Book Reviews

Book Review: The View From the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman’s new collection of prose pieces is a wonderful love song to the written word, to comics, to fantasy, erudite marginalia and appreciations of the writers and mentors that helped him early in his career before he became the demi-god of Speculative Fiction.

The essays in The View From the Cheap Seats cover fellow writers, co-creators and Gaiman’s takes on creativity and its place in the world. It includes some previously published classics such as ‘Credo’ and ‘Make Good Art’ that demonstrate Gaiman’s wise humanism–a gentle gospel of good storytelling, how taking writing and reading seriously as craft and vocation can have the power of healing and instruction unlike few other things in this life.

Gaiman’s essays on other creators, particularly those whom he loved as a young and burgeoning writer and reader are particularly fine. Wonderful insights into the work of Harlan Ellison and Gene Wolfe are here. The essay on Diana Wynne Jones and the forward to her classic ‘Dogsbody’ are especially poignant, reminding one how a particular author, discovered at a particular time can be a life-altering, maybe, lifesaving event.

And while most of the pieces here are reflections on art, on culture high and low, Gaiman also touches on real world events with a harrowing piece that originally appeared in the Guardian about a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. ‘So Many Ways to Die in Syria Now’ is a compassionate, tear-soaked witness to the genocidal impulses that afflict the human heart when it clings to power, and the devastation and death that ensues when innocent humans are treated as mere tools and statistics to prop up a despotic regime.

The View From the Cheap Seats is stuffed with incisive insights and acts of radical empathy that seem positively revolutionary in this age of demonizing of the other and closing our hearts and borders to those who don’t fit into our, small, preconceived notion of tribe. Gaiman’s writing, and this treasure house of a book offer sustenance for the journey, for those like him, who found solace and succor in the written word, in the mythic joys of comics and believe in the archaic and transgressive notion of a borderless country called story where all can find a measure of wisdom and community in this increasingly mad world.

William Morrow, $26.99 Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0062262264, <a href=http://amzn.to/2987QQG>http://amzn.to/2987QQG</a&gt;

 

 

 

 

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