An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on myriad topics – from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories – observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.0 out of 5
I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up. I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.
If anyone knows anything about me at all then they will know this one simple fact: –
I am absolutely nutty about anything Neil Gaiman
I can’t remember whether he was recommended to me or if I found him all by myself. I can’t remember reading my first Neil Gaiman story and I don’t even remember what that story was. ‘Neverwhere’, I think, but at best that is a guess.
I have two younger brothers and I have clear memories of my siblings arriving into my life but for my brothers I would have always been there as a fixture from day one of their lives. They won’t remember meeting me as I would simply have never ‘not’ existed. In some ways I feel a little bit like this with Neil Gaiman. At what point did he stop ‘not existing?’ That’s why I feel like I may have just absorbed his books through the process of osmosis.
Luckily, Neil Gaiman is significantly better at remembering (and recounting) the moments in his life when he discovered his pivotal writers or artists, and he can acutely detail what those moments of discovery meant for him on a personal and professional level. This is how we have The View From the Cheap Seats.
(Note: How many times can I say Neil Gaiman in an intro? Why, as many times as needed!)
This is, as it says on the blurb, a collection of nonfiction essays on a range of topics. Neil Gaiman has been around for years and during that time he has worn a lot of hats. Figuratively speaking that is, in this book he does refer to the fact that he simply cannot wear hats (he tried, he failed).
His career has taken him from journalism to comic book writing to novel writing to screenplay writing to TV episode writing to professor of the arts. He has performed at numerous public speaking events and his work has won numerous awards.
Before of all that? He was a reader. He was a lover of books and the written (and spoken) word. He was, is, and will always remain – a fanboy.
The View from the Cheap Seats provides essays that demonstrate a reflective nature on his career but that also allow him to reflect on the writers that he has loved the most. Some of which, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, he has interviewed and, in the case of Pratchett, worked with. Some authors are those who have inspired him, HP Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury are just two examples.
These essays haven’t been written specifically for this collection but have been collated over those years of experience from introductions to anthologies or from speeches that he has been asked to deliver. Some have been taken from his own blog and are based on events that he has directly experienced. For example, the titular essay ‘The View from the Cheap Seats’ refers to a hilarious and humbling Oscars ceremony experience.
I’ve mentioned before but I’ve been lucky to hear Neil Gaiman present live, at a February 2017 Southbank event, that was introducing his Norse Mythology book. He has been doing this years and is a practiced presenter with a speaking style that is warm and friendly and makes you feel like he is chatting away to five or six people in his living room and not an auditorium of hundreds.
This speaking style translates easily into his writing style and so the essays that have been carefully structured into their segments (one on comics, one on speculative fiction, one on fairy tales etc.) flow just like a conversation would. You feel like he is talking directly to you. Perhaps it helps that some essays really were Neil directly talking to an audience.
I enjoyed reading the sections that I knew about (i.e. fairy tales) and I felt like I could wryly smile when he would refer to something in 1995 as a certainty and you knew, reading this in 2017 when I did, that it would be anything but. It’s almost like time travel or as close as you can get via reading. The sections on Terry Pratchett were quite poignant and made me feel quite sad. There are two essays, one written years before you knew anything was going to get sh*t and the other when you knew that Sir Terry’s death due to Alzheimer’s was an imminent event.
However, this collection isn’t without its flaws. If I wanted to read a book on writing I could probably pick up Stephen King’s helpfully titled, ‘On Writing’ without being a fan of Stephen King. If you want to pick up this book then it helps to be a fan of Neil Gaiman. This isn’t a journey into writing per say as it is a journey into his writing which makes it an absolute fizzy pop of delight for fans of Neil but may be flat for those who aren’t.
What I will say is that Neil’s style of writing is incredibly easy to read and those essays that resonated with me on a personal level were a joy but I must confess… if I didn’t know who he was talking about in an essay then I skipped over until I found one that I did and that is why I feel this book is for Neil Gaiman fans only. If you know all the writers/ artists that he refers to or if you are a die-hard Gaiman fan and want to immerse yourself into Neil’s experiences than go for it. I think you will really enjoy this book.
If you want to gain some insight into what it is like to be a writer or a reader than this won’t give you an unbiased, generic account. Read some Neil Gaiman (I recommend easing yourself in with some Good Omens, this gets you introduced to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – winner) and then come on back.