Monday 27 June 2016

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Up until now, Neil Gaiman has been known as a fiction writer, giving us delights like Neverwhere and American Gods and is the creative force behind the equally amazing and disturbing Sandman series of graphic novels. I first came across him in the collaboration with Terry Pratchett that is Good Omens. When I first read it I hated it as it wasn’t Pratchett enough for me. The second time I came across him was when a book group I am in was reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This melancholy story is an adult fairy tale as a man relives the moments of his childhood with the strange happenings that went on. It blew me away. Since then I have read lots and lots of his books. I like the twists he adds to classic fairy tales, his children’s books enthral and scare at the same time. Best of all he has an imagination that literally knows no bounds. His latest book, The View from the Cheap Seats is his first foray into non-fiction, collected from the articles, speeches, obituaries and sometimes just random stuff he has written.

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.

The dedication is to his son Ash – these are some of the things that your father loved and said and cared about and believed a long time ago, and so he sets his agenda of subjects that have formed his opinions, shaped his writing and influenced his life. There are pieces on art and music, books and comics, authors who became friends and collaborators. Tales from his childhood as he read his way through the local library and in the process discovered worlds that existed inside the covers. He celebrates the idea; an element that is invisible and contagious, cannot be supressed and is impossible to control. The introduction to books are great, encouraging you to read before coming back to him to carry on the conversation that he has started and to tell you why that book is important to him and why it should be to you too.

I learned that we have the right, or the obligation, to tell old stories in our own ways, because they are our stories, and they must be told.

Gaiman’s mind is like an ocean of infinite width and fathomless depth and in this not insubstantial book he shows us the wealth of ideas he has drawn on and dropped in this ocean. These influences have stretched his imagination and given us, the reader, a series of books and graphic novels that are rich, deep twisted and dark. I liked his fond memories of writers, particularly favourites of mine, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. They were great friends of his, who he misses every day and it brings out happy and sad memories for him. It is full of useful advice too, extolling the virtue of setting your sights high as it is no more effort to produce something cool than it would be to produce something only average and that the only way to do things right is to do them wrong first. Even though he brings all of these things to your attention, persuades you to read and discover the things that made him who he is, there is still something that he does to make his books have that little extra something, that 45 degree skew, that enthrals and scares at the same time.

Brilliant stuff from a master wordsmith.

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