I’ve had The View from the Cheap Seats on my TBR for a long time. For once, the university library had a book I actually wanted to read, so I checked it out while waiting for my local library request to come in. Gaiman’s collected nonfiction rides the gamut from his introductions to many novels, to speeches given at award ceremonies and conventions and interviews from his career as a journalist, as well as musings on writing and recollections on the people and books that have been most important to him throughout his life.
I didn’t read everything in the volume, but jumped around to the pieces that either meant something to me personally or subjects that interested me. In no way did skipping a third of the book diminish the reading experience in any way. And I think if I’d had a background or vested interest in the passages I did skip, it would have only added to the pleasure of being inside Gaiman’s head. Like the way his fiction has always hit me, his non-fiction voice feels like he’s talking directly to the reader. There is no wall, no barrier between the author and the reader in all his works, even the interviews. There’s something intensely personal about Gaiman’s voice that makes each of these pieces feel like he’s sitting in a room with just me and chatting. And like chatting with anyone who’s well read, intellectual, heartfelt, and genuine, in the midst of the mundane drop these heavily poignant and deeply provoking sentences and thoughts that reach beneath the soul and pull it out.
Gaiman wears his heart on his sleeve in all of these pieces, in particular the essays where he talks about his writer friends, or people he’s worked with for a long time. It’s easy to see that Gaiman loves deeply, and everyone he writes about becomes as dear to the reader as they are to him. I almost cried reading the essays about Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynn Jones, and Anthony Martignetti. There’s a humility to the words in that even when Gaiman is accepting a huge award, or speaking to an audience of thousands, he still just views himself as a person who loves books and writes from his imagination. The fact that people fell in love with those works was just a happy accident to him.
Underneath the beauty of the language, as Gaiman often referred to Chesterson and Tolkien as some of the most influential authors of his youth, I was struck by the fact that I’d found works by Gaiman (and Pratchett) around the same time in my youth that he’d discovered Chesterson, Tolkien, et.al, and so in a way, Gaiman is my Chesterson. Gaiman made me feel like I could be a writer, and that the fantasies and weird ideas in my head had a place in the world, and that maybe if I wrote them down, the world wanted to read about them.
Accessible and breezy, but also deeply weighted and full of poignant truth, The View from the Cheap Seats is worth the time, even if you don’t read it cover to cover.