Monday, July 04, 2016

Nonfiction :: Neil Gaiman

Few authors would be able to pull it off. It's like, who would want to hear their thoughts? So I'm biased. It's Neil Gaiman. His writing always reasonates with me. Picked up his newly published 'The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction'. Kinda wistful that I didn't buy it in a physical copy. Maybe I'll get one too. :D

Themed into 10 coherent chapters, we are "under no obligation to read them all, or to read them in any particular order." Consider all topics covered. Of course I read them all. Some popular ones have already floated around the internet. Many are new to me. Neil Gaiman sees it as "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." (Reviews here, herehere and here.)

There's so much going on that it's tough to finish this book in one sitting. I did it in three, over four days. I can't even pick a favorite piece. It's impossible! Each piece will call out to you at different points of your life. You'll either be incredibly bored with the essays or totally interested. It would help if you like Neil Gaiman as an author, and his public persona and opinions. He talks about other authors and musicians, namely about how they've influenced him, say Stephen KingGene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett, Dave McKean, Tori Amos, They Might Be Giants, Lou Reed, and of course Amanda Palmer!

If you're not a big fan, go straight to final Chapter X 'The View From The Cheap Seats'. The six essays within are worth a fun read, on the 2010 Oscars, the whole point of having a National Portrait Gallery in London, the first time he saw The Dresden Dolls in 2010, of death of friends and Amanda Palmer and the illness and death of her best friend Anthony Martignetti, an Azrag refugee camp in Jordan, Syria, and he ends the entire collection with his friend Terry Pratchett and what drove him to write in 'A Slip of the Keyboard: Terry Pratchett'.

I'm most taken by his comments in Chapter VIII 'On Stardust and Fairy Tales'. Yes, it mentions how he wrote 'Stardust', and his thoughts about his long-time collaborator illustrator Charles Vess, authors Edward Plunkett (1924 'The King of Elfland's Daughter'), Hope Mirrlees (1926 'Lud-in-the-Mist') and of course Susana Clarke (2004 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell'), incarcerated artist Richard Dadd (painting 'The Fairy-Feller's Master-Stroke' 1855-64),

The book came out, first in illustrated and then in in unillustrated form. There seemed to be a general consensus that it was the most inconsequential of my novels. Fantasy fans, for example, wanted it to be an epic, which it took enormous pleasure in not being. Shortly after it was published, I wound up defending it to a journalist who had loved my previous novel, Neverwhere, particularly its social allegories. He had turned Stardust upside down and shaken it, looking for social allegories, and found absolutely nothing of any good purpose. 
"What's it for?" he had asked, which is not a question you expect to be asked when you write fiction for a living. 
"It's a fairy tale," I told him. "It's like an ice-cream. It's to make you happy when you finish it." 
I don't think that I convinced him, not even a little bit. There was a French edition of Stardust some years later that contained translator's notes demonstrating that the whole of the novel was a gloss on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which I wish I had read at the time of the interview. I could have referred it to the journalist, even if I didn't believe a word. 
Still the people who wanted fairy tales found the book, and some of them knew what it was, and liked it for being exactly that. One of those people was filmmaker Matthew Vaughn. 
~ 'Once Upon a Time', Chapter VIII 'On Stardust and Fairy Tales'.

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