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Assembling My Atheneum: Neil Gaiman

June 29, 2011

If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. So far, I’ve featured A.S. Byatt, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Larissa Volokhonsky & Richard Pevear, and Oliver Sacks.

I just realised I haven’t done an AMA post since January: time to revive the feature. Since the tenth anniversary of American Gods is coming up, what better time to showcase Neil Gaiman? I first discovered him with Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) in ninth grade: I loved the book, and gave it to my mom who loved it as well. In fact, it became a staple in her gift-giving repertoire! Back then I reread books all the time, but after my third round or so with it, I decided to give American Gods a try. By now I was in eleventh grade, so fifteen years old (yes, I was always the youngest in my class), and I must admit it disappointed me a bit. It was so much darker and grittier that I thought Gaiman wasn’t my kind of author after all, despite my love of his writing style (I copied out the whole of Sam’s awesome speech about her contradictory beliefs). Fortunately, I think tried Neverwhere (or Stardust), which immediately converted me back into the Gaiman fold! ;) My sister got me Smoke and Mirrors for Christmas, and I discovered two of my favourite short stories ever (“Snow, Glass and Apples,” which is linked in my sidebar, and “Murder Mysteries.”) I quickly went on to Stardust (or Neverwhere) and loved it as well. And at that point, I’d read all of his published ‘text’ novels, except for Coraline (which I didn’t know about). When Anansi’s Boys was published, I read it via audio: it’s one of my favourite and most-recommended audiobooks ever!

All of this brings us to 2007, my first year of blogging: I read his newly published Fragile Things (and picked up another very favourite short story: “October in the Chair”) in the spring and then I chose him as my focus for a challenge. I reread American Gods (and found to my delight that I absolutely loved it), Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and Stardust. I also read Coraline for the first time (also loved it!) and Preludes and Nocturnes (did not love). The following year I read Odd and the Frost Giants (I won a copy of the British version from a blogger so didn’t have to wait for the US release) and of course The Graveyard Book. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I loved both of them as well! 2009 saw me giving Gaiman’s picture books a go: first I listened to them via the Neil Gaiman Audio Collection and later I checked them out at the library to see the accompanying illustrations. I also read The Blueberry Girl and Instructions with my niece. In 2010, I reread Odd and the Frost Giants and The Graveyard Book, both on audio read by Gaiman himself.

Considering my great love for Gaiman’s text books and audiobooks, you might be surprised to learn I’m not actually a fan of his graphic novels. I’ve read the first four volumes of The Sandman collection; after Seasons of Mist I gave up. I was also frustrated by the illustrations in the graphic adaptation of his short story Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli. I did love a standalone volume, though, with a different artist (Yoshitaka Amano): The Dream Hunters.

So there you have it! I’ve read all of Gaiman’s non-graphic books at least once and, aside from Coraline and Fragile Things, at least twice. I own: Good Omens, American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, Smoke and Mirrors, Anansi’s Boys, Coraline, Odd and the Frost Giants, and The Graveyard Book. I’d like to own: Fragile Things, The Dream Hunters, and the new edition of American Gods.

For Neil Gaiman newbies, I’d say his books are all so different that it really depends on your own tastes. At the end of this post I described the ones I’d read; since it’s from 2007, though, it doesn’t cover Odd, The Graveyard Book, or Dream Hunters. So: Odd is one of his lighter books, good for those who love Scandinavian mythology/lit, but written at a more straightforward level. The Graveyard Book is for anyone: I’d go with either this or Anansi’s Boys as a general Gaiman rec. And Dream Hunters is good for those who enjoy graphic novels but don’t like ‘comic book’ style illustrations. Of course, if you’re a short story aficionado, you’re in for a treat; Smoke and Mirrors was my favourite of his two collections but they’re both wonderful. Really shows you what the form can do! And if you just want a taste, run over and read “Snow, Glass, and Apples” for free right now.

Are you a Gaiman fan? If not, have I inspired you to give him a try?

40 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 7:43 am

    I’ve only read three Gaiman books so far. I started with and loved The Graveyard Book and then LOVED Good Omens. Lastly, I listened to Stardust which was OK. I’ll definitely be going for more eventually :)

  2. June 29, 2011 9:21 am

    Unfortunately, I have never read anything by Gaiman. I do have The Graveyard Book and Stardust waiting on my shelves, though my sister is currently borrowing The Graveyard Book. As so often happens with authors others seem to enjoy so much, I want to love them so badly that I keep putting actually reading one of their books off. I guess that needs to change ;)

  3. June 29, 2011 10:05 am

    I’m right there with you, a huge Gaiman fan! Oddly, American Gods was my first of his books. I went on to read Stardust, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys (one of my fav audiobooks as well!), The Graveyard Book, Good Omens and Coraline and loved them all. I have Fragile Things up next and I can’t wait.

    It’s interesting though, I feel the exact same way about his graphic novels. I read the first volume of the Sandman chronicle and it just didn’t work for me. But other than that, I adore all of his books. I’ve found that they are richer with each re-reading. I had the chance to hear him speak last year and he was just as wonderful and funny in person. I’m always thrilled to find another lover of Gaiman’s work!

  4. June 29, 2011 10:10 am

    I have had mixed success with Neil Gaiman. I first read Stardust which I REALLY did not like at all… too much telling, not enough showing, and the humor did not hit the right spot with me. I did read The Graveyard Book, however, and while I thought parts of it were pretty derivative, I did feel like it had great heart and wound up enjoying it quite a lot. Also, I haven’t read Coraline, but I saw the movie and loved it, so I feel like I would like to read it at some point. I might try American Gods as well at some point because the premise is appealing…

  5. June 29, 2011 10:21 am

    I’m a Gaiman fan—I don’t care for his short stories, however; I feel he does better in long form.

    I would recommend to anyone starting with him to read Neverwhere before his other novels, especially American Gods, which I think is the best thing he’s ever written—it’s good, but everything that comes later is so good that it suffers in comparison. Give it a fighting chance!

  6. June 29, 2011 10:33 am

    Gaiman is on of my favorite authors, first discovered him through the Sandman series in the early 90’s. I still love it. I had the pleasure of seeing him read last Sunday evening and it was amazing. He is unpretentious, funny and his reading from the new addition of American Gods was absolutely magical.

  7. June 29, 2011 10:59 am

    This is an author I haven’t tried much although my brother is a big fan of Gaiman! I only read his Coraline, which I liked but didn’t love. I do hope to read his American Gods soon! Thanks for talking about some of his books!

  8. June 29, 2011 11:04 am

    I have The Graveyard Book in my Library Loot pile. It will be my first Gaiman book. Your post has certainly sparked my interest and I look forward to reading more of his books.

  9. June 29, 2011 1:38 pm

    I must admit that the hype around Gaiman has put me off giving him a try. And the fear that he seems maybe a tad bit twee for my aesthetic…I don’t love fairy tale retellings or fantasy as much as many bloggers. What do you think, knowing my reading preferences? Should I give American Gods a go?

    • June 30, 2011 1:53 pm

      Hmmm….I’m still pondering this. If you do try him, American Gods is definitely the only one I see you really going for. I think it’s worth a shot, but I’m not making any guarantees! ;)

  10. June 29, 2011 2:35 pm

    :-) One of my favorites too. I still have yet to read American Gods and Smoke and Mirrors (not sure how that happened!) but I plan to fix that very soon. I bought a few of the Sandman graphic novels and did like them but I can see how they might get frustrating.

  11. June 29, 2011 4:28 pm

    I’m disappointed you didn’t like The Sandman as that’s the only thing I love that Gaiman has written. Also, I think it was me who asked for examples of “ridiculous bodies”. wish I had the books on me so I can check! tbh from what I remember they’re a lot more realistic than most Marvel/DC depiction of women.

    the facts in the case…wasn’t very good (I have it signed) but, again, I don’t get your criticism against it. I think we’ll probably have to agree to disagree :)
    also if you didn’t know the two other characters alongside Gaiman-lookalike are probably based on Jonathan Ross (British chatshow host among other things) & his wife, Jane Goldman (writer of Kick-Ass (the film, not the comic)).

    • June 30, 2011 1:56 pm

      >> they’re a lot more realistic than most Marvel/DC depiction of women

      That wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, but I don’t like any of those comic book portrayals of women. In fact, they offend me. So yep, we’ll just agree to disagree!

      • July 1, 2011 7:13 pm

        slightly off-topic but have you ever read any Love and Rockets by Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez?

  12. June 29, 2011 7:30 pm

    Oddly enough (considering that his kind of books should be right up my alley), I haven’t been terribly impressed with Gaiman so far. I’ve read Stardust, Coraline and Neverwhere as well as Good Omens, and the only one I really liked was Coraline!

    My biggest problem with his writing is that, at least in those other three books they all had this self-mocking, self-conscious undertone to them that made me uncomfortable, like Gaiman was slightly embarrassed by what he was writing – which made me feel awkward on his behalf. It’s hard to explain, but it’s not a pleasant reading experience. He writes a bit like Douglas Adams, and I love Adams, I love that irreverent British style and humour, but Gaiman fell flat for me. Too self-conscious, and I’ve no idea why.

    Still, I’ve been curious about Anansi Boys and American Gods – I haven’t wanted to give up on him but I’m wary about reading more, especially as those two are much longer than the others.

    • June 30, 2011 1:57 pm

      Obviously, I don’t get that tone from Gaiman’s writing, but I’m sorry you do! Anansi Boys is a much quicker read than American Gods, if you’re deciding which one to try again. However, it’s also more humour-based.

      • June 30, 2011 2:05 pm

        I got the impression somehow that those two were related? Same characters? No? Not sure why I thought that! I haven’t written him off at all so one day I’ll give Anansi Boys a go :)

      • June 30, 2011 2:09 pm

        Anansi is a minor character in American Gods; that’s the only connection! They have v different feels and are definitely both stand alones. :)

      • June 30, 2011 2:20 pm

        Oh good!

  13. June 29, 2011 7:43 pm

    I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t read any of his work. I’ve had The Graveyard Book on my shelf for over a year now and still haven’t gotten around to reading it. I even follow him on Twitter and I haven’t read anything!

    • June 30, 2011 1:57 pm

      I actually don’t follow him on Twitter! Weird, right? I’m sure he’s an awesome person, but I’d rather just ‘know’ him through his books.

  14. June 29, 2011 8:00 pm

    I loved Neverwhere and liked both Stardust and Good Omens. Thanks for reminding me that it’s high time that I read some more of Gaiman’s books. I even have them on hand, so there’s really no excuse… ;-)

  15. June 29, 2011 8:10 pm

    I like Neil Gaiman’s writing a lot, and I like him extra because he seems like a really nice, decent guy. Sometimes I do think his ideas outrun — oh, I feel so guilty saying this! — his writing. But I’d rather have the ideas. He always has such incredibly cool ideas even when he can’t totally pay them out.

  16. She permalink
    June 29, 2011 8:58 pm

    As a whole I really do love Neil Gaiman. I’ve liked if not loved all of his novels with Good Omens being my least favorite– I think the humor didn’t hit home. Also, while I can’t say that I was in love with his two short story collections as a whole, I really did like quite a few of them. October in the Chair was definitely one of them.

    I am somewhat with you on the graphic novel front. While I liked some of the Sandman series, I ultimately left it feeling a bit underwhelmed. Part of it, I think, had to do with the fact that I really only liked the artwork in the last installment. :/

  17. June 30, 2011 6:35 am

    oh I feel out of touch ,but not reaqd him I m aware of him as he is married to amanda palmer I believe ,I m not a huge fan of this genre of fiction ,but of his work the graveyard book is one I ve heard mentioned a lot so if I was goiong to it would be that one of his I would try Eva ,great post and thanks for more info on him ,all the best stu

  18. June 30, 2011 8:48 am

    Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that I want to like more than I actually do. I love the ideas behind all his books that I’ve read (American Gods, Neverwhere and Stardust), but they’ve never quite lived up to my expectations for what I want them to be. They’re still enjoyable books and I’m happy to keep reading them, even if none of them ever wow me as much as I hope. I’ve yet to try any of his short stories though, so perhaps I’ll have more success there.

    • June 30, 2011 1:58 pm

      Fair enough! I started reading him when I was younger, before I ‘knew’ anything about him, so perhaps going in with no expectations helped things along. :)

  19. June 30, 2011 1:06 pm

    American Gods seems to be a love it or hate it book. So I’m glad to hear people can change their mind about it. :-D I love it…it was the first Gaiman book that I read.

  20. June 30, 2011 8:03 pm

    I really need to read more Gaiman. So far I have only read Graveyard Book (loved), Coraline (okay) and Stardust (liked the movie better than the book, which I almost never say).

    I should get American Gods out from the library again. Or maybe I should start somewhere else on his other books?

  21. Ben C permalink
    June 30, 2011 11:00 pm

    Hi Eva, this is my first time commenting here, so I want to say that I’m really impressed by your blog and the breadth of your reading. You strike me as having a clear sense of what you are about, especially viz international and women authors, and I feel like I’m learning something when I read your stuff. I’m not yet deeply involved with the book blogging community and I don’t have a blog myself. My tastes run to history and classics; I think you’re right on with Pevear and Volokhonsky.

    I’ve read Neverwhere, American Gods, Stardust, and the first part of the Sandman. They were interesting reads, but I was finally turned off, especially in the first two, by what I thought I was picking up of Gaiman’s attitude towards his protagonists and the sort of worlds he was making. Richard Mayhew is bundled from one episode of chthonic violence to another, and it seemed like Gaiman delighted not only in showing up Mayhew’s sad naivete at every turn, but in putting words to that effect in the mouth of every other character. This extends to the reader. It seemed like an axiom of the novel that I couldn’t understand or connect with this world and shouldn’t even try; only Gaiman was priviliged with understanding its rough justice. Otherwise I don’t really understand what he’s trying to do. It’s not really horror. It’s just uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the most realistic fantasy I’ve ever read.

    So sorry to start off on that note. I do wonder if anyone else had the same problem.

    • July 1, 2011 4:38 pm

      Hi Ben! Thanks for the compliments. :) The book blogosphere is a really fun place, so if you ever decide to throw your hat in the ring I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

      Your reaction to Gaiman is interesting! I wrote in my post on him back in 2007 that his books tend to follow a kind of ‘hero’s journey,’ which necessarily requires a main character who starts out ‘naive’ and is tested/challened along the way. So I suppose I read his plots in that direction; there is far more violence in Neverwhere & American Gods than his other stuff (Graveyard Book does have several deaths, but they’re not as ‘graphic’ since it’s for children), so perhaps you’d get along better with Anansi Boys. I never felt excluded from Gaiman’s world; I was really into mythology in high school, and I felt like he was playing with that. Do you have much background in mythology? Plus, I used to read high/epic fantasy when I was young which tends to have quite a bit of violence in it! That being said, the violence in Sandman, esp the first volume, really disturbed me.

      I guess no one can love every author! ;)

  22. July 1, 2011 3:58 am

    A lot of raves about Gaiman, I guess I should give it a go. I’m not good with magical surrealism but if you say it’s different, there may be one that I would enjoy. Thanks for the intro Eva!

    • July 1, 2011 4:39 pm

      It’s definitely not magical surrealism: it’s straight-up urban fantasy. But if you don’t enjoy fantasy, I don’t know if you’ll like Gaiman! He’s a wonderfully talented author, so his writing isn’t ‘pulpy’ at all, but there’s obviously a lot of fantastical elements in it.

  23. July 1, 2011 5:57 am

    I think I read Good Omens when I was in school too and loved it. Then I started reading Pratchett’s Discworld novels. At university my best friend introduced me to the Sandman comics which I found equally beautiful and disturbing. And then I read American Gods and was hooked. I think American Gods is still my favourite Gaiman novel. He’s such a cool person in print as in real life and I feel he is one of the few writers who really think of their fans.

  24. July 2, 2011 7:18 pm

    The only Gaiman I’ve read is American Gods, and I feel like I have kind of an odd reaction to it–when I was reading it, I didn’t think I liked it, but after it was finished and returned to the library I thought that perhaps I did. This was pre-blogging, so I don’t have any sorts of notes to help me sort out what I really did think of it, but I’m rather inclined to think that I perhaps may need to try it again. I wonder if perhaps I needed to know what the story was before I could actually enjoy it? At any rate, I will probably try his work again sometime, perhaps Anansi Boy.

  25. July 6, 2011 8:01 am

    Anansi Boys is my next want-to Gaiman read.

  26. July 7, 2011 11:14 am

    I’ve only heard good things about Gaiman. I should probably hurry up and read some of his stuff!

  27. July 14, 2011 3:46 pm

    I love love Neil Gaiman too although you are right, I don’t love everything by him. My first book was Neverwhere and I fell in love. Then I tried Stardust. Lovely!! Coraline was good as was the movie. I liked Ananasi Boys but then LOVED Graveyard Book. GB might tie or outdo my love for Neverwhere. I tried the first Sandman and was disappointed. Ce la vie, right? Can’t wait to try American Gods before the show comes out.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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