MUSINGS FROM THE CHEAP SEATS

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s new book The View from the Cheap Seats, a sort of uncompleted compendium of his nonfiction from the 90s till now.  Actually I’ve been skipping over a lot of it, because I have already read it. And I’ve been thinking that it’s strange how much of single writer we can take in without realizing it.

 

And I’ve begun to wonder what influence it has.

 

I should hope that by now people are savvy enough to resist (or at least be aware of) commercials and ham-fisted political messages, but who is aware how much they are affected by the steady output of someone over the course ten or fifteen years?

 

My relationship with Gaiman is not the longest or the deepest that I have had with a writer, but it seems broader and deeper than I had ever suspected.

 

It is all for the best. Like almost everyone my age, he is one of my favorites, not only in his fiction, but here in his non-fiction as well.  Reading the book made me feel grateful in places.  I felt a special delight in finding out that someone else loves Memoirs of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds as much I do; it is through Gaiman that I first found John Collier, one of my favorite writers.  A Gaiman essay made me remember how much I loved Ray Bradbury, whom I hadn’t read in years.

 

I cannot agree with him on some points: as much as I enjoy the artwork of Will Eisner his writing leaves me a little cold. But I didn’t pick this up out a desire to agree: if all I wanted was someone who would always agree with me. I wouldn’t need other people at all. This is a book of essays and it would be a poor book of essays if it just made the reader nod along in agreement.  We should all be seeking discourse instead of ideological purity.

 

Many of the pieces are introductions.  Even those pieces that are not introductions function as such, which is how it should be.  Criticism usually falls into one of two categories:  screeds about personal prejudices, and political posturing. There is no place or time in the English-speaking world when anyone expected that critics read what they reviewed, and, for the most part, they never have.

 

But, when writers introduce new readers to the best stuff, as Gaiman does here, they are doing the best work that critics can do.  People are smart enough to know what is good and what isn’t, but they do need to be pointed in the right direction.

 

I didn’t mean to write a book review so I will stop myself here, but this is a fine book.  You may find that you have read much of this book already, which is fine, or you may find that it is all new.  Either way there are likely many things in this book you have forgotten and many things you never knew.

 

This is a chance to remember and learn.

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The Proof Is in the Proofs

My book, Priceless Treasures and Ghastly,  is almost ready to print.  On three occasions I have assured my editor that I was ready to go to press, and then rewritten something.  It probably isn’t something that I should do — the more changes that I make the more likely it is that I will introduce typos that will  be uncaught, or delete things by accident.  But I owe you, my public, the best that I can manage and I will deliver it.

As a child I remember being appalled that Tolkien made so many changes to The Hobbit while it was being printed that the printers had to break the plates and do it all over again.  This, by the way, was the first edition of 1937, not the revised 1951 version that we read.

I do think that what I have now is as good as it can be, but I think that I put off pressing ‘send’ a few more hours and look it over one last time.

New Blog

Hello Everyone!

This is my new writers blog.  As some of you know, I had one before that I used occasionally and that was read mainly by my friends, but this will be a more professional affair. It will include the sorts writerly things one might expect (publication dates for example) and function as a place where readers can contact me (as a slow correspondent I apologize in advance).  It will also feature a half dozen or so greatest hits from my old blog that will appear occasionally over the next year (clearly marked so you won’t have to read them twice).

Come again soon,

Thomas Olivieri

ps The first real entry will be up Friday.

ON THE LATE SEAMUS HEANEY, POET

NOTE: This first appeared on my old blog on August 30th 2013.

Seamus Heaney died today, and the press immediately jumped on his Nobel Prize and his his writing about the The Troubles in Northern Ireland, proving definitively that no one in the press had read his work. The Nobel Prize is a fine thing when used to sell books but it says nothing of merit. At best it is an indicator that a person with solidly centrist political beliefs has reached a certain level of fame and a certain quality of writing, but it says nothing of greatness, or even interest. Heaney was defined by the politics of his time, but what of it? Everyone is. We don’t pretend that Chaucer is a spokesmen for the hundred-year-war generation (or generations as it may be), but certainly as a soldier and a statesman he was created by it.

Instead Heaney’s worth will be his ability to reach people and his ability to have his quirks and queernesses seem completely natural and correct. He was one of the most eccentric and provincial writers ever born but made us all feel as if we were of his tribe and his quirks and queernesses were ours and his province our own.

I have no right or even desire to speak for posterity but I hope he will be read in the future, without cumbersome foot notes or drawn out introductions (posterity I’m sure will have dictionaries if they want to know what a ‘bleb’ is) and just read for his immediacy warmth and miraculous sense of language.

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: PRICELESS TREASURES AND GHASTLY

Next month The Oldstyle Tales Press will be issuing Priceless Treasures and Ghastly: a Slight Collection of Hallowe’en Tales and Miscellanea, a collection of five of my short stories, lavishly illustrated by author, scholar, and artist M. Grant Kellermeyer.

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It won’t be a book for everyone — those with mid-century mindsets will object to fantastika, and there is too much sex, alcohol, and Putin for it to be suitable for children. But it will be suitable for people waiting by the door giving out candy to their snot-nosed neighbors. And, because it’s only a chapbook, they will be able to read it before their own kids get back in.

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This is my first book to be published, and I can’t imagine a better place to publish it than the OSTP, a place where imagination, scholarship, and an unwholsome attraction to the uncanny sit quietly and beautifully in thoughtfully illustrated books. Even a cursory look at the website shows the care and attention given to the titles, and it is an honor to keep such company.
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Details such as price and release date, will be posted soon.