Book Reviews

The View from the Cheap Seats

March 16, 2017

The View from the Cheap Seats
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow Publishing
544 pages

Since beginning his career as a journalist in the early 1980s, Neil Gaiman’s work has been a testament to the adage, “a writer writes.” From the groundbreaking Sandman comic series and original graphic novels Mr. Punch, Violent Cases, and Signal to Noise, Gaiman has moved to short stories, novels, and movies including New York Times bestsellers American Gods, The Ocean at The End of the Lane, Trigger Warning, as well as the academy award nominated animated film Coraline. Gaiman’s writing seems to recognize no limitations by making a career of crossing genres and mediums to tell a story. The growing list of literary and creative honors he’s received point to his ability to successfully bridge audiences through words.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictions is Neil Gaiman’s first collection of selected nonfiction from the last twenty-five years. This volume includes not only essays and articles, but book introductions, album liner notes, transcriptions of award speeches and lectures, as well as creator profiles and tributes. At over five hundred pages, the book brings together eighty-four different pieces, many of them never collected in book form or appearing in print for the first time.

Divided into ten sections focusing on aspects of Gaiman’s creative and personal life, literature, comic creators, myth and fairy tales, the worlds of movies and music, and artistic responsibility are just some of the facets of his career and creativity these pieces explore.

Profiles of famous authors like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury sit comfortably next to essays on writing fantasy or science fiction; book and movie reviews stand shoulder to shoulder with essays discussing the dangers of censorship given at the PEN and National Book Awards; and tributes to legendary comic book creators such as Jack Kirby and Will Eisner are on equal footing alongside interviews with rock legends such as Lou Reed. “Make Good Art,” Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which went viral and gathered millions of views on YouTube has also been included.

The first section, “Some Things I Believe,” explores Gaiman’s ideas on literature and sets the tone for the rest of the book through the sheer variety of sources the pieces are collected from. Lectures, award speeches, essays and book introductions are some of the platforms he uses to argue the need for more libraries so children can nurture their imagination and love of learning; how comic books and graphic novels are bringing together readers from a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or the power that myths and fairy tales offer both starting and established writers. It is this range of work that gives the collection its creative momentum.

Equally as important, this section also establishes the theme that ties this collection together. In a transcript of his 2012 speech given at the annual Zena Sutherland Lecture on children’s literature, Gaiman reveals his inspiration for writing books, which could easily be the same reason for many other writers:  “I write stories to find out what I think about things.”  By the end of the section, the reader will begin to understand some of the questions fueling Gaiman ideas how stories can transform a life.

If the first section welcomes the reader into Gaiman’s thinking, by the last section, View from the Cheap Seat: Real Things, they will peer into the heart of the man through intimate profiles on those people nearest to him. The second piece in this section, “A Wilderness of Mirrors” opens with the question, “Who Am I?” This becomes the thread that weaves the profiles of Gaiman’s wife, famed musician and performance artist Amanda Palmer, his close friend, the recently deceased award-winning fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, and mentor C. Anthony Martignetti together. Through these people, Gaiman as a husband, father, friend, and student come together to offer the reader a glimpse of all the influences that shape the man behind the writer.

In many ways, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictions is the crossroads where fans from every area of Gaiman’s career can meet and discover works they never knew existed. Whether it is the transcript of a speech given at the University of Michigan discussing his love of British authors C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K Chesterton, an introduction to a biography on comic book icon Jack Kirby, an article from The New Statesman on freedom of speech, or the liner notes to an album by singer Tori Amos, Neil Gaiman’s love of words and ideas demonstrates that regardless of the medium, it is the story being told that matters above all else.

Carlos Alverio, Assistant Editor

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