“The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction” (William Morrow), by Neil Gaiman
Warning: This book may make you want to read a bunch of other books. Maybe even buy a comic. On my list, recommended by Mr. Gaiman: anything by Harlan Ellison, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” the “Discworld” series by Terry Pratchett, “Lud-in-the-Mist” and Gaiman’s own “Sandman” series of graphic novels.
“The View from the Cheap Seats” is a collection of lectures, acceptance speeches, essays, book introductions, obits and tributes written by Gaiman over the decades. He’s upfront in his forward, telling readers they’re under “no obligation to read them all.” That’s good guidance, as some are about books not all readers will have read and therefore won’t make much sense. But there’s plenty here to spend a few hours with, including his commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia that went viral in 2012 - “Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art.”
The book is crammed with his thoughts about the comic, sci-fi and fantasy art forms, friends he’s loved and lost, and even the vital role of libraries. Each dispatch is no more than a dozen pages - some just a dozen paragraphs - so it’s perfect for a quick read before turning off your bedside lamp. There’s little here to quibble about because it’s so personal. Gaiman has a direct writing style that’s easy to read.
For writers or wanna-be writers, there’s plenty of advice in these pages. Here’s Gaiman at the 2004 Harvey Awards, the Oscars of the comic book world: “Most of the things I’ve got right over the years, I’d got right because I got them wrong first.” And: “I’ve learned over the years that everything is more or less the same amount of work, so you may as well set your sights high and try and do something really cool.”
If all you’ve ever heard or seen of Gaiman is the film adaptation of “Coraline,” the book is a nice jumping-off point into his world that will have you visiting your favorite library, bookshop, or online retailer to either pick up one of his or dozens of others that made him the artist he is today.
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