I was about 17, Soundgarden’s Superunknown was on repeat in my CD player and Doom II installed on my 486 PC, when I discovered Neil Gaiman. I don’t remember whether I first bought the beautiful German edition of “Death: The Cost of Living”, or, whether a friend who was a fellow gamer in the role-playing group I was game-mastering back then lent me his original Sandman comic books first. Whichever way, I was hooked on Gaiman’s work and I am to this day.
I know, he has become immensely popular since then, a cult figure who has more than 1.6 *million* followers on Twitter (including myself). It is easy to get into the “I was a fan before he was so popular”, or, “he was so much cooler when he was still underground“. I won’t do that, because, quite frankly, I still love and enjoy most of what he does and why should it affect my enjoyment when other people like the same things that I do? Of course, I would not postulate that everything he touches is automatically top-notch or gilded simply by virtue of being produced by Neil Gaiman. This is what happens frequently within cult followings of artists. It’s sad, because very often it will backfire and end up in people disliking someone’s works, just because they don’t want to be fan boys like everyone else. It is not fair to the works of an artist either way.
When I got his most recent book The Ocean at the End of the Lane I dreaded reading it for a couple of weeks. Firstly, because I wanted to be able to read it in reasonably long installments and secondly because I have been disappointed so often in the last few years: There were several books or music albums by artists that I liked and was so much looking forward to. Books and albums that I so much wanted to like, and which had then left me with, not always with real disappointment, but often a deep feeling of “meh”. I so wanted to be able to be excited about something again, to be… touched, or moved, for want of other less melodramatic words.
I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a quiet book, and not a big millennia-spanning -continent-shattering-fantasy-epic monster of a book (some of which I read and enjoyed, mind you). Of course, it’s a Gaiman, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. But it is also quite different from his previous works. Was it what I expected? Yes, and no. Which is a good thing, I reckon.
I also know that an informed and enlightened reader should be able to differentiate between the author and the work. I admit that I am not always able to. One of the reasons why, to my shame and most likely my loss, I have yet to read anything by Stanislaw Lem is that many years ago I read a few interviews and maybe glanced at an essay by him in which he came across as unbearably snobbish and arrogant, as if there were only two SF authors worth reading: Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem (maybe in reversed order). I was young and probably doing the man injustice, but for years I could not help myself. I could not bring myself to read anything by Lem. Oh, I do own books by him, but they are waiting, unread, for the day when my equally arrogant teenage self will finally forgive him.
Gaiman, on the other hand, is also one to voice his thoughts outside of his fiction. Often witty, and wise, and… humane. Plus, he never comes across like an arrogant snob. [Mind you, I have seen him do a reading once. He can be absolutely terrifying when mobile phones go off and photographers keep clicking away when he is in the middle of reading.*] In fact, he often says things in his non-fiction that touch me, and make me stop and think, and in a weird way re-assure me that the things that I loved, and cherished, and made up a big part of who I was and who I became since I was the boring smart kid who studied English harder than anyone else in class because I wanted to be able to read AD&D rulebooks, are still okay to love and cherish even if in different more mature ways. Thank Goodness, I am not that kid or teenager anymore, but I can still see a direct line from that 12-year-old to the thirty-something-old me. In a way, I find that highly comforting.
Why did I go on this rambling, nostalgic Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Nerd? Well, first, it’s what the cool kids used to do in the blogosphere, ages ago, back in 2005 or so. (I never was the cool kid and never caught up it seems.)
Secondly, because I have just read one of those Gaiman non-fiction pieces, that make me realise that the man I am today can still agree with the author who took him to weird headspaces when I was a teen.
Neil Gaiman on why should, nay, must read fiction and encourage others to read fiction. Go read it. And then go and read some fiction.
*The guy, whose phone went off was mortified. He was telling his friends that it was his work phone which he had forgotten to turn off, because who would call him on his work phone on a Friday night anyway? Poor sod…
To the photographer: That’s when you should consider getting a quiet rangefinder camera! Leica for the win! 😉