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The View From The Cheap Seats

By Neil Gaiman William Morrow, 2016 While we were in England I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman’s collection of essays and speeches, The View From The Cheap Seats. These delicious thoughts, on the value of reading, on the importance of libraries, on imagination, are balm for the writer’s sometimes self-doubting mind. Gaiman recalls spending his school vacations in his local library, and while the librarians to whom he gave this speech hastened to remind people that municipal libraries are not to be used as free child-care, the point remains. Only by reading do writers develop. The English language is a wonderful instrument. In Neil Gaiman’s hands it creates music because you can almost hear him speaking in his British accent as you read this book. Good writers bring us into worlds we never knew existed. They exist, whether real or not, in the imagination of their writers. Words have a life of their own, creating a collaboration between the author and the reader, as Gaiman points out. A young man of my acquaintance, Ben, aged almost seven, was just learning to read last Christmas. As we went through the book I had given him, he sounded out the letters. I said to Ben, “Aren’t these letters amazing? They are just squiggles on paper. But when you learn to arrange them in order you can make them say anything you want, anything in the world.” He looked at me with shining eyes and said, “I want to be an author.” Then we went to the Library and Ben came home laden with books. All fiction of course. Letting him into the imagination of others. Only by doing that can we cooperate with one another and create civilization. As Gaiman says in a later point in his book, reading enables empathy. Gaiman is funny and thoughtful. If in this collection he repeats some his jokes, because he gave speeches to different audiences, each version is still delightful. This is a book to savor, to reread on your summer vacation. Absolutely wonderful.

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