7 Reasons To Read 'The View From The Cheap Seats'

by Charlotte Ahlin

Neil Gaiman is best known for his fiction. In Neil Gaiman's stories, ancient gods walk among us, small boys are raised in graveyards, oceans can fit in ordinary ponds, and Dream Kings sulk over ex-girlfriends. His stories are not necessarily untrue (who hasn't made fleeting eye contact with a man on the subway who seems to be older than time itself, or a barista who might very well be a goddess of love reborn?). But they are, undeniably, fiction. The View From the Cheap Seats is hefty new collection of nonfiction, which is, nonetheless, still a magical, unsettling, inspiring tome of the sort only Neil Gaiman could possibly write.

The View From the Cheap Seats is made up of over sixty essays, introductions, and speeches—not a complete collection of his nonfiction by any means. Rather, like his greatest fiction, it's a patchwork of the best bits. Only this time, instead of weaving together legends and fairy tales and the DC Universe, he's pulled together his own remarks and insights from across the years to create something bigger than the sum of its chapters. The book starts off the with headier stuff, the musings on genre and the importance of libraries, and then sneaks up on you with the emotional punches to the gut.

So here are seven reasons to get excited about The View From the Cheap Seats, out May 31, because seven seems like a potent number, and this is certainly a powerful book:

1. It’s the new Neil Gaiman book

If you're already a Neil Gaiman fan, you need no convincing. This book may be nonfiction, but it still has all the dizzying insight of his more fantastical writing. If you're not a Neil Gaiman fan, then this is the perfect time to try and figure out what all your friends who wear all that eyeliner have been talking about for years. Even without reading his comics, novels, and short stories (which you most certainly should), The View From the Cheap Seats has a lot to say on everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Bacchus to the boom and bust cycles of tulip sales to watching the Dresden Dolls perform live on Halloween.

2. It's nonfiction

The dedicated fiction-lover can be a little wary around nonfiction. Nonfiction is, in general, lighter on the elves and heavier on the grim constraints of reality. But if you've ever wanted to read your favorite author writing about his favorite authors, that's in here. If you want an impassioned argument about why we need libraries, and why comics are real art, and why fairy tales are for adults too, that's in here. There are anecdotes about a boyhood among books and about meeting and working with some of the greatest writers and artists of our time. Nonfiction has its benefits.

3. Insight into science fiction, comics, and fairy tales galore

If you love Neil Gaiman, chances are you love quite a lot of fiction about magical circumstances and distant worlds (some of which exist right under our noses). The View From the Cheap Seats is not exclusively a book about writing, or about any one genre. But it does present musings on the nature of sci-fi, the ups-and-downs of the comics industry, and the importance of fairy tales. It touches on the Brothers Grimm as well as Doctor Who. For anyone who loves stories and the people who tell them, this book jerks back the curtain just a bit, to let you see the gears at work behind the worlds of science fiction and fantasy.

4. It’s full of tributes to brilliant authors and creators

Diana Wynne Jones. Douglas Adams. Terry Pratchett and his Discworld. The View From the Cheap Seats is full to the brim with essays and introductions about some of the most brilliants writers and artists to ever put pen to paper. There's bound to be at least one piece of writing on an author you love that will remind you just why you love them. And there's bound to be at least one piece of writing on an author you've never even heard of, that will spark your curiosity. And then you'll go out and discover that you do love that author as well, you just never would have known that you loved them if you hadn't heard of them first in this book.

5. Bits and pieces about Neil Gaiman’s actual real life

Now let me be clear: this book is not a memoir, or any sort of official autobiography. We'll have to keep waiting for that one. But The View From the Cheap Seats does include fragments from Neil Gaiman's life: how he was infected with an incurable love of sci-fi at a young age, how he began as a journalist, how he stumbled across the many clever people who would become his collaborators and mentors and friends. And, of course, that one time he went to the Oscars and sat in the cheap seats.

6. The Amanda Palmer essays

If you've been living in exile and this article is your first contact with civilization in some years, then you might not know that Neil Gaiman is married to the musician Amanda Palmer. Or you might be obsessively following their relationship and cooing over pictures of their new baby right at this moment. Either way, the pieces of writing about Palmer and her performances stand out as some of the most real, fantastical, beautifully crafted essays in the book.

7. It's stuffed with inspiration

Inspiration practically oozes out the sides. It's not a self-help book anymore than it is an autobiography or the next installment of Sandman, but so many of Neil Gaiman's essays and speeches are pure inspiration. Some pieces will inspire you to read a new author, or a new genre. Some will inspire you to be a new author, or create a new genre. Nearly all will inspire you to find or make new art. And what more could you ask from a collection of nonfiction, than to rouse you to go out and do something in the real world?

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