I signed up for my local library’s adult summer reading program, and I am trying to read at least one book a week. I like to mix things up a bit: fiction, religion, young adult, memoir. This week, I am reading The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. I picked up this book because it was on the “new books” shelf, and because I enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s children’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book.
The View from the Cheap Seats, however, is non-fiction, a mixed collection of speeches and endorsements and introductions written for other books and memories and commentaries on films and comics. The book feels like a porthole into the mind of this talented writer.
While Neil Gaiman and I are very unalike, it has been interesting for me to learn that we have a few things in common.
In his MythCon 35 Guest of Honor Speech, Gaiman writes: “There are authors with whom one has a personal relationship and authors with whom one does not. There are the ones who change your life and the ones who don’t. That’s just the way of it.” Guess which three authors Gaiman chose to write/speak about, three authors with whom, as a boy and as a young man, he felt he had a relationship, three authors who changed his life? C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton.
Guess who my three favorite writers of all time are? Yep.
And I love this quote from Gaiman’s keynote speech at the 35th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: “The miracle of prose is this: it begins with the words. What we, as authors, give to the reader isn’t the story…What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use to build the book themselves. No two readers can or will ever read the same book, because the reader builds the book in collaboration with the author.”
I, too, have been struck recently with the realization that a book is a dialogue and that a person reads much more into a book (or a blog post, or a song) than he reads out of a book. Someone’s reaction to a particular story reveals much more about what the reader thinks than about what the author thinks. This realization has caused me to pause and consider why I respond a particular way to certain writers – what does my reaction teach me about myself?
As someone new to writing, I appreciate Neil Gaiman’s encouragement that, when we feel we are being a little too honest, exposing perhaps too much of ourselves, it is at that place that we are doing the right thing and beginning to write our best: “…the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you, your voice, your mind, your story, your vision…The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right” (from Gaiman’s May 17, 2012, commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia).
I knew before reading The View From the Cheap Seats that Neil Gaiman was a phenomenal writer. Now, I feel like he is a friend.