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View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Benoit Chartier

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be a pearl diver? Waking early to make your way to a craggy coast. Strip down to your bathing suit and stare the deep in the eye, waves slapping lazily against the rock. Foam cresting and receding, diving in at the perfect moment, eyes opening in the clear blue while you make your way to the depths. Sunlight peers in to the bottom as you make your way there, searching for oysters that might contain the treasures you seek. Your rope net, tied around your neck, fills up with the palm-sized shells, and when it is full, you return to the surface world.

How many have you caught, this time? How many of these curious bivalves contain the nacreous baubles so prized for their size and hue? Not so many, perhaps.

What if you’d found a treasure trove? What if every single one contained the tiny milky spheres, and on top of that, pointed in the direction of more? That is how I felt, reading this book by Neil Gaiman.

Admittedly, this is the first ever book I’ve had the pleasure of perusing by this prolific author. I’ve seen the movie version of Stardust, as well as enjoying Coraline, and Mirrormask, so his work was not entirely foreign to me. But, to start off with his non-fiction was a curious choice on my part, and one that I do not regret for even a second. Inside this book you will find pearls, yes, but of wisdom. The accumulated thoughts (and the best of those) of a career that spans thirty years.

Gaiman collected introductions to other works, speeches he gave, and bits and baubles that are all relevant to anyone who is either interested in the man himself, or, as I am, interested in knowing what his thoughts are on the art of writing. And he does not disappoint.

When I said that this trove of pearls pointed the way to other caches, I meant that most of the articles recommended another book, or a music, or comic which Gaiman loves and would like for his audience to sample and enjoy as much as he does, and so the book becomes a kind of listography to be used as a reference to go and hunt for these other books that seem perfectly splendid, or this music that he found odd, quirky, and nice.

There is too much variety to say precisely what this book is about, but in a roundabout sort of way, you could say it’s about a thoughtful, humble man, and his take on the things he has done, and encountered, and enjoyed, and that would be more than enough.

As a writer, it is a joy to soak in, and as a reader, it is a wonder to watch Mr. Gaiman let his words play for us like a master does.

I highly recommend The View From the Cheap Seats. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go purchase his back-catalogue.

The View From the Cheap Seats is published by William Morrow Publishers.

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