On Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorNeil Gaiman. What can I say about Neil? Well, a lot, so hold onto your butts because I’ll likely be zigzagging across topics as I talk about how Neil has influenced my life. First, let’s give a brief description of the man himself, or neilhimself as his Twitter handle is aptly named. Neil Gaiman was a largely successful writer by the time I discovered who he was. He began as a journalist. Then he worked in comics and then in fiction and then television and film and pretty much any creative field you could imagine that involves putting words on paper at any stage. This is a slight exaggeration of course and his career did not simply go in that order or that easily. To put it simply, Neil has never been limited by one genre, subject, or medium. His stories vary greatly from kids books to mythology to religious satire to nonfiction. He has been immensely successful and rightfully so. He can be considered a celebrity author. Someone whose name is larger than their works. Someone whose careers have exploded and grown to a size where a large portion of the human population would recognize them or at least one of their works.

I discovered Neil’s work long before I discovered who he was. I was a fan before I knew where to direct my appreciation. I honestly can’t remember when or where I first discovered who Neil was as a person, but I think the first work of his that I ever came across was the movie adaptation of his book Stardust. I did not see the movie in theaters. I think my family had rented it (which is somewhat an already dated subject since everything is streamed nowadays, but to my credit it was a dvd we rented and not a vhs at least). Anyway, I absolutely enjoyed the film for various reasons. It has a great cast, possibly my favorite role by Robert De Niro, and it is infinitely creative and quirky and just downright fun. I never knew the movie was based on a book.

The first book I read by Neil was, if I remember correctly, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It came in out in 2013 but I think I picked it up around 2015. I picked this book up because I was looking for a shorter book to read it seemed interesting. It was at this time that I first discovered Neil as the person behind the books, and also when I realized that he wrote Stardust. I enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane and was definitely ready to read more of Neil’s work but I did not dive in, as I have done with other authors I like. There was something different about this author. I strange draw that pulled me in but didn’t make me want to dive down the rabbit hole.

I once talked about Neil on this blog about two years ago when I was first getting started and trying to figure out exactly what this blog would become. I’m really happy with how it has turned out with the book recommendations and my own stories that I share and now this section where I discuss those who influence me. Even back then, after I had read his recently published Norse Mythology book, I couldn’t help but maintain that feeling of reserved admiration. I began becoming more interested in the man instead of his works. In my defense, if such a thing is needed, Neil is an extremely interesting person and an absolute joy to listen to. And this is where I veer off on a few tangential stories. Please indulge me.

The first is the most recent. I only just began my journey into audiobooks. I don’t know why I hesitated but I just enjoy having a physical book in my hands and reading the words. The first audiobook I ever tried, which convinced me I could enjoy this medium, was Neil’s The View from the Cheap Seats. Again, it greatly helped that it was read by Neil and he has a lovely British accent that you can just listen to all day. The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of nonfiction that covers many different topics. Ironically enough, I had bought a physical copy of this book when it was first published in 2016. I remember the day specifically. Early in the week it was to be released, I had seen on Twitter that Neil posted a list of independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of this book. I checked the list and found that only one store in my state would have such copies. To my very exciting surprise, that particular bookstore was just down the road from the university where I worked. So, when the day came for the book to go on sale, I took an early lunch and went down to hopefully pick up a copy. I remember finding out they were only to receive ten signed copies and I was lucky enough to get one. Ironically again, I did not read the book in its entirety until I listened to the audio version. Life can be funny sometimes.

I’ve heard the story of how Neil met Diana Wynne Jones a few times. I think once was in the audio book and another may have been in an interview I watched online. It was such a chance meeting and one that grew into a great friendship and I often imagine myself becoming friends with Neil, and other authors, in a similar way. He is at a hotel bar sitting alone probably working on something and I find the courage to introduce myself and tell him I enjoy his books and we become great writing friends. A fledgling writer can dream of such influential encounters. Though this may never happen (nothing is impossible), I did get a chance to go see him in person. I never got to speak to him directly or even get within 100 feet, but I was able to sit in the same room as the man and listen to him talk about a great many things and read a few things from his published works.

There is a story about this encounter too because it was not easy getting into that room to see him. The event was first publicly announced perhaps six months to a year before it was to happen. I discovered it on Twitter (a really handy platform). It was to take place at Kansas University. I kept checking every few months to see if tickets were available and wasn’t entirely sure it was going to take place because it wasn’t officially posted on the site. Eventually it was and they announced the event was going to be free. Even better, right? It was free and anyone could pick up free tickets, limit of two per person, if they picked them up from the Lied Center of Kansas. The problem was, though this was the closest he was to come to my home town, at least to my knowledge, it was still nearly 4 hours away. Tickets were to be released on a weekday. I thought of taking off work to drive up there and grabbing a few tickets then driving all the way back to make it to work for the next day. Eight hours of driving for a few tickets. I almost did it. But first I talked to every one of my friends who lived in Kansas City, which was about 45 minutes to an hour away from the center. None of them could get the tickets due to work obligations and that they couldn’t make it up there in time even after they got off work because the center would be closed or the tickets would be gone. I think the tickets did “sell out” that morning. Well, to my luck again, I also have family who live in that area and my aunt knew some people who lived near the center. Her friends were able to snag a few tickets for myself and even a few extra so I could bring some friends. So I had the tickets. But of course the event itself was an evening event. On a weekday.

An Evening with Neil Gaiman to call it exactly as it was publicized. I took a half day off work, hopped on the highway with my mom accompanying me and letting me get some sleep for the long day ahead, picked up my father-in-law halfway there, stopped at my aunts to pick up the tickets and drop my mom off to hang out with her brothers, then drove the rest of the way to the center where I would meet my other friends before going in (they ended up arriving a bit late but I got them their tickets and all was well). Anyway, the event starts at 7pm, or 7:30pm, I can’t remember exactly, and we sit and listen and have fun until around 9pm or 9:30pm. Again I can’t remember because it was some time ago. Afterwards, I had intended on hitting the road to get back home so I could work the next day. I found my friends after the event and we hung out and caught up since we hadn’t seen each other in awhile. While we chatted, the line to buy books dwindled and we hopped in line to make a few purchases. I hadn’t planned on buying anything since I had brought a large bag of his books I already owned in the small chance he would have done any signing. But there were pre-signed copies for sale. I really hoped to snag his new book Art Matters, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which was set to release the very next day. This was November 2018. A signed copy would have been great, but I had pre-ordered the book so I was already getting a copy. When we arrived at the register, only a few copies remained and I picked up signed copies of a few books I already owned. These were Norse Mythology (I did like the paperback version anyway, my first copy was hardback) and American Gods in paperback which I also had originally in hardback. This copy had the television cover on it though. My friends and I paid for our books and my ever patient father-in-law was hanging about having discussions with strangers and waiting on me. I said goodbye to my friends and set out on the ride home. First to pick up my mom, then to drop off my father-in-law, then finish the drive that ended with me getting into bed close to 4am and having to be at work the next day at 8am. Needless to say, I was very tired that next day, but it was worth the experience to see someone you admire.

I bought my father-in-law a copy of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I had not read the book yet at the time but knew the premise. He had bought me The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which I had recently read and therefore thought he would enjoy Good Omens. I was right. I went on to read the book as well not long afterwards. The weekend the television adaptation of that book came out, he was in town visiting and we binge-watched all six episodes and loved it. I might even like the adaptation better than the original book, but they are each great and compliment each other in ways that make the experience of each version collectively greater.

When it was announced that Neil was doing a Masterclass, a program I had never heard of previously, I of course found out about it (probably from Twitter) and my amazing wife bought me an all-access pass for my birthday. I of course took his course first and liked it and I have started taking other writing courses on the platform and am learning great things and discovering other authors and areas to learn more. I’ve learned about and discovered many different authors and books from Neil. Many simply from him talking about them. Many books I have gone on to read while several remain in my to-read pile.

Neil Gaiman has been a large influence in my creative life. Especially for only being a part of it for a handful of years. I imagine he will remain an influence throughout my life. I have yet to get through his collective works. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. Regardless, I am extremely grateful to him. He is a phenomenally nice, genuine person. Though I have never known him personally (I still hold onto the hopes of meeting him one day), I know enough about him from stories by other people, and through interviews and his Masterclass and stories of his interactions with fans, to know that I would probably admire him even more for having met him. It is strange to be influenced more by the man than by his works, especially in this field and when not knowing him personally, but nonetheless this is the case with this particular author. I have deep respect for him and always wish him well. I hope you can discover him and come to enjoy him in your own way if you have not done so already.

On Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersPatrick Rothfuss is the author of The Kingkiller Chronicles series, which I would say, in my honest opinion, is the best epic fantasy story written in the past 20 years. I know there is a lot out there and maybe a few can refute that claim, but I have not read or heard about any of them. And I can always go back to the “well-written” aspect of my claim. These books are extremely well-written and I found myself impressed with the wordplay and structure as much as the story itself. Before I start fawning over the work, let me tell you about the man behind them.

I first discovered Pat (as many of his fans call him) about two and half years ago when I happened across a video on Twitter. I had just started a Twitter account and was kind of looking around and learning the ropes and discovering the amazing writing community on there. Ironically, I let those on Twitter pick my next post for my On Authors section and they chose Patrick Rothfuss. The video was actually promoting another book by another author who I hate to say I had forgotten until I began thinking about writing this post about Pat. I actually saw a book by this author on display and it helped me remember. Her name is Sabaa Tahir and her books are now, as they should have been, on my TBR list. Anyway, the video was Sabaa and Pat simply sitting down and having a chat and answering some questions in what is probably the most laid back and fun “interview” that I have seen by a writer (or pair of authors). I remembered hearing the name Patrick Rothfuss coming up here and there, mostly on Twitter. I watched this video and thought: Wow, this guy seems super cool. I’ll look into what he has written and check him out. 

So about six or eight months go by and I get more reminders about these books (I did follow him on Twitter after all), so I pick up the first one. It is not a small volume. I start reading it and am unsure for the first few chapters but it is setting up the world the story inhabits so I stick it out and fall right in. I literally fell hard into this book. I devoured it, and the sequel, in less than a month. All while I was working on my MFA and working full time. The first book, The Name of the Wind, was released in 2007 and clocks in at just over 250,000 words. The second, The Wise Man’s Fear, came out in 2011 and was just under 400,000. A third book is still in the works as of now but there are a few supplemental works that go along with the main story. These include A Slow Regard of Silent Things which is a novella about the beloved, innocent, and mysterious character Auri, and “The Lightning Tree” which is a short story about Bast, a scoundrel character that you like but are a bit wary about. I quickly read these two additions as well. There is nothing quite like A Slow Regard of Silent Things either. It is of course dependent upon the knowledge of at least the first book of the series, but it could possibly be read on its own. It may be a bit confusing that way though. Either way, it is endearing and…well…quite unique.

The Kingkiller Chronicles jumped way up on my list of favorite reads. Pat’s books are the first I’ve bought specifically for the purpose of giving away just to introduce friends to his work. I joined a Facebook group of fans and they all love these books probably more than me. Some have read the series dozens of times. I’ve only read through them once but will be re-reading them when the third book is announced to come out. These people love Pat and some have even seen him at expos and events and they all share their love of the story and it is just a fantastic group to be a part of even though I don’t participate much. I just love seeing all the stuff they talk about and the group keeps everyone informed about related news.

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The first book recommendation I wrote was for The Name of the Wind and it was a grossly underwhelming recommendation. I updated it to slightly amend that negligence, but it will always fall short. It does have a bigger version of this picture (right) which I bought from Litographs. It is made from the entire text of the first book. All 250,000+ words. Yeah, that picture is made from the words of the book (see below). It goes pretty much floor to ceiling but it’s awesome. I had to build the frame specifically for the poster. I think I may have gotten a link to it from the Facebook group. Anyway, it is always great to find fellow fans.20180107_165630.jpg

 

Now, there are some people who have been criticizing Pat for how long it is taking for book three to come out. I wrote a post that will be up soon about “fan etiquette” that discusses the last season of Game of Thrones so I won’t go into my “be a good fan” speech here. Instead I will simply say that I understand their frustration but I also understand Pat’s situation. His first book became a bestseller, and rather quickly. He even talks about writing sequels in the video above with Sabaa. He is a thorough writer and I do not mind waiting for book three or anything he works on for that matter. He is incredibly talented and I have an inkling that book three will be even larger than book two. It will probably destroy its readers emotionally as well. As good stories do. Book three does have a supposed title which is The Doors of Stone. Pat says he will provide us the book when it is ready. I can’t wait but I will, patiently, as should everyone.

Pat does a lot outside of his writing as well. He streams videogames and interacts with fans and talks about the world he built. He has even done a video of pronunciations of words, names, and places in his books. These pronunciations are also included in the 10th anniversary edition of The Name of the Wind. The video is actually hosted on the Youtube page of the charity organization he is a part of called Worldbuilders. They have some awesome things that they sell to raise money for their charity (I think Pat’s streams also are often for this organization; I’m not sure since I’ve only seen tidbits). I bought a few mugs from Worldbuilders that were replicas from an important tavern in the books. It is called the Eolian. The mugs are well made. I encourage you to check this charity out since they have a lot of cool, nerdy stuff from a lot of other series, writers, and talented people. They do a lot of cool things to help make the world a better place too. Speaking of talented people, Lin-Manuel Miranda is actually working on an adaptation of The Kingkiller Chronicles for television. Rumors are that it will actually be a prequel (?) to the first book. I’m not sure about the story, but I’m sure it will be great to see this world created for the screen which is always a hard thing to do.

On to the reason I started this little series, or section, of my blog. What does Patrick Rothfuss mean to me? Well, he means quite a bit as I’m sure he means a lot to others who are fans of his work. He is not just an author who wrote a story I can lose myself in though. I don’t know him personally or know much about his personal life as I do other authors, but unlike several other authors I have been influenced or inspired by, he is alive and well and actively participating in the world. It is easier and less intrusive to learn about the life of someone after they are gone. However, I am okay not knowing personal details. Especially about people still rocking it. For me, Pat is an inspiration for my own aspirations. His mastery of storytelling is something I can aim toward. He does great things outside of his writing as I hope I can or am doing.  I hope one day I have a chance to meet him. Perhaps if I get off my butt and finish a few books I might get that chance. If not, I’ll always have his books.

The View from the Cheap Seats

neil-gaiman-the-view-from-the-cheap-seatsThe View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman is a book of selected nonfiction that is, simply, a delight. I picked this book up when it was first published. I’d come across one of Neil’s tweets that listed all the independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of the book upon release. I scoured the list and found there was one bookshop in my state, the state of Missouri, that would have them, and to my outstanding luck it was just down the road from where I worked. The bookstore, Main Street Books located in St. Charles, would receive 10 copies. The day it came out, I took my lunch hour a bit earlier than usual, and went down to see if I could grab a copy. My luck held out and I nabbed one of the few. I was uncertain how many other fans may have been privy to the information of first edition signed copies of Neil’s new book. I wasn’t sure if many people in the area were Neil Gaiman fans. After purchasing my copy I remember wondering these things and, if my memory serves correctly, I spread the word so people knew. I brought the book home with me after work and subsequently read the first handful of pages, about 50, and for some reason did not pick it up again.

Until two weeks ago when I was about to catch a flight home from a vacation in the Dominican Republic. I had a paperback book I’d been reading on the vacation and on the first flight back, but the second flight would be dark and my eyes wanted a rest from the dry, circulated air of the airplane, so I downloaded the audiobook of The View from the Cheap Seats from my library back home through the convenient app. The audio-book version is read by Neil himself. This was my first audio-book experience and I’m glad to say it may have been the perfect introduction for me to this format. I listened to the book for the entirety of the flight home. I began listening to it on my commute and sometimes while at my desk working. I recently finished it, while doing yard work, which is why I am writing this recommendation. Or rather, I am recommending this book to you now not simply because I finished it, but because I think it is a great book and it is filled with fun and is extremely informative.

This book is filled with material that spans decades and talks about a great many things. It talks about writing, writers, music, books, people, the importance of art, the importance of genres and different types of storytelling including comic books and film. This book is filled with Neil’s experiences and his experience. There is a lot to be learned.  A section of this book contains a plethora of introductions. Introductions that were written by Neil for other books. Introductions that will inevitably provide you with a decent amount of books to add to your list to read, as I have added to mine.

Neil talks about a great many people in this book. Well, he had talked about them a long time ago originally and the pieces of writing were chosen to be included in this volume. If I had read this book back when it was first published, I would have known about Gene Wolfe long before I first discovered him. I have not read any of Gene Wolfe but his books are now on my list, and I am looking forward to reading them. I hate to say I first discovered Gene Wolfe when news of his passing was released a handful of weeks ago. Reading about who he was and what he wrote made me fond of this man I never knew and, now, will never know. I read an article that Neil retweeted claiming it was a good article about Gene. I wish I would have known about him earlier. He lived only a few hours drive from where I live now and I’ve already daydreamed my way into a world where I read his books long ago and fell in love with them and actually made a trip to meet him. Something I’ve never done. I’d be hesitant about doing so even in the dream, but he would be nice as so many have said he was.

One of the things I think I’ve learned from this book is to go out and make more connections with people. Neil tells stories of how he first met many authors who would become lifelong friends, and I am inspired to get out and make some friends of my own. I lack friends who write and I want to have more discussions about writing and I want to have even more discussions about life from the ever-observant type of person who is often a writer. Neil’s story of meeting Diana Wynne Jones seems to be mere happenstance, but what an incredible chance it was and even more incredible how quickly they became friends. I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones after finding out the Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle was based on her book of the same name. I quickly read the book and loved it and added many more of Diana’s books on my list to read. Even so, Neil gave me another book of hers to add to my list. One I’d never heard about until he talked about it in this volume.

He talks about many people he has met throughout his life and he talks about books that inspired him and he really talks about the books that influenced him as a boy. He talks about his journey into becoming a writer of fiction that began in journalism. He talks about how he wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett by mailing each other floppy discs and calling each other over the phone. Much of what he talks about is nostalgic. Things he discusses have changed since he first wrote about them. The world is much different now that it had been back then. He talks about changes occurring in the comic industry well before comic-book movies became a worldwide phenomenon. The book is not outdated by any means. It is filled with life and love and stories.

There is much to learn from this selected nonfiction. There is much fun to be had. It is inspiring whether you read it in print or listen to Neil’s melodious voice read it to you. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are a writer or not. I dare say it is interesting even if you aren’t even interested in books. This volume is filled with experiences. Yes, many of which mention books and are related to story-telling, but he talks about music and people and things he believes in. These writings are themselves stories, and collected in a way to become something even more.

Happy Reading.

On J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorI recently watched the Tolkien biopic and it reminded me of my own enthusiasm for words. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and wished it would have covered more of his life, but my own research and reading will have to suffice. However, it did inspire me to begin a new section of this blog where I will write about authors and their significance to me. There are many authors I’ve wanted to write about and share, and I have recommended many of their books, but I have never really talked about them directly. That is all about to change. The first author I shall discuss is one who has played a significant role in my life and someone I do feel I have cheated as far as recognition on this web page. An error soon to be corrected.

John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien has influenced more than just the millions of people who read his work when it was first published. He changed storytelling forever and was a loud voice for the acceptance of fantastical stories as serious, or popular, literature. Like many others, I have been fascinated with the man since I was a boy. I first read The Hobbit when I was perhaps 9 or 10 years old. I quickly read The Lord of the Rings (LotR) shortly after. I can remember, quite vividly, the exact moment I finished the trilogy. It was summer and I was stuck in a church where my mother worked as a daycare teacher. There weren’t any kids around and I wasn’t entirely sure what obligations brought us there. I could only remember sitting in a short hallway between two classrooms as I read the final chapters of The Return of the King in an old copy that my father passed on to me which he had bought as a kid. On the top right of the cover was the printed cost of $1.25. For a mere $5 he had gotten the trilogy and its prequel. I still have the set sitting carefully on my bookshelf. Fairly worn and slightly discolored from sunlight. The cover of the last novel has a slight tear. All bearing cover images probably first drawn in the 1930’s. I will treasure these books for many reasons. One is the story they contain and the impact it had on me. Another is the fact that my father gave them to me. He has introduced me to several significant stories and I like to think I’ve come to an age and read enough to finally return the favor.

But back to the short hallway between classrooms. The walls were white-painted cinder blocks and there was a chair and a desk. I was leaning back in the chair with one foot on the desk as I read the final words. I remember sitting forward and contemplating the meaning of that ending or, rather, what it meant that there was no more of the story for me to read and what the completion of this story meant to me. It was one of the first times I’d ever had to simply sit and think after reading a book. To let the finality of it sink in and weave itself into the threads of my life experiences.

These books have influenced much of the fantasy that has been written since their publication, but Tolkien himself was influenced by much that was written well before his own time. I think it would be ignorant to say that Tolkien is the father of fantasy or that all fantasy writers must read him if they wish to be taken seriously. In fact, V.E. Schwab gives and excellent Tolkien Lecture where she proudly states that she has never read his work. She makes some excellent points about many doorways into the realms of the fantastic. Tolkien is just one of them. A large one that has ushered generations in, but, as Gimli would say, “it still only counts as one.”

My initial fascination with LotR was partly influenced by the movies directed by Peter Jackson. I remember, again vividly, attending the first movie in a tiny, three-screen theater in Marysville, Kansas. The nearest movie theater to Hanover, Kansas, where my grandparents live. I had not read the books at this time and did not know much of what was going on, but I loved it. I distinctly remember having to leave the theater to use the restroom and while waiting to enter the small restroom, I sneaked glimpses through a cracked door as I shuffled my feet at the pain of a full bladder. The scene was the infamous defense of Merry and Pippin by Boromir, and Aragorn’s showdown with the Uruk-hai captain Lurtz. I quickly learned how to control my bodily functions after that and was easily able to hold it in during the lengthy movies. Including the final installment, which I watched with my father after he came home from work and asked if we wanted to go see it that opening night and I of course said yes. His parents had come in town that evening and I felt bad leaving my grandparents home (they declined the invitation if I remember correctly) while we went off to see The Return of the King at a much bigger theater than where I’d seen the first movie. I made the mistake of drinking most of a gigantic soda during the previews but I rallied through the 3+ hours, willing myself to hold it in, as I watched the brilliance of film-making unfold with extreme detail the epic of Tolkien’s work. I can’t think of how many times I’ve seen those movies. In fact, I feel a re-watch coming again soon. The extended versions of course.

I remember these specific moments because they have become important to me as some of the first experiences I had with the magic Tolkien wrote. The movies had almost as much influence as the text itself having first been released when I was 10 years old. The brilliance, awe-inspiring magic of it left many impressions on a malleable mind. I was hooked. I had walked through a grand archway into a new world of possibilities. I wanted to create stories like these. Tolkien’s work wasn’t the first to make me want to create stories, but it was definitely an example of the type of stories I wanted to write. Of course I wanted to write about the magic and the dragons and the battles, but more than that I wanted to create stories that would impact people. Stories that would stay with them. Inspire them. It is a dream I am still chasing today, but I am much closer than I was at age 11. I have a story published after all. Somewhere out there in the world is a one-page story that someone may happen across and enjoy. I’ve also written many things. Most of which will never see the light of day, but I’ve written and continue to write. I may not have the fascination with languages that Tolkien himself had. I simply have a fascination with words and stories. If you are reading this, I imagine you do to.

Another unexpected thing that comes from a story becoming massively popular is what is known today as a fandom. There are many now and some contain toxic elements but they all originate from a love of a fictional world or the characters that inhabit it. I cannot imagine how many people have become friends because of a common interest in a book. Especially LotR. Stephen Colbert is a super nerd when it comes to Tolkien and his works. I like Stephen Colbert. Even though I probably shall never meet him (I would jump on any opportunity to do so), I know with certainty that I would have the subject of any of Tolkien’s works to fall back on as a topic of conversation should I ever mumble my way past a simple introduction before he walked off to continue his busy life. I know this about Stephen because he turned his entire set of The Colbert Show into a Hobbit hole and wore prosthetic Hobbit feet for the entire week he interviewed Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, and others from the then soon-to-be-released Hobbit movies.

I received the Ring of Barahir, also known as Aragorn’s ring worn in the movies, as a gift when I was in high school. I’ve worn it every day since. It is a more obscure LotR item than those hanging in my office as I type this; which include a map of Middle-Earth, Gimli’s Axe & helmet, Legolas’s short swords, Aragorn’s sword (Narsil before it was broken and remade, aka Elendil’s sword), and a cardboard cutout of Ian McKellen as Gandalf from a standee I took home from when I worked at a movie theater. I am a big fan. I even visited several of the filming locations for the movies when I studied for a semester in New Zealand. I am also listening to the movie score as I am typing this. Whenever someone comments on my ring, I let them know where it is from, but when someone recognizes it, I have an instant common interest with that person and we can give each other a smile of appreciation for having similar tastes. This is an incredible thing. It often goes unnoticed how easy it is to have something in common with a complete stranger. This is just one of the things stories can do, and LotR was an extremely popular story that had an enormous fandom well before I experienced it or even knew it existed. It had shaped the lives of so many people before reaching me and it will continue to do so.

I mentioned earlier that I had cheated Tolkien regarding recognition on this blog. In my book recommendations, I never really recommended The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Instead I wrote a recommendation for a biography of the Tolkien and referenced the other titles in it because I felt like it was cheating to recommend one of my favorite books, especially a series that has been popular for over 80 years. I can’t tell you why I felt that way but I know it was stupid of me to feel that way. I should never hold back like that. (Neither should you for that matter. If you like something, don’t be afraid to let others know about it. Say “hi” to that person wearing the shirt or who has a tattoo of your favorite show or movie or book.) Let this post be a remedy for my mistake. J.R.R. Tolkien had no idea his work would take the world by storm. He never liked the attention it brought him either. I’ve read much of his work and have an entire shelf filled with volumes containing only his name. I know I can always go back and re-read LotR and enjoy it. I intend to. I’ve only read it two or three times in the last 15 years. But there are many other books I still need to read. Other worlds to discover. Other author’s works to fall in love with and expand my opportunity of having more interests that align with a greater number of people. Perhaps one day I will be able to walk outside and talk to anyone about a book we have both read.

Perhaps one day I will finish a few of my own books and have people talk about my work. Maybe they will find new friends because I created something they enjoyed enough to discuss with others. This is a dream that developed long before I knew what it was. Before I discovered Tolkien. He helped me figure out exactly what it was and helped me give shape to it. As have many other writers and creators I grew up with. I’m still learning about it today with every book I read and every story I write. It just so happened that Tolkien’s work came into my life a very important time and has remained with me since. I will never be able to tell him this like so many others who tried to when he was alive. I’m not sure if he read much of the fan mail that bombarded his living spaces. I will, however, be able to talk about him or his work with others and share in the fellowship he sparked. For this I am extremely grateful.

Art Matters

Art MattersThis week’s book recommendation is Art Matters by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell. This book is less a traditional book and more of a small collection of essays that are both a defense of art and its importance to humanity and a call to action to not give up on your dreams. There are four sections of this little book and each page is filled with Neil’s words accompanied with brilliant illustrations by Chris Riddell. This book is one I already consider essential to anyone who aspires to create anything. It’s short enough to be enjoyed in one, brief sitting.

I was fortunate enough to see Neil in person last month (the day before this little book officially released), and he read a section from it called “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming.” This section was also from his book A View from the Cheap Seats, but before that it was originally given as the second annual lecture of the Reading Agency in 2013. This section goes on to detail the importance of (you guessed it) libraries, reading, and daydreaming. The importance of aspiring to create thing that did not exist before. To put forth into the world something it has never seen. It details how libraries are havens for more than just books. It informs us…..well….I shouldn’t give it all away and spoil it for you.

This tiny little book, so small it could easily be overlooked, has now become one of the most important books in my personal library. It is important because it is a reminder. It is something I can easily pick up when my self-doubt tries to overwhelm me into giving up on my aspirations of being a writer myself. It washes away that doubt and replaces it with inspiration to get back to it and write. I simply flip through the pages and my brain is rinsed of negativity and the imagination glands begin to pump out ideas. Of course this makes this book even more valuable to writers and artists, but it is important for everyone. Each of the four sections have been previously printed or recorded, but they are all collected here in a convenient, pocket-sized book, for you to enjoy when you most need it.

I know it is the holiday season and Christmas is only a few days away. If you need a last-minute gift idea for the creative person (or anyone who likes books), here it is. If you don’t get this book as a gift this year, go out and treat yourself.

Happy Reading.