Book Review: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is somewhat of an anomaly in literature in that he has attempted and excelled in so many genres and media with overwhelming success.  He has won numerous awards, including the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, World Fantasy Award, Bram Stoker Award, Newbery Medal, and Carnegie Medal.  His works include the famous Sandman series of comics, the novels American Gods and The Graveyard Book, the children’s horror book Coraline, and numerous screenplays and teleplays.

The View From the Cheap Seats is a collection of nonfiction pieces he has written over the past several decades.  It includes newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, and introductions to books, films, and music albums.  It is divided into sections roughly corresponding to his various interests and fields of endeavor: science fiction, fantasy, films, comics, music, books and reading, famous people he has known, and descriptions of various unusual events from his life.  The title essay is a recounting of his trip to the Oscars ceremony when the film version of Coraline was nominated for best animated feature.

Gaiman has been on my radar for some time.  I think that the first long piece that I read of his was American Gods, which is a dark story of mythical beings who have emigrated from other older parts of the world, taken up residency in the United States, and spawned a reality apart from that which appears on the surface.  I have also read Coraline, a very creepy fantasy about a young girl who discovers a hidden passage in her home that leads to an alternate reality.  In anthologies I have come across several of Gaiman’s award-winning stories, which are distinguished by their atmosphere and sense of wonder.

In The View From the Cheap Seats, Gaiman writes in very informal prose about a very unusual life – because, of course, no matter what else he is writing about, he is always writing about Neil Gaiman.  In some ways I find him hard to relate to, as he achieved early and consistent recognition and award after award, while I struggle for readership and recognition late in life after publishing over twenty books.  It’s easy to grasp that he’s had his share of adversity when reading these essays; still, compared to the norm he comes across as living a charmed life, as if he exists in some other dimension apart from other poor struggling folks.  I do not intend this as criticism.  When I read this collection, I picture Gaiman as a character from one of his fantasies, going about his life in a reality with which I am completely unfamiliar.

It’s an illusion, of course, from a master illusionist.  He bleeds, just as we all do.  He has his secret and open sorrows, some of which he spills out in this book.  He has managed, however, to maintain a long and exceptional career in a field where many attempt but few succeed.

This book is a fascinating overview of an unusual life.  It’s well worth reading by writers, readers, and anyone else interested in glimpsing the thoughts of one of the most enigmatic literary figures of the era.

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