I’ll read (almost) anything by Neil Gaiman, so I’m the perfect audience for this non-fiction collection of random bits and bobs Gaiman produced over the years: essays, introductions for other writers’ books, album liner notes, speeches given at professional events, autobiographical pieces and many more. I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s writing over the years, but in addition to being a wonderful writer Gaiman is an interesting character with a distinctive voice and many things to say, which he does, passionately, in his trademark articulate, thoughtful and often humorous way. Many of his books I’ve read came with introductions that give you an insight into the man behind the words, so this is basically 500 pages of similar.
The collection is arranged by the topics, and my enjoyment predictably peaked and dipped depending on the subject. I confess I skipped most of the section dedicated to the comics; as engaging as Gaiman’s writing is it’s not enough to keep me reading about a topic I care nothing for.
The most compelling pieces have Gaiman discuss his deep love of reading, the importance of books and libraries, authors and works that influenced him, his personal friendships with fellow writers like Terry Pratchett (the book ends with a heartfelt piece dedicated to Terry Pratchett written shortly before his death that got me almost teary-eyed). Like Gaiman, I was a voracious reader in my childhood, reading everything that came my way irrespective of quality and including books that were way over my head, so I found his experiences very relatable. I also enjoyed his perceptive writings about Ray Bradbury, G.K. Chesterton, Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, and his eloquence and enthusiasm about the authors I’ve previously known nothing about made me want to check them out. It was also fascinating to read about the writing process behind Gaiman’s novels like American Gods and Stardust.
Other more personal stories include an entertaining account of attending the Academy Awards as one of the “lower classes” the year Coraline, the animated film based on Gaiman’s children’s book, was nominated with zero chances of winning. A couple of pieces are about Gaiman’s wife, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer (formerly of Dresden Dolls and a colourful character in her own right), including a write-up of the Dresden Dolls gig that made me think fondly back to my own memories of seeing them live. One random and amusing bit of trivia I liked is that Gaiman named his daughter Holly after Holly from Miami F.L.A. from Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side.
A few quotes I liked:
“Sometimes you return to a book and find that it’s better than you remembered, better than you had hoped: all the things that you had loved were still there, but that it’s even more packed with things that you appreciate. It’s deeper, cleaner, wiser.”
“You don’t discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read.”
“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.”