For the many fans of Neil Gaiman the publication of The View from the Cheap Seats, a collection of Gaiman’s selected non-fiction, must feel at least a little bit like a childhood Christmas morning: the anticipation of unwrapping a selection of presents one by one, excitedly discovering their contents – and just like a good Father Christmas, Gaiaman does not disappoint. Inside the cover of this sizeable book is a collection of more than sixty essays, addresses, columns, articles and other types of musings that make commentary and tells stories about reading, writing and living.
The quote on the front cover by Caitlin Moran that “if this book came to you during a despairing night, by dawn you would believe in ideas and hope and humans again” is no hyperbole – Gaiman truly does write about the world in a way that makes art, literature and popular culture seamlessly relevant and inclusive. Never tied to one genre, Gaiman’s writing has included graphic novels, ghost stories, script writing, journalism, audio theatre and collaborations with other authors, including Terry Pratchett for the fantasy novel Good Omen. Gaiman’s accolades have included numerous literary awards as well as adaptations for TV, film and radio.
In The View from the Cheap Seats (the title is taken from an article written for the Guardian about attending the 2010 Oscars in a second-tier capacity) Gaiman writes about writing and about the act of falling in love with reading at a young age, and falling in love with the idea of one day being “a writer.” Potentially giving hope to aspiring writers everywhere, and re-affirming the act of reading as a way to learn, a way to heal, and a way to process ideas, Gaiman knows the power of words, and continuously questions how words shape reality for society. The power of words is obvious in his discussions and reviews of famous authors and novels, in his plea to “make good art” and in his reviews of “music and the people who make it”; but it is also present in more “serious” topics, such as his article on the Syrian refugee crisis in “So many ways to die in Syria”, or his take on how to raise literate children in “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”.
Having said that The View from the Cheap Seats is a treasure trove for fans of Gaiman’s literature, there is much here to also delight and intrigue any first-time reader of Gaiman’s writing – the size and scope of the collection means that this is the perfect book to delve into from time to time, maybe when you need a bit of inspiration, a bit of substance and a bit of reassurance that the world is not as cynical and superficial as it might sometimes seem.