The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Published in 2016
Genre: Nonfiction, short essays
“I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up.”
Neil Gaiman is a writer who has worked in many types of media; literature, comics, film, and visual arts just to name a few. In his collection of selected nonfiction, The View from the Cheap Seats, he has compiled a mass of personal writing that covers everything from his favorite musicians to how comics and libraries affected him as a writer and human being. For those who have been blessed to visit his Sandman comics, his novels, and seen films based on his writing, this book is a revealing glimpse into the mind of the man who made them all.
The book’s subtitle of “selected nonfiction” describes exactly what lies within its pages; it contains essays, introductions, speeches, and other nonfiction pieces written for magazines and periodicals. The View from the Cheap Seats is comprised of various sections: “Some Things I Believe”, “Some People I Have Known”, “Science Fiction”, “Films”, “Comics”, “Music”, “Fairy Tales”, and a personal section at the end. The first of these describes his views on libraries, fiction, and horror, while the rest are rather self-explanatory. The last section, the first piece of which shares its title with the book, deals with the most personal subjects. Gaiman’s friendships, relationships, and personal experiences are all discussed and give the clearest picture as to the man behind the books.
Gaiman’s voice really shines through in his writing; reading this book is comparable to listening to him speak during interviews or readings. His cadence is found within the words while the themes and stories carry along in their sections, especially in keynote speeches. Though some recollections are shared in consecutive pieces, they do not become repetitive, but rather speak to a consistency in Gaiman’s convictions. The end of each segment tells where and when the piece was originally published, as well as any alterations made for its inclusion in the book. The book is filled with recommendations of artists, writers, musicians, and creators that leave an impressive list compiled by the end.
As someone who has read all of Gaiman’s novels, the Sandman comics, and some of his short stories, it was a wonderful experience to get a look behind the scenes in the process of his writing, especially that of American Gods. The pieces of writing compiled for this collection were well-thought out and come together to create a singular book that shares the personality of one of the best authors in modern literature. It contained some of my favorites, like his “Make Good Art” commencement speech and his description of going to the Oscars in 2010, while introducing me to other works that I may not have otherwise experienced.
Many who dislike Gaiman’s work often don’t care for his personal voice and tendency to avoid rigid story structures; I think this is what makes his prose so compelling. This book isn’t a comprehensive history of the author, like The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell, nor is it just a smattering of articles pasted together in order to publish for the paycheck. It is a dedicated and powerful expression of one of the most inventive writers in modern times. Each writer must find their own voice, and if an aspiring one such as myself were looking for a book that pulls back a corner of the curtain of an idol’s psyche, they could do much worse than taking in The View from the Cheap Seats.
Verdict: 4 essential essays out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Neil Gaiman, those who enjoy reading an author with a clear voice, fans of comic books, fans of reading, those who like libraries, anyone looking for a copy of Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech, and fans of reading nonfiction written by fantasy authors.
Not recommended for: Those who dislike comics, those who dislike nonfiction written by fantasy authors, or Leslie Knope and the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee.