|Posted on July 7, 2016 at 8:00 PM|
Book Review: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
First, a confession: I am a fan of Neil Gaiman's storytelling, and his speeches, his proclamations on the value of art, of creativity, and of reading. And I cannot help but grin whenever I hear or read of him encouraging new artists to believe in themselves, to go for it. To make their art and to make it good. He's a beacon for all those, like me, who feel the dark times are always just one meager word of discouragement away.
I'm also eternally indebted to Mr. Gaiman for providing me an excuse to have the most amazing adventures and bizarre encounters whenever I pop off to the store for a bottle of milk. My children thank him, too.
Gaiman’s latest, a volume of selected nonfiction, is as fine an introduction to the author as any new reader could ask for. It is also, in turns, a pleasant conversation with and love letter to long time fans, to books, to words, and to the world of reading in general. That world (which Gaiman has inhabited since childhood like a wizard’s familiar crawling the shelves in the master’s library) is presented in Cheap Seats so vividly that readers may well come away with the sense they’ve been invited round for tea, asked to stay for supper, and then, in the morning, realize there is no front door to exit through, nor any sign of how they got into the house in the first place.
As his best and most enchanting stories treat us to magical, thought-provoking adventures and mysteries, so too does Gaiman’s nonfiction. The View From the Cheap Seats is a collection of anecdotes and episodes from Neil Gaiman’s life as a writer of comics, television shows, and films, and as a book reviewer, colleague, and friend to his fellow authors and artists. It is well worth reading from start to finish.
I learned so much from this book. And not necessarily about Neil Gaiman. The anecdotes I had not previously encountered showed me, well . . . things I did not previously know were true about Neil Gaiman. But that all feels so thoroughly secondary to the education I received in mythology (a refresher course in many ways, and a graduate-level seminar in equally as many others) and how the worlds of comic books and film really intersect, and what goes into producing artifacts in either of those media.
I learned a few new words, too.
Gaiman uses words like oneiric (of or having to do with dreams). At first I did what I think most readers do when they hit an unfamiliar word. I skimmed it and hoped the context would help me understand it. Then, when I found myself still not illuminated, I quickly forgot about the word and continued reading. Like any good teacher, Gaiman used the word more than once, forcing me to pick up my desk copy of the Webster’s New World Dictionary and leaf through for the answer to my problem.
That the answer wasn’t there (I have a 1980s edition of the NWD), and that I had to resort to Professor Google’s Search Bar, is of little consequence. I still hold that a good physical copy of a dictionary is better than a quick Internet search, and especially when the tome is used in service to comprehending the likes of Neil Gaiman. It just feels like the more appropriate thing to do.
If you’re strictly a reader of his stories, you may find his dry English wit too pervasive in this collection of essays, speeches, introductions, and anecdotes (for my money, I can’t get enough of it, but I’m an unapologetic Anglophile). If you listen to his books, to him reading them, then you’ll likely feel right at home in Cheap Seats. Gaiman’s inimitable voice comes through in every line. Each sentence is communicated with the same patient, welcoming warmth he uses when inviting you into his narrative fiction. Like the friendly gnome showing you the path through the woods, promising you it will lead you home, Neil Gaiman is as sure and safe a guide as you could hope for. Just be aware your path may detour, ever so slightly, once you start reading.
Categories: Book Reviews