Book Review: The View From The Cheap Seats

The View From The Cheap Seats:  Selected Nonfiction, by Neil Gaiman

For the record, this is the first book I have read by the author.  Even though I am at least somewhat of a fan of speculative fiction, I have not yet managed to make the time to read any of Gaiman’s well regarded works like Coraline, American Gods, or The Ocean At The End Of The Street, among others.  I don’t feel that disqualifies me from reading a collection like this one where Gaiman shares a very motley and miscellaneous but generally enjoyable collection of mostly short nonfictional writings.  Indeed, I think that there are certain advantages in coming into a book like this without knowing a lot about an author and his worldview, and that is that one is not offended by the author liking or not liking someone one happens to respect while having a positive (or negative) view of the author.  As it happens, the author shows himself to be fond of C.S. Lewis and his approach to fantasy literature, with a strong egalitarian impulse that, if not populist, is not far removed from it, and someone who has a lot of high praise to say to a great many people who have written fantasy and science fiction literature as well as a variety of musicians and others.

This massive book of more than 500 pages is divided into ten sections and numerous essays within them.  The author begins with some longer selections of prose about things he believes in (I), which includes his thoughts on the future of books and reading, his belief that books have genders, his reflections on myth, and his thoughts on writing on America and children’s literature.  After that the author writes about some people he has known (II) like Douglas Adams, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and others.  After this comes some introductions in science fiction, including a reflection on Fahrenheit 451 (III).  There are a few essays on films and movies (IV), including MirrorMask, Dr. Who, and The Bride of Frankenstein.  Then comes a set of essays on comics and some of the people who make them (V), including Batman, Astro City, Bone, and a couple of speeches for the 2003 Eisner and 2004 Harvey Awards.  There are more introductions, something which the author appears to write a lot of (VI), including ones for Poe, Dracula, some tales by Rudyard Kipling and H.G. Wells, the mystery of Chesterton’s Father Brown, and even works by Douglas Adams and Alan Moore.  After that comes some essays on music and some people who make it (VII), including Tori Amos, They Might Be Giants, Lou Reed, and his own partner Amanda Palmer.  There are essays on Stardust and fairy tales (VIII), a call to make good art (IX), and some discussion of real things like dying in Syria and the Dresden Dolls in 2010 (X) to finish this book.

I found, as I expected, that there were definitely some areas where the author and I disagree.  Likewise, I found that they author was passionate for a great many writers and works that I am not familiar with at all.  Nonetheless, what stuck out for me the most about this book was the way that the author wanted to spend his time writing positively, whether it was about art, literature, music, comics that he particularly liked, or whether it was about the resilience of Syrian refugees seeking a better life, or whether it was about the way that we are inspired by what comes before us and that we can leave something better for those after us, and that we should seek to enjoy comics and other art and literature out of enjoyment of the good rather than out of reasons of self-interest.  I found that, much to my pleasure, I was able to agree with a lot of what Gaiman had to say and was able to appreciate the way that he had words that were both kind and true about the diverse group of people he chose to write about, and that he managed to combine journalistic qualities of excellence along with a great deal of empathy and humanity for people in the past and present, and all kinds of diverse representatives of humanity, something that is admirable.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The View From The Cheap Seats

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The On Creativity Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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