June 1, 2017

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction

View From the Cheap Seats By Neil Gaiman
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I can't quite remember if I was in junior high or high school when I first read a Neil Gaiman novel. I remember instantly searching through the library for more, because I was hooked. I remember, on a school trip in eleventh grade, barely beating out a good friend for a signed copy of ANANSI BOYS. I saw it on the bookshelf first and grabbed it with alacrity; my then boyfriend paid for it. I let my friend read it once I was done (and another friend besides); I have never believed in collecting things that I won't actually use. I've since bought a more practical ebook for rereading, but I rest more easily knowing my signed copy has been loved.

As a long time fan, I know that Gaiman has experience with nonfiction, having worked as a reporter. The pieces in THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS are not reportage, but a collection of speeches, articles, essays, and introductions. They're taken from throughout his career and organized loosely within subjects, not chronologically. I personally found myself hopping from subject to subject, looking though the table of contents for which titles appealed most to me. I have only ever been a sporadic reader of nonfiction, and I tended to wander away from THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS if I read too much on one topic at once.

Many fans will be familiar with several of the pieces in THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS. Even non-fans are likely familiar with "Make Good Art," which is also available for purchase on its own. But there was certainly plenty I'd never read, from conferences I'd never attended and publications I'd never purchased and things that were simply written before that nebulous year that I first picked up a Neil Gaiman novel. I appreciated that there was context included for each piece, although the details available varied. The who and when a piece was written for are important, and I wish those snippets of context were at the beginning of each piece instead of the end, but I did like that they were included at all.

Gaiman has an easy manner to his nonfiction. There are some lovely turns of phrase, but it is approachable and friendly. It's a tone that feels thoughtful but not pretentious. (Not that a little pretension doesn't slip in here and there. I think any author has those slips of pretension, however.) I also loved coming across with gems in old material such as, "[The novel] has a working title of American Gods (which is not what the book will be called, but what it is about." 19 years later we know that not only did the novel stay titled AMERICAN GODS, but it is now a TV show by the same name as well. Sometimes the working title sticks, even though that wasn't the plan. There's no special attention brought to the line, since there is no commentary, but it still leapt out to me. Such lines are insights into Gaiman's process that go beyond the intentional.

THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is an entertaining read for Gaiman fans. Non-fans might find some pieces interesting, especially the ones about Gaiman's relationships with other authors. Mostly, though, I think this is a book for the fans. But it is not a cheap cash in on their interest. There's good material, not all of it readily available, presented well. I enjoyed reading it.


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