BOOK REVIEW: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman is filled with cheap nonfiction you could probably find for free online

I was all set to hate this book. Parts of it drove me to rants and angry marginalia (sorry, library book — oh, hush it’s in pencil!). But, there is kindness in there. Even if narcissistic and imperialistic. As I was reading this book, I was planning this sentence:

You don’t have to buy this book because you can find it all online for free or you could inter-library loan his articles through your library.

But that is an oversimplification. If you are trying to understand Gaiman (even for anti-Gaiman reasons like me), this book stuffed his nonfiction all together handily — some of which you would not readily discover in a google search.

Below are my snarky comments in response to some of his statements:

“[Literature] has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too. “ But not new writers, right? Because you write enough that the world need never publish another sf author again. Got it. Honestly, his lack of acknowledging other fledgling writers is disturbing. He speaks only to readers, it seems, never to authors or fellow authors. It’s as if he refuses to acknowledge equals. At best, he only acknowledges those above him or who are no longer threats (because they’re dead). This book is NOT the equivalent of Stephen King’s On Writing. This is more like On Brand Building. Or, On Making it Seem Like You’re Prolific and How to Take Credit for Other People’s Work. 

“I like the idea that one day I’ll do something that really works, even if I fear that I’ve been saying the same things for over thirty years. As we get older, each thing we do, each thing we  write reminds us of something else we’ve done. Events rhyme. Nothing quite happens for the first time anymore.” I actually like this quote but coming from him it feels more like history repeating itself (ie publishers only publishing white men). Great excuse for never having to be original, though (I explore Gaiman’s particular lack of originality in my essay linked up above).

“…[American Gods] took an  odd sort of hubris to write it.” Yeah, it did. Those British are so darn quirky! They all seem to think we’re stupid and need our own myths mansplained explained to us. But why not let them, since they have that adorrrrable accent? *shoots self in face*

“When [American Gods] was almost done, when all that remained was to pull together all the diverse strands…” Wait, so you’re admitting you really just wanted to tell short stories and the full plot was an afterthought? So much for “making good art.” For godsake, know your medium.  Practice what you preach. Oh, wait, you don’t have to because you’re beyond all that.

All Books Have Genders.” This is the title of one of them. What the absolute f*ck? So Gaiman is a god who assigns sex at birth? Who assigns gender roles? I can’t even.

In the essay called “MirrorMask: An Introduction,” he takes control of the narrative — which he does for so many things and inserts himself at the center of creation for it, as if he is the sole originator. When, really, he had a lot of collaborators, Dave McKean one of them. The evil mother in MirrorMask (2004) seemed so much like Coraline‘s Other Mother (2002) that I can’t help but see how he recycled ideas. I can’t help but see this man as the laziest, most idea-colonizing writer on the planet.

Why do we give him so much credit? Why?

Here’s some other reviews I agree with:

While Gaiman creates some marvellous and delightful inventions, his sentences are not awe-inspiring, and his politics and worldview can be superficial, tiptoeing towards off-putting.

 

I’m not trying to be mean; this is by the author’s own admission a collection of odds and ends. The problem is really that there are few essays or critiques and most of the works therein are the intros to other people’s books. Okay, but not particularly engaging. An interesting read for fans, but I doubt you’ll take it cover to cover.

 

This is a compendium of speeches and book introductions. It doesn’t really present a “view”, and in that sense the title is a little misleading, but most of the contents are good fun. There’s no denying that the man is outrageously eloquent – reading this book is as easy as surfing on butter. On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of repetition. Gaiman has a tendency to re-use his anecdotes. Also not everything included has been selected based on likelihood of general interest – for example his current partner, her music, and various bands take up at least four chapters. I had a bit of a problem with the extent to which Gaiman, as an author of fantasy novels and comic books, harps on about how wonderful and important the writers of fantasy novels and comic books are, but seeing how the man’s most famous creation, the Sandman, is a thinly disguised version of himself, I guess I should have expected it.

 

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