The View from the Cheap Seats

The 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.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This 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 not 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.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick. This book was one I found randomly at a book store. I had no idea it even existed, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say you hadn’t either.

I’ve recommended several books by Philip K. Dick before so of course I am a fan of his work, but this book is different. It’s actually an interview. Published in 2000, this “book” is really just a transcription of taped interviews that Gwen Lee had with Dick two months before he passed away on March 2nd, 1982 from a series of strokes. The transcription is unaltered and includes all “um”s and side-tracked conversations.

What I loved most about this short little “autobiography” of sorts is the glimpse into his mind. One of the key points included in this “book” is that it offers an insight into the book he was working on when he died. A book that never was finished. All we have of that would-be book is from these tapes. He discusses the plot in detail and gives us a glimpse of his writing process. The book would have been titled The Owl in Daylight and would have been an awesome read.

These interviews took place during the production of the Blade Runner movie as well, which is based on Dick’s novel Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? It was really cool seeing how excited he was about the movie. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see it beyond a few clips. He does discuss his book and the movie in these interviews.

I found it really interesting that he claimed he rarely read fiction. As a science fiction writer, you would think he read a lot of other novels including other science fiction work, but at the time of these interviews he admits he rarely read fiction anymore. He mostly read nonfiction and scientific books or articles. He was definitely an academic and loved learning new things. He mentions he learned Greek so he could read a religious text without a translation to make sure the there was no confusion about the context.

As a writer, I found it really interesting how he wrote his novels. The few details we get state that he would pump out a novel in one go. Write the entire thing within a matter of ten days or two weeks. He would become obsessed with the work until it was finished. Even at the cost of his health unfortunately. This is something that pops up when he talks about The Owl in Daylight and I’m not sure if there was a purposeful connection or not. One character is making incredible art, but it is physically killing him, and the ultimate choice he is given is to continue as he is, making the art until he dies, or go back to making mediocre art and regain his health. The more I think about it, the more I wish the book was completed.

Most of Dick’s work centers on a concept. That’s what I like about it so much. It is a conversation that the reader gets to be a part of. You can finish a short story or novel and you don’t feel like you’ve simply read a story. It gets your mind going. As with most of his stories, even this “book” that is really an interview made me want to write more. To explore concepts of my own and delve into the strange worlds I can create.

I’ll wrap this up before I ramble on too much. If you haven’t read anything by Philip K. Dick, do so as soon as possible. If you are a writer and haven’t read his work, do so as soon as possible or rather this very moment. Even if you have read his work and think it’s not for you, try this one out because it is about the man himself. Too often we enjoy the art, in whatever form, without really knowing anything about who created it. I’m glad I found the man as interesting as his work.

Happy Reading.

 

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Originally published in 1974, this book is both autobiographical and philosophical fiction, which means it is based on true events while delving into philosophical topics that, well, make you think about the world we live in. This may be one reason I liked it despite struggling to get through a few, small sections of the book. This book is a bit long at 540 pages.

It starts off as a simple cross-country trip and ends up as an examination of self. The subtitle “An Inquiry into Values” refers to the philosophical topics. There is a sequel to this book titled Lila: An Inquiry into Morals that I have yet to read and was not as popular as Motorcycle Maintenance, but I may eventually pick it up. Motorcycle Maintenance was Pirsig’s first book and became hugely popular shortly after its release selling approximately five million copies worldwide.

The title has been played off of since it first became popular. You have probably seen other books or titles that start with “Zen and the Art of [whatever]” around, but this title is actually a play off of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel that actually goes into Buddhism and facts/practices of archery. Motorcycle Maintenance states little about actual motorcycle maintenance, but does have a few tips in that area. It rather focuses on Robert himself and what some may consider a slip into madness. This “madness” is what made me consider the constructs of language and how we are shaped, imprisoned, freed, and defined by it along with other social constructs we otherwise do not see because we grow accustomed to them.

The best analogy I can come up right now to explain this is ‘air’. We do not think about air. We constantly breath and bring it inside our chests where exchanges happen that allow us to continue living. We depend upon. We cannot live independently from it. When you really start to think about it and examine what it is and how it impacts us as people/living beings, you start to realize different aspects about it that you originally didn’t care to know or never experienced. Many people probably don’t realize the actual composition of air (mostly nitrogen, but of course contains the oxygen we thrive upon, and many other elements). The closer you look at it, the more it consumes your vision. There is a lot to learn.

But it is also not necessary information, right? We don’t need to understand ‘air’ to continue living, nor can we live “better” lives by knowing more about it. It is more a reflection on how it affects us and how it is a part of us. This is really the best way I can describe what this book does. It brings some things into focus as if they were hiding behind a thin veil of reality. A solid thought for you to juggle with.

You’ll take away from this book what you put into it. Cliché, I know, but true. It is definitely easier to read than most philosophical books, and like other philosophical books, this one may not be an easy read for many people. However, I do think it is worth the read, which is why I’m recommending it.

Robert M. Pirsig died last year on April 27th, 2017. His words have inspired millions and will continue to do so. Maybe they will provide you with a different way of looking at the world.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. This is the first (and so far only) book I’ve read by Terry Pratchett. He is best known for his Discworld series and has fans from all over the world. If you are a fan of (or looking for) comedic fantasy, Terry will not disappoint you. I have many of his books on my “to be read” list and will eventually get around to them.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of nonfiction, in which he covers many subjects and tells several stories. One of which details Neil Gaiman and himself misjudging a distance to a radio station they were scheduled to interview with, and their decision to walk resulted in them being hours late and effectively banned from that station.

He also covers several other topics. Some serious, some hilarious, but all of them genuine and endearing. He discusses in depth the illness that would eventually take his life, and the state of the medical field in England. He voices his opinions and I was glad to have listened. The world is oftentimes a chaotic mess and I wish Terry was still in the it to add his unique, fun chaos to the mix. It saddens me that I only discovered his writing (and him as a person) after he was gone, but he has left behind many “notes” for us to continue gleaning wisdom and humor from him.

Terry mentions in this collection that he was most proud of his book Nation, so of course that will be the next book I read by him. The Discworld series includes (I believe) over forty books. Not all of them are sequential or follow the same characters, but they all take place in the same universe and there is plenty of material should you wish to embark on such a journey.

I recommend you give any of Terry’s books a try. I still have many to look forward to myself. You can start with A Slip of the Keyboard like I did, or you can start with a work of fiction. As always, you have a choice.

Happy Reading.