Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats has a lot of merits, but I enjoyed it from an oddly personal angle. Don’t worry, this isn’t heading toward a weird place. Not too weird, anyway.
Gaiman has, more than once, expressed his earnest surprise at the popularity of his new nonfiction collection. In response to a fan on twitter who asserted Gaiman’s worldwide popularity as reason enough for The View from the Cheap Seats to be on the bestseller list, Gaiman responded, “Yes. People buy my novels, short stories and comics. Essays on reading etc are another matter.” I think I can shed some light on this, at least as far as my tastes are concerned.
I began being a fan of Gaiman’s work as a kid loitering at my local comic shop. I was a superhero fan. I loved Batman and The X-Men and eventually veered toward Hellboy and from there to discovering Alan Moore and Gaiman’s Sandman. I’ve read and reread his short story collections. I’ve read American Gods (original and expanded editions) multiple times and I can’t name any of his novels that have fallen completely flat for me. His fiction resonates with me. It is my favorite kind of genre fiction, genre fiction that isn’t terribly concerned with wearing the costumes of genre.
So, I’m a fan. But I’m not blind in my fandom. I’m not a driven collector of rare Gaiman works and the appeal of The View from the Cheap Seats isn’t coasting along on the momentum of the Gaiman brand.
I’m a writer. I do my best to crank out a few hundred words a day while keeping my day job and my sanity as best I can. I think of it as hard work, but work worth doing. Also, I can’t seem to stop doing it no matter what my view of the practice.
I read stories. I write stories. I have a master’s degree in literature. I am a certified word nerd. So, authors are important to me. As a result, I develop deep, personal relationships with people I’ve never met and people I’m not likely to meet. Hell, people I don’t necessarily want to meet. Also, as a reader and a creator, I more or less believe in the “kill your heroes” axiom. This means, no matter how much I might want or imagine a real-world personal connection to the authors I love, I don’t wait in long signing lines or mob them at conventions. What would I do? What would I say?
“Hi, I’m Jarod. I love your work. It’s important to me. I’m a writer too. Let’s talk about… oh? Yes… there are a lot of people waiting in this signing line with similar things to express… I’ll move along now.”
Truth be told, I’ve met authors I respect. I’ve had dinner with authors I respect, but the conversation is never what I’d hope. Talking shop is never what I hope.
And what kind of perfect-world conversation would I hope for with an author I admire, an author like Neil Gaiman? What sorts of insights would I hope for if I asked just the right questions in just the right ways? Well, I would want to hear the sorts of musings, thoughts, insights, and stories captured in The View from the Cheap Seats. I’d want stories about sitting in Stephen King’s guest house in Florida. I’d want to hear about the trials and tribulations of being a young journalist who wants to break into comics. I’d want to hear about working to find a foothold into fiction markets and navigating the twisting passages and pitfalls of the film industry.
Sure, this is a book of essays, interviews, speeches, and introductions, but it also reads a lot like the kinds of conversations I’d have at the bar with friends in grad school or fellow nerds around the gaming table (like those conversations, but more coherent and well-crafted). This book has a lot to teach, but it isn’t didactic or stale.
That, for me, is the real merit of this book. It has the feel of a thoughtful conversation with somebody I admire about ideas that are very important to me. I think that’s plenty of reason for The View from the Cheap Seats to be on your bookshelf and the bestseller list.