A while back, HarperCollins set up Browse Inside access to American Gods: you can read the first hundred-plus pages for free, online. (I have a vague idea it was only fifty pages when they first set it up, but it's over a hundred now.)
Various people had, of course, said good things about it over the years; I had always had the vague idea that it wasn't my kind of thing, but I figured, hey, free online, might as well check it out.
So it sat in an open browser window, slowing down my computer, for a couple of months.
Finally I sat down and read through the excerpt. And found myself enjoying it more than I'd expected.
So next time I was in a bookstore, I saw a copy on the shelf and bought it.
Of course, it's a 600-page book, so having read the first 50 pages online didn't really make much of a dent in it. I don't tend to like long books, and I don't tend to read them. But I went ahead with this one, and it was a quick, smooth read.
I ended up liking it quite a bit. Perhaps a few too many cute jokes, of the sort about which writing workshops usually say "kill your darlings," but they were mostly funny so I forgave that. And the book was more insightful and had more to say about America than I would have expected.
It occurred to me about halfway through that the book is kind of like an extension of Sandman in some ways. A bunch of anthropomorphic personifications of human ideas, with their own personalities and foibles, interacting with the modern world, strengthened by belief, etc. Little side stories that could have been single-issue stories of a comic. An American travelogue novel with at least one somewhat horrory subplot that could've come straight out of Alan Moore's "American Gothic" storyline from Swamp Thing.
I don't mean to insult or criticize the book or the author by saying that. I think it goes richer and deeper than Sandman in some ways--it's an extension and elaboration of some of the themes and ideas, in a different direction--and I liked Sandman quite a lot, and American Gods would've made a longer comic book series than Sandman. I'm not saying it should have been done as a comic or anything like that; just that it's more similar, in some interesting ways, to Sandman than I had expected from what I've read of Gaiman's other prose fiction.
(Wrote this back in early March but neglected to post it.)