Before I wrote this review, I was asked, “What is the difference between this book and all the others that Gaiman wrote?”
I said, “A lot.”
The other books I’ve read of his were novels, graphic and prose. This is the first non-fic book of his that I’ve read. The difference is that while the novels can offer you a glimpse of who the author is (“Read the books,” writes Gaiman in one of his speeches, “sometimes you can catch sight of us in there.”), The View from the Cheap Seats offers you more than just a glimpse—it is Neil Gaiman himself sharing his thoughts on a wide array of topics: why he thinks libraries are important for the future, his time as a journalist and comic book writer, his childhood and the books he used to read, the authors he loved and made most of an impact in his life as a writer, as well as the people who were and still are important parts of his life.
Neil Gaiman starts off with “I believe that it is difficult to kill an idea because ideas are invisible and contagious, and they move fast.” It is fitting, really, to talk about this in the beginning, because really, where do stories come from? They begin as ideas: little viruses in our heads waiting to get out and infect other people. Neil describes them as hard to kill because even if you kill a person, you cannot kill the idea. “Words have power,” after all.
Then, he talks about literary greats such as Douglas Adams, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Samuel R. Delany, H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien (he even mentioned that he wanted to live in an alternate universe where Tolkien had never written any of his books so he could be the one to write them instead). Of course, being an icon in comic books, he’d also talk about Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Alan Moore, among others. He also talked about authors that I’ve never even heard of, such as G.K. Chesterton, James Thurber, Jon James, and Jim Steinmeyer (don’t judge me if these guys are actually well-known authors).
If you wanted to know more about Neil Gaiman and what his influences were, then this is a treasure trove for you because all of these authors have one thing in common: Neil Gaiman loved their work. A big chunk of this book contains introductions that he wrote for the books of some of those authors, and in them, you will see how much Neil loved whatever book he was writing about. It wasn’t because he had to sell the book (which, you actually have to, if you’re the one writing the introduction), but because he genuinely believed that the book he was writing about was good and had to be read by the general public. Even though there are many introductions included in the book, it never felt repetitive. Neil Gaiman has that ability to paint a picture with words, and he painted a picture in my mind about each and every book he wrote about in his introduction. And to be honest, if your book is being written about by Neil himself, then you must have told one helluva story.
The most important thing, though, is that even though they were just introductions, I could get a sense of the kinds of books Neil Gaiman likes to read, and mostly, they are the heavy ones that made you think. “[The author] makes the reader work,” Gaiman wrote from time to time.
He also wrote around three entries about his wife, Amanda Palmer, who is a singer and songwriter. Stories are told in different mediums, and songs are one of them. From the way that Gaiman described how Amanda Palmer would perform during any of her gigs, it can be inferred that there was an intense connection between the singer and the crowd, which is not unlike the connection between the author and the reader. This intensity is important, because it is how storytellers are able to reach their target audience.
And speaking of storytelling, this book contains so many lessons that a young storyteller, particularly an aspiring writer, can gain. Neil Gaiman practically lists down names of some of the greatest authors you could learn from. More than that, he even gives specific tips from time to time. If you’re writing a children’s book, then it would do well for you to come up with books that you’d want your children to read. If you’re going to write, then write in your own voice. You may start off trying to emulate someone, an idol perhaps, but in the end, you should only write the way only you can write. It has to be your own voice, and not someone else’s. The most important thing to remember, though, and this is my favorite, is that, “You never know how to write a novel,” as Neil himself was told by a friend, “you only know how to write the novel you’re writing.” Neil Gaiman basically says that there’s really no format to writing a novel. Chances are, you’ll only find out how to write the novel you’re writing after you’ve written it.
For fans of Neil Gaiman, or for people who are curious about the iconic writer, then this is a perfect book for you. Not only will you know about integral parts of Gaiman’s life, you will also learn much about stories and storytelling. It’s different from the other books that he’s released: he does not write a story in this one, true, but he basically writes about the story of his life. It’s a long read (502 pages), but it’s engaging and does not disappoint. All in all, I can say that this book is very “Gaimanesque.”
The View from the Cheap Seats is available at Fully Booked Online.
Ish loves reading and sharing stories.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]