Saturday, December 24, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

I've said many times that I'm a sucker for the occasional nonfiction of novelists; I've read a number of odds-and-sods collections by writers that I barely read in the first place -- in several cases, it's been the first thing I've read by someone, and probably more than once the only thing. It's a weird literary taste, but it's mine, and I accept it.

So when a writer I really do love and follow assiduously puts out a big fat collection of introductions and essays and speeches and appreciations and other random detritus, you'd better believe I'm going to jump on that thing. Neil Gaiman -- you might have heard of him -- had a book like that this year, probably because he's old enough that it feels like a good time and his publishers really wanted a big book with "NEIL GAIMAN" on the spine out in stores this year to help their bottom line. [1] He'll write more occasional nonfiction, I'm sure: he's at the point in his career when I expect he has to fight off introduction requests several times a week, and with any luck will be healthy and writing for another twenty-plus years. But it's far enough in to make a big fat book of just the things he wants to save.

That book, obviously, is The View from the Cheap Seats, which you'll already know if you peeked at the bookshot or read the title of this blog post. It contains five hundred pages of various pieces, originally written and published from 1990 through last year -- not everything germane from those years, certainly, but a huge pile of stuff, and nearly everything anyone would want to read and remember.

It's divided into ten generally thematic sections -- this on comics, this on movies, this on Stardust, all leading off with essays on things he believes strongly and ending up with his famous Make Good Art speech and then some of the most recent, presumably major, essays that he wants to highlight. It is a loose collection: every book like this is. What unifies it is Gaiman: he cares about the same things, and thinks in much the same ways, and has the same kinds of connections in his head throughout all of the years that this collection covers, no matter what he's writing about at the moment.

And, obviously, all these are things he cared about at the time, and still cares about enough to save in this thick book. These are the things Neil Gaiman wants you to know about: the writers and artists he loves, the work he wishes more people were excited about, the things he's done that have been interesting or strange or unique. It's mostly things in his head: he's a writer, and has always seemed one of those stereotypical writers who lives mostly in his own head wherever he is. There are no scintillating travelogues here, unless the vacation destination you're interested in is Neil Gaiman's cerebellum.

You probably already know if you want to read a book like this: if you're like me, you'd want one by just about any decent middle-aged novelist who's been in shouting distance of the skiffy field. If you're less like me, you might want it because it's Gaiman, or because he's been much closer than shouting distance. And, if you don't want it at all, I hope you've figured that out by now.

[1] His next new book, Norse Mythology, is still a couple of months out from publication. And the once-promised Monkey King book seems to have quietly died behind the scenes.

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