child growing up in the South, I was rarely aware of the inherent racism of my own society.  Mostly because I was not exposed to many integrated situations.  The first black child in my elementary school was the child of one of the teachers; the only African-American teacher in my school.  I heard racial epithets used on very rare occasions and was quickly taught what was unacceptable.  I do not remember “Whites Only” signs, did not travel on city buses or experience situations where whites were given preferential treatment in the presence of African-Americans, mostly because I was in the preferential white world already, I would imagine. But I do remember situations in which racism burned, surprising and scalding me.  A University of Kentucky basketball game when a hate-filled voice commented on the fact that all ten players on the court were not white.  An insulting term used by a classmate against a rival school’s athletic team.  The fearful distaste on a relative’s face when I mentioned a performer or an athlete or a friend who was not white. These events shocked me.  They contradicted my relative’s imperative to love all people as the Bible commanded.  But, not being of the age, they did not force me to follow Martin Luther King to Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma or to march on Washington.  As I watched the movie Selma last weekend, I asked myself whether I would have had the courage to answer the call.  I hope I would have, but I do not know. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pulitzer Peace Prize winner, an “Atlanta preacher,” demonstrator of peace for change.  A powerful speaker, leader.  And a great writer.  Here’s a link to his letter from the Birmingham jail to the U.S. clergy who had written to question his path:  It is a persuasive masterpiece of logic, reasoning and demonstration of his guiding principles.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Euphoria by Lily King


Image of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea found on

     Once upon a time, in a land very far away, there lived strange, isolated, fearsome people who cared not for books, electricity, Catholicism, Christianity, clothing.  They lived in tribes along a river called the Sepik, rife with crocodiles, and ate bizarre foods, conducted outlandish rituals, they intentionally scarred the bodies of their young men and occasionally indulged in orgies of sexual abandon.  They made art, made war, traded goods and each tribe spoke its own language.

png-karim-tribe-intiation-dance-_25524_600x450Photo, National Geographic

     But all good things must come to an end.  In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into this exotic locale, three anthropologists (Australian, American and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933, from The Guardian

     Euphoria was named a top ten best of 2014 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, NPR and others and won the 2014 Kirkus Prize.  The New York Times lauded the novel, calling it a “taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace — a love triangle in extremis.”

     When Nell and her Aussie husband Fen appear in Euphoria, Brit Bankson has been rescued by natives trying to drown himself in the river.  He is sick, lonely, depressed and hopeless in his work.  For the most part, King chooses Bankson to narrate the tale further into the heart of darkness, through the tendrils of roots and vines, into the smoky interiors of huts and along the blackness of a river at night.

     Bankson tends to Nell, wrapping her broken ankle, gifting her a pair of glasses to replace her broken ones, offering her aspirin for a fever.  Bankson and Nell are drawn together intellectually at the same time as Nell and Fen are at odds:  Fen jealous of Nell’s success in publishing a detailed account of the sexual exploits of a tribe she had studied before their marriage.   Nell ensnares Bankson with her brain, her purpose, her methods and her words:

It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.

     As Bankson falls for Nell, so does the reader of Euphoria.  Believe me, I stay in the least camp-like environment I can find and yet by the end of the book through the beauty of King’s prose even I could understand, if not seek to emulate, the passion that drove Margaret Mead and others like her to explore to the ends of the earth.  As Nell explains:

Why are we, with all our “progress,” so limited in understanding & sympathy & the ability to give each other real freedom? Why with our emphasis on the individual are we still so blinded by the urge to conform? … I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be. And maybe I will never find it all in one culture but maybe I find parts of it in several cultures, maybe I can piece it together like a mosaic and unveil it to the world.

     It’s a sensual, exciting, glorious read.  I am going to suggest it for my next book club.



I will offer my book club a version of one of Bankson’s most pleasant meals, barramundi and champagne.

Here’s a lovely looking recipe for barramundi, which also has the advantage of being sustainable and available at Whole Foods, apparently.


So this is where I’m really having fun.

Jungle Love, by The Time (one of my favorite boogie songs from an earlier life)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens

Jungle Boogie, Kool & The Gang

Bungle in the Jungle, Jethro Tull

Jungleland, Springsteen

You get the idea.


Nell:  Amy Adams

Fen:  Eric Bana

Bankson:  Hugh Dancy

   Enjoy!  Happy Reading and Eating.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

paying guests At 566 pages, you would think Sarah Waters’ sixth novel, The Paying Guests, would leave no stone unturned in this tale of the diminished circumstances of an English mother and daughter, the Wrays, who must open their suburban Champion Hill home to a young, married couple of a lower class.  Frances Wray, the isolated, sexually-frustrated, not-quite-closeted daughter, solicitously cares for her widowed mother, who is mourning the loss of her two sons in WW1.  As a result of all of the men being killed, the Wray women must somehow fend for themselves and the renting of a room seems their only option.  The first of my questions is:  if the family consisted of a mother, father, two sons and a daughter, why is it that Frances may retain her own room but Mrs. Wray must move into the former dining room in order to rent a room to the paying guests (Lilian and Leonard Barber)?  Surely there were at least two more rooms if not three?

In any event, Lilian and Leonard, the paying guests to which the title refers, move into the room across the hall from Frances, dragging in their cheap collection of tchotchkes as Frances monitors every movement and sound and smell.

There was no one save Mr. Barber, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, his jacket off, his cuffs rolled back, he was fiddling with a nasty thing he had evidently just hung on the landing wall, a combination barometer-and-clothes-brush set with a lurid orangey varnish.  But lurid touches were everywhere, she saw with dismay:  It was as if a giant mouth had sucked a bag of boiled sweets and then given the house a lick.  The faded carpet in her mother’s old bedroom was lost beneath pseudo-Persian rugs.  The lovely pierglass had been draped slant-wise with a fringed Indian shawl.  A print on one of the walls appeared to be a Classical nude in the Lord Leighton manner.  The wicker birdcage twirled slowly on a ribbon from a hook that had been screwed into the ceiling; inside it was a silk-and-feather parrot on a papier-mâché perch.


     As a result of the Wrays poverty, Frances must undertake all of the drudge work, all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, because her mother (at age 55) is incapable of any of it.  Most of the really hard work Frances must do out of sight of her mother because Mrs. Wray just becomes too verklempt actually witnessing Frances work so hard, feats of physical labor documented by Waters in exquisite detail.

She worked briskly and efficiently, taking her brush and pan from the drawing-room to the top of the stairs and making her way back down, a step at a time; after that she filled a bucket with water, fetched her kneeling-mat, and began to wash the hall floor. Vinegar was all she used. Soap left streaks on the black tiles. The first, wet rub was important for loosening the dirt, but it was the second bit that really counted, passing the wrung cloth over the floor in one supple, unbroken movement… There! How pleasing each glossy tile was. The gloss would fade in about five minutes as the surface dried; but everything faded. The vital thing was to make the most of the moments of brightness. There was no point dwelling on the scuffs.

     Soon, in Waters’ overwrought, lavender prose, Frances turns toward the lollipop light of Lili and becomes obsessed by and ultimately in love with her.  In the words of Julia Keller, NPR’s reviewer of The Paying Guests, Frances and Lilian “begin a red-hot affair.”

Waters is a master of the slow build, of the gradual assemblage of tiny random moments that result in a life-altering love. She captures the deep emotion that can underlie the crude mechanics of sex, the poetry that keeps it from being just a midnight merging of limbs and orifices. Forget about Fifty Shades of Grey; this novel is one of the most sensual you will ever read, and all without sacrificing either good taste or a “G” rating.

   The reviews of this book glow.  I was so excited to read it, I bought the hardbound copy.  Michael Dirda in reviewing for the Washington Post says “that the reader is in for a seriously heart-pounding roller-coaster ride.”

     Unfortunately, I did not agree.  It seemed to me there was quite a bit of walking back and forth between rooms and a whole lot of waiting for something worth talking about to happen.  I wasn’t enthralled by Frances’ dissatisfaction and inertia, her mother’s utter helplessness, Lili’s manipulative tackiness, or Leonard’s boorish charm.  I had no one to care about, no one to root for and lots of pages of detail to wade through before reaching the completely unbelievable conclusion.  But be advised, I am a minority of one from what I can find.


     Should my book club choose The Paying Guests, I would forego all food mentioned in the book.  Cauliflower cheese, well-beaten skirt steak, etc. and try for something a bit more “clever.”  Paninis perhaps, a pressed food to represent the repressed nature of Frances.  Pasta with lots of olive oil as an homage to Leonard’s greasiness.  A hard boiled egg for Mrs. Wray.  Something pink and sticky, like taffy, for Lili.



    Despite the setting of the 1920s, there’s no mention of jazz, or the fun clubs like the Savile where the Downton Abbey girls seem to go.

    When Frances and Lili go roller skating there is mention of some music, “mild old things from thirty or forty years before.”

Funiculi Funicula

The Merry Widow Waltz  (wonder what it sounds like?


     Given the time period of the book and my status as such a fan of Downton Abbey, it’s definitely hard to steer away from that show’s cast for a suggested movie cast of The Paying Guests.

Leonard — Allen Leach (Tom Bransom)

Frances — Daisy Lewis (Miss Bunting)

Lilian — Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare)

Mrs. Wray — Elizabeth McGovern

    In the interest of fun, I’ll also try a non-Downton cast.

Frances — Romola Garai

Lilian — Imogen Poots

Mrs. Wray — Emma Thompson — because I LOVE HER

Leonard — Henry Cavill

     Happy Reading!

Location, Location, Location: The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai


     “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  Robert Frost’s poem resonates throughout the backward tale of Rebecca Makkai’s novel, The Hundred-Year House.  The tale opens in 1999 at Laurelfield, estate and former arts colony owned by the imminent Devohr family when Zee, a Devohr, and her husband move into the carriage house.  Mysteries abound.  What is that hole in the carriage house kitchen wall?  What’s in the attic of the main house?  Why do the eyes of the portrait in the dining room follow you?  Is the house itself trying to bring lovers together or force them apart?

    More secrets, mysteries and some answers are revealed as Makkai leads the reader from the most recent past through the decades to the past.  The second section of The Hundred-Year House backpedals to1955, the third in the 1920s and ultimately, to the conception and construction of the location in 1900.

     The Hundred-Year House, Makkai’s second novel, was on my list of best reads of 2014.  It’s one of those novels that sort of defies an explanation.  The house is a character, much like Hogwarts is a character, that appears to precipitate action, even pulling lovers together.  It’s at times spooky, funny, contemplative, romantic.

     At the beginning of the novel, the inhabitants are stocking up for Y2K, semi-convinced that a basement full of canned goods and an old Chevy will allow them to reach the 21st Century unscathed.  At the turn of the 20th Century at the end of the novel, Augustus Devohr finds the land upon which he will build Laurelfield and decides that this is something “he’s always been meant to see. . . . ‘What is the opposite of memory?’ he wonders, “‘what is the inverse of an echo?'”  By reversing time in the narrative, The Hundred-Year House creates mysteries which can be solved by knowledge of the past.  Throughout, she muses on art, artists, identity, fate and love.


     Although Makkai’s prose consistently sings, my favorite passages are those about love.

What was all this, but a modern tower of Babel?  Here was someone speaking nothing but dance, and someone else speaking nothing but paint, and someone speaking poetry, and someone speaking music.  And what were they trying to express, but the inexpressible?  If there existed words, regular words, to say what they were aiming at, then why would they ever need to do what they did?  Why were they all living here, knocking so ineffectively at the doors of the palace?  The ink was as insufficient as anything else, but perhaps it was a start.  If he’d been a sculptor, he’d have sculpted it for them: Look! There!  Love.

   Rebecca Makkai visited my hometown for the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference last fall and gave one of the best talks during the weekend on how to write a great novel ending.  I really enjoyed her talk, and I really enjoyed her book.  I think your book club would as well.


   Thanks to The David Blagh for some ideas.,

   Since The Hundred-Year House visits from distinct time periods, I would create a menu from those four decades, moving from 1999 to 1900 as the novel does.

1999 — Appetizer

Cosmopolitans (thank you Carrie Bradshaw)

Low-Carb was the diet of the year in Time Magazine, so I’d serve chicken tikka skewers with peanut sauce


I have a lovely old cookbook published in 1959 by the Louisville Courier-Journal entitled Cissy Gregg’s Cookbook, Volume 2.  My grandmother swears by two things:  the Bible and Cissy Gregg.  Most of the salads featured in this cookbook involve mayonnaise and/or gelatin but this recipe for Overnight Fruit Salad does not, and I believe I remember having it.


Overnight Fruit Salad

1 cup seedless grapes, halved

1 cup cherries, pitted (CIssy notes she uses white cherries)

6 marshmallows, cut in eighths (of course, now we have mini-marshmallows — I’ll use those)

1/8 pound cashews, chopped

1 cup diced pineapple

1 egg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons half and half

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Combine fruits, marshmallows and nuts.  Beat egg until light and foamy.  Add sugar gradually.  Blend in half and half and lemon juice.  Place egg mixture in a saucepan and cook over low heat or over hot water (in a double boiler) until the sauce is smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cool.  Fold in whipped cream.  Pour over combined fruits and nuts and mix lightly.  Chill overnight in the refrigerator.



Fingerfood.  The 20s were the birth of the cocktail party so I’d go to Trader Joe’s and snap up some goodies.


Brownie’s.  Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.

1/3 cup Crisco

1 cup sugar

2 well-beaten eggs

2 1 oz squares of chocolate melted

3/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup broken nut meats

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and Crisco.  Add egg, beat well.  Add chocolate and blend.  Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Pour into paper lied 8 inch pans.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Cut into bars.


1999, Prince and the Revolution

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & the Comets (from 1955)

Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin, 1920s

Swanne River, Stephen Foster (1900)

Here’s a few more top songs from 1900, since that’s pretty obscure.

Happy Reading & Eating!

A New Year, a Guest Blogger and American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

new year's eve

     Happy 2015!  If part of your new year plans include reading great books, beginning or continuing a book club, eating great food and listening to good music, I hope you’ll include daeandwrite in your plans.  My next featured book will be The Hundred Year House, by Rebecca Makkai, one of my top five reads of 2014.  But today, special guest blogger Maestro Robert Baldwin, Music Director/Conductor of the Salt Lake Symphony and Professor at the University of Utah, joins us to review American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.  I know “Dr. B.” from performing in It’s a Grand Night for Singing at the University of Kentucky for several years.  Dr. B. returns to his former home at U.K. to conduct the show, and spread his good-humor and knowledge.  He also writes about music, creativity, imagination and the spaces in between:

A Story Waiting to Pierce Us: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Review by Robert Baldwin


     Good books absorb and entertain, even as they challenge your assumptions. Neil Gaiman’s works have defied categorization ever since he entered professional life as a graphic artist and writer of the Sandman series. His journey from comics to award-winning novelist goes straight through American Gods, the Hugo and Nebula Award winning novel of 2001. Even if good books are semi-autobiographical, Gaiman has excelled also at perhaps writing a biography of every American as well. It is a cleverly crafted book that will entertain, challenge and engage, even as it waits to drive the nails home (that an enigmatic spoiler alert…).

Journeys define our lives. Every trip, whether actual or metaphorical, challenge us with the unknown even as it reveals the familiar. Good books do the same. In American Gods, Gaiman takes us on a journey of our inner landscape by way of weird America. As if America was not weird enough, we also meet characters from around the world: Mr. Wednesday (the Norse god, Odin), as well as other gods, spirits, legends from humanity’s cultural memory chest.

Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today? … And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn’t room for them both in the world. And that some kind of war is kind of likely.

Gaiman takes the concept of an American Melting Pot and gives us the dysfunctional spiritual legacy of humankind, about to run head-long into the 21st century. But Gaiman, an Englishman, is looking at America from the outside. The weirdness he sees is filtered through his Englishness. And that is what makes the book work, in my opinion. The recent English transplant has the unique vision to see what is truly going on.


Oden som vandringsman (Odin, the Wanderer) by Swedish painter Georg von Rosen (1843-1923)

America is a country of travelers and seekers. No matter where we are now, our ancestors came from somewhere else, seeking a new life. That we Americans continue to do so in our daily lives, careers and pastimes is beautifully and frighteningly clear in American Gods. 

“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
“The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.”

Like many Americans, I’m a bit of everything: Scottish, English, Polish, Swedish. But the northern European blood is strong. Perhaps that’s why the characters and Old Gods in Gaiman’s universe seem so real…and so dangerously familiar. But I’m also an American. I’m writing this review on a computer made in China after eating a meatloaf spiced with Moroccan spices, bought at a store that I drove to in my Japanese car.

The essence of America? Everything came from somewhere else.

That is the place Gaiman takes us. But instead of things or people, he casts gods, myths and legends into the mold. Old thought-forms appear as morticians, swindlers, prostitutes, killers, and con men. Sounds unsavory, but the alternatives are the New Gods: sinister personifications of technology, media and the stock market. Gaiman cleverly anthropomorphizes today’s vices and dangers as convincingly as the old gods that have been with humans from the time immemorial. Sadly, both are as dysfunctional as our human neighbors. Yet both also have qualities that attract us.

The book follows an enigmatic character named Shadow, recently released from prison. Therein lies another metaphor, as most of us exist in prisons of our own making. Shadow is us; or, rather, we are Shadow.

At times the book seems like Joseph Campbell on an Ayahuasca trip. American Gods is alien, yet familiar: at times quite uncomfortable, yet personally reflective. It is a parallel universe of our human failings as well as triumphs. It challenges, entertains and injects humor in all the right places. Even if it falls short as the perfect novel, it excels at being a perfect story. It is the story of us. The story of U.S.

The best authors help us to ask big questions. Neil Gaiman is no different. He excels in positing “what if?” What if things were not as they seem. What if they are exactly as they seem? What if our thoughts are real? What is everything is an illusion?

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.

     American Gods presents a travelogue of the psyche. Well-versed in the concepts of Jung, Freud and Campbell, Gaiman introduces us to Odin, Loki, Anansi and Johnny Appleseed (a quintessentially “American” god). But be careful, if you solve the mystery, you may not like what you discover.

“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”

But maybe, if you are lucky, you may just find your new creed.

“I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where Marilyn_Monroe_in_Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_trailernobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen – I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”


All-American Fare with a Twist; Hamburgers, of course. But in the spirit of the book, you’ll have to travel across America to try them:


The entire Ring des Niebelungen by Richard Wagner (Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung) is the perfect compliment for Mr. Wednesday’s schemes. But if you need a break from 17 hours of opera, progressive rock will get you into the mood. Might I suggest:

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Complete. George Solti and the Vienna Phil

Yes: America

Jethro Tull: Aqualung

King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King


Gaiman writes in such a way that you see yourself embodied in each character. Old Gods tend to be that way anyway, so if you see yourself in the role, go for it!

The Starzz Network has picked up the option for a miniseries, due out in 2016. No word yet on casting.