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.