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The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 31, 2016
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“Gaiman’s prose reveals the relaxed intimacy of a cherished dinner partner and never loses sight of the big picture. . . . Highly recommended for readers of Gaiman’s work, specifically, and sf and fantasy generally, as well as those interested in cultural criticism and the art and craft of writing.” (Library Journal (starred review) on THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS)
“Full of devotion and erudition, this is also a glorious love-letter to reading, to writing, to dreaming, to an entire genre.” (Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO on THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS)
“If this book came to you during a despairing night, by dawn you would believe in ideas and hope and humans again. This is a beautiful, beautiful book.” (Caitlin Moran, journalist and New York Times bestselling author of How to Build a Girl)
From the Back Cover
An enthralling collection of nonfiction pieces on myriad topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories to comics, films, and literature—observed in award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
As Neil explains, “This book is not ‘the complete nonfiction of Neil Gaiman.’ It is, instead, a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some of them are serious and some of them are frivolous and some of them are earnest and some of them I wrote to try and make people listen.”Illuminating and incisive, witty and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores some of the issues, subjects, and people that matter most to Neil Gaiman—and offers a unique glimpse into the mind of one of the most beloved and influential writers of our time.
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If you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy/girl, you’ll need no excuse to read anything that he puts out (even though--if that is the case--you’ll probably have read much of this before in separate outings.) So the question is why the rest of us—who may enjoy Gaiman’s writing tremendously but who don’t qualify as fanboys / fangirls—should read this. The reason that it’s worth reading is that Neil Gaiman is funny, has a way of framing ideas that makes them thought-provoking and interesting, and frequently writes quotable bits of text that are essentially brain candy.
The book’s title comes from an essay on Gaiman’s experience attending the Oscars from the upper balcony. As mentioned, the book is divided into thematic sections--ten of them to be precise. The book starts with “Some Things I Believe,” which presents speeches on the virtue of reading, libraries, books, and bookstores. The next section discusses people he has known and worked with—largely writers and graphic artists. Then Gaiman offers thoughts on the nature of science fiction, again mostly through book forwards on seminal works from the genre. There is a section on films and Gaiman’s experience with them—several of his works have been made into films and many others have been considered. The next part is on comic books and the works and artists that influenced Gaiman. The next section bears the title “Introductions and Contradictions” and it offers introductions for various books (not Gaiman’s but those written for other writers.) There’s a musical section about a few recording artists including They Might be Giants, Lou Reed, and—of course—Gaiman’s wife Amanda Palmer. Next, Gaiman presents some introductions and forwards for works of fantasy. One section includes only a solitary entry--a commencement speech entitled “Make Good Art.” The final section is sort of a catchall of essays that includes the title piece and one on events in Syria.
I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy reading (or writing) in the genres for which Gaiman is known. His comments offer interesting insight, and you may learn about some books and authors that you’d never heard of before.
In one of the pieces near the beginning, a speech called “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming,” Gaiman sets the tone when he says (one of my most favorite quotes in the book), “I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.” He admits that, in making such a strong plea for the importance of reading, “I’m biased as a writer. But,” he emphasizes, “I am much, much more biased as a reader.”
The View from the Cheap Seats shows his bias in spades. Truly, Gaiman is a reader’s writer: it seems you can’t wander through more than a few pages without tripping over another author or book he’s recommending wholeheartedly. But that is his intention: “I hope that, somewhere in here,” he says, “I will talk about a creator or their work—a book, perhaps, or even a film or a piece of music—that will intrigue you.” If you want to know which writers and artists influenced Gaiman, then and now, he’ll tell you in this book. My TBR has certainly grown from his many enticing recommendations.
However, The View from the Cheap Seats is more than a catalogue of books and works of art that have influenced Gaiman; it’s also a tribute to the many people who have touched his life. One of the things I love about being a Neil Gaiman fan is discovering with delight that he has a personal connection to other artists I admire. It’s like tracing a family lineage. I actually discovered Neil Gaiman in a roundabout way through Terry Pratchett. Years ago, I started reading Pratchett’s Discworld series and then found out that the two writers had co-authored a book called Good Omens. Although I started delving into Gaiman’s other work first before finally reading Good Omens years later, it thrilled me to no end knowing that two of my favorite fantasy writers not only knew each other but were also longtime friends and had written a book together. I remember, too, my excitement when I first discovered the friendship between Tori Amos and Neil Gaiman. I used to wonder who was this Neil she kept mentioning in her songs, and now I smile every time I hear the mentions, like it’s a special fan club secret. As a late-bloomer sci-fi fan, I’ve just started delving into Ray Bradbury, and I was happy to learn that Gaiman befriended Bradbury in his later years. The View from the Cheap Seats includes Gaiman’s tributes to all of these artists and many more, including, of course, his wife, the multi-talented, larger-than-life Amanda Palmer. So if you admire some of Gaiman’s friends, as I do, reading this book is like reading about a reunion of sorts: you begin to see family resemblances between Gaiman and the people he cares about.
As Gaiman explains, “Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.” With The View from the Cheap Seats, Gaiman’s inviting you and me to be part of the conversation.
P.S. The titular essay, “The View from the Cheap Seats,” is one of my favorites. I love how Gaiman can take an extraordinary situation like going to the Oscars and describe his experience of it in a way that makes him very human and relatable to the reader. I nodded and smiled throughout, thinking, “Oh, yes, if I ever went to the Oscars, that’s how I’d feel, too.”
I don't read comics at all, and have never attempted to navigate graphic comics either, but learned some interesting things about those pioneering artists and authors. It's even made me think I should convert a few of my own short stories into comics as well.
If you have read his far into the review, I'll offer Gaiman's own prologue advice, if a chapter isn't interesting, skip it. Not every chapter needs to be read, I've skipped over a handful myself, only scanning briefly in case some lucious oyster stands out and catches my eye.