Neil Gaiman’s writing has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t remember the first time I read it. Or had it read to me.
I remember the first time I bought a Neil Gaiman book for myself by myself. I was about twelve and had dragged my friends into the only bookshop in Luton – the Waterstones, formerly Ottaker’s, which has since shut down – and could not bring myself to leave without a copy of The Graveyard Book.
I have done a similar thing with almost every book Gaiman has released since.
Even the ones for small children.
I went to a reading of Fortunately, the Milk and was not at all bothered when I realised that I had essentially paid, as a grown adult, to have Neil Gaiman read me a bedtime story.
I would happily pay for Neil Gaiman to read all my bedtime stories.
The View From the Cheap Seats was no exception, except that nothing in it reads like a bedtime story. Even the stuff about fairy tales.
The book is an anthology of non-fiction, spanning essays, speeches, interviews, introductions and articles on a variety of topics.
Every piece, regardless of subject, is rich with wisdom and insight. It is clear that he knows what he’s talking about, and not just because he’s done a lot of research first. The real beauty in Gaiman’s writing is how evident it is that he knows so much because he loves what he’s writing about, because he lives his every experience because he fuelled to do so with a tangible passion.
His speeches and essays offer a personal and interesting take on whatever he is writing about. Often, about writing or books or comics or the industry in which these arts flourish. There is so much knowledge in this book that you can’t help but come out the other end of it feeling far more connected to the cultures it touches upons.
The reviews and introductions to other books are written with the same fervour.
Gaiman always seems like he utterly believes everything he writes and he finds the charming, most wonderful side to every writer, artist and creator he so much as mentions. He doesn’t pretend anyone is perfect and, where necessary, he will acknowledge flaws or controversies around them candidly. But he always finds the best things about them and their art and he shares it, not because it’s his job to write it, but because he genuinely wants other people to experience things that he loves.
It is difficult to read this book and not feel awed by mankind’s capacity for creativity and empathy and imagination. It highlights some of the most truly incredibly things that humanity as a species has created.
What makes the book even more wonderful still is that it shows you exactly where you can find these achievements and fall in love with them for yourself.
In his pieces about literature in all its forms, there are many things that can be taken as advice. For me, as a fairly young writer, this is infinitely valuable. It is easily extrapolated to anyone working in any creative industry looking for a little direction. It is not even hard to apply those same lessons to life in general and to feel confident that they will point you somewhere you’ll appreciate going.
Towards the end of the book, the pieces get more personal. They become somewhat raw. They deal with more sensitive topics.
You learn the most about Neil Gaiman through the pieces that taught him the most about the world.
If you know much about his personal life (which is fairly publicised between his own social media and that of his rock star wife, Amanda Palmer), then the writing from the beginning of their relationship has its own unique beauty. Even if you don’t, you’ll recognise the emotional connection start to form that has since created what is now a beautiful little family.
You don’t have to know much about the crisis in Syria to be moved by his article depicting his time in a refugee camp.
You don’t have to be familiar with Terry Pratchett or his work to feel heartbroken as Gaiman writes about how much of a tragic loss to both him and the world Pratchett’s death would be. But by the end of the piece, you will certainly want to be.
Everything is heartfelt and honest and feels like an invitation into something wonderful.
Take it. Use this book as a diving board into culture – into books and comics and TV and films and music and even politics a little bit. You don’t have to like everything Neil Gaiman likes to appreciate the forthrightness with which he shares it with you. It still leaves you feeling warm and glowing that he wants to bring you into his world.
If you ever need reminding that people can be lovely and can do excellent things, read this book. If you ever want some examples of which people are lovely, read this book. If you want to expand your horizons, if you want see the world from a truly honest perspective, if you have some time to kill, read this book.
Just, read this book.
Author Bio – Kirstie Summers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.