Neil Gaiman is a force to be reckoned with. You’ve read of his novels: American Gods. Good Omens. Stardust. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. His work writing for comics changed the industry (The Sandman). You might be one of his 2.4 million twitter followers, or have read his blog, or come across one of his introductions to a treasured novel, or been inspired by his iconic commencement address. I’ve done all of these things, and yet somehow, it took the release of his new collection, The View from the Cheap Seats, to realize his nonfiction is as compelling as the stories that have bewitched our imaginations.
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The book assembles the best of Gaiman’s essays, introductions, speeches, and other musings. They’re generally brief—a couple of pages—but each speaks to his unique worldview so exactly, you can’t help but hear his distinctive voice in your head as you read. Each offers an enlightening peek into his unusual life and his passion for books and writing, from his close friendship with Tori Amos, to the genius of Gene Wolf and Harlan Ellison, to the value of libraries.
At points, it becomes an autobiography, as he discusses his childhood and upbringing (mainly as it related to the stories he was reading at the time). At other points, it favors keen observations on what stories mean to us: not only to an author who has penned so many, but to we the readers, who consume them. Some are simply fascinating (a rumination on the use of profanity in children’s literature—and exactly what defines a children’s book). There are detached remembrances of the authors who changed his life or influenced his work, and quirky essays like the one that appeared as an easter egg in the computer game Sim City 2000.
Some of the pieces are deeply serious, most notably “Eight Views of Mount Fuji: Beloved Demons and Anthony Martignetti,” tucked away toward the back. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story about the death of a close family friend, and I haven’t forgotten it since I read it on his blog, years ago. It’s a tribute, yes, but one that plays with the form in unique ways; as you read it, the world stops. There’s also a somber report from his trip to Syria, a pointed look at darkness, despair, and hope in a war-torn corner of the globe.
All in all, it is an eclectic assortment. Gaiman invites you to read it in any order, or just sample here and there, which seems fitting: this book is easy to sink into for hours at a time, and just as easy to revisit for another bit of the wisdom contained between two covers.