Literary art! My parents were recently redecorating my bedroom back at home and when I went back to visit I put up several bits of art stuff on the walls. My favourite is my signed print of Neil Gaiman’s A Study In Emerald. It’s a brilliant Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu crossover short story, and this print is the whole story designed to look like an old newspaper. It’s fantastic and I utterly love it. I also have a print of another Neil Gaiman thing, the poem The Day The Saucers Came. It’s a great poem and I really like the art on the poster as well. Finally some new additions to my collection of literary themed art, three posters based on John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars. I loved the book and I really liked these poster designs which feature quotes from the book. They’re also all signed by John Green as well. Overall I think they all look pretty good!
I just listened to the first episode of the new radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I love the book and I generally love all things Radio 4 so I was very excited to learn of the plans for this radio show, and my excitement grew with the announcement of the cast list which includes James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Stewart Head and many other great actors. It’s a six part programme: the first episode was an hour long and is currently still available on iPlayer, while the remaining five episodes are half an hour long each and will be broadcast every day this week on Radio 4 Extra, and of course will be up on iPlayer afterwards as usual. I really enjoyed the first episode and I am looking forward to listening to the rest of it this coming week.
Completely on a whim I decided to reread The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I had read it once before back when it was first published in 2008. In fact I bought it at a book signing here in Edinburgh at the Churchill Theatre, which was also the first book signing I’d ever been to. (In fact, this book signing although for some reason I was more excited about Sandman than this book, probably because I hadn’t read it yet!) So not only did I have good memories of the book itself, but also of the events surrounding it. I’m not quite sure why I decided to reread it now, just that I’d finished my last book and I was having trouble getting into a new book, and this one just seemed to jump off my shelf when I was browsing for something to read. I got through it in a single evening, which proves that it was a good choice!
The book is obviously influenced by The Jungle Book (and Gaiman very clearly acknowledges the debt he owes Rudyard Kipling). The story is of a boy whose family is killed and who is granted refuge from their killer in a graveyard, when he is just a toddler. He is named Nobody Owens (Bod for short) and he is raised by the ghosts of the graveyard, along with his vampire guardian Silas. Each chapter follows a different incident in Bod’s life as he grows up in the graveyard, with the overarching story of his learning of his identity and why his family were killed.
This is one of those books where I find it really hard to sum up just how much I love it, and to explain what specifically I like about it, because I could easily just say everything. I can’t do it justice in any way, so I’d just recommend that people read the book. But to try to list a few of its positives: the plot and setting are wonderful, the style is brilliant, and I really like how much of it subtly unfolds as you read the book. The characters are great and I especially love the relationship between Bod and his guardian Silas. As Bod grows up it is at its heart a fantastic coming-of-age story. Also Chris Riddell’s illustrations in this edition are fantastic (so much so that I’m planning to pick up the new edition of Coraline that he has also illustrated).
Overall I just love the book. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, and has been since I first read American Gods and started reading Sandman. In my opinion this is definitely one of his best books and I’d heartily recommend it. I’m glad I decided to reread it as it was exactly what I needed at this time too.
Various covers of American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This is pretty much my favourite novel, and it’s nice so see all these different versions of it.
Because I’m a bit short of cash at the moment (eh, unemployment) I’m trying to work my way through my backlog of unread books and also reread some of my other books rather than buying so many new books. I’m still buying a few, such as highly-anticipating new releases by my favourite authors, and books that I have to pick up for my reading group, but otherwise I’m restricting myself! Looking through my bookshelves to pick out some books that I fancied rereading, this one jumped straight to the top of the list. I first read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman back in 2006 (at least according to what I’ve written inside the front cover, back when I went through a phase of writing my name and the date inside every book I read). Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and I’ve read most of his novels, short story collections, and major comics multiple times. This one was one of the rare ones that I had only read once, and my general recollection of it had been that I’d enjoyed it but it wasn’t one of the best ones. Nonetheless, I was keen to read it again, and I am really glad that I did because my opinion of it has changed - it was much better than I’d recalled and it has gone way up my list of favourite Gaiman books because I absolutely loved it.
The book is about Richard Mayhew, who finds that his life is turned upside down when a random act of kindness, helping an injured girl named Door, results in him becoming losing his job, his flat and his girlfriend, essentially being displaced from real life. He winds up in London Below, the home of Door and various other misfits who have fallen through the cracks and live in this strange, magical underground society. Door’s family have been murdered and she is on a quest to find the people responsible and seek revenge; Richard joins her in an attempt to regain his life.
I really loved the book, however I’m finding it hard to explain exactly why I loved it so much, because I don’t just want to gush about it and pile on the superlatives. But I’ll just say that the plot, the setting, the characters, the prose - they’re all just brilliant. In a way it is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Neil Gaiman novel, but I mean that in the best possible way.
Interestingly, the story was originally written as a television show for the BBC, and at the same time Gaiman wrote the novel version too (and this edition is one of those slightly expanded ‘author’s preferred text’ ones). I haven’t actually seen the television show, which is something I will have to remedy as soon as I can afford to buy the DVD, because I would be very interested in contrasting the two and seeing how the story works in a different medium, especially knowing that they were essentially created at the same time and written by the same person.
But as for the book, I’m really pleased that I got around to rereading it, because I had evidently not appreciated it enough the first time I read the book (or maybe I’d just forgotten, I don’t know). It’s now definitely one of my favourite Neil Gaiman novels and I’d heartily recommend it. It’s also made me more excited to reread some more of my books and see if my opinions have drastically changed for any other ones too.
At the book festival they have photos of various authors who are appearing that year placed around the walkways. These are the photos of the four people I saw this year: Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, China Miéville and Iain Banks. (Actually Neil Gaiman had two different photos up for some reason, so I’ve included the one I liked best.) I must say, I got a few odd looks going around taking these photos of the photos… But overall, it was a really good year at the book festival for me at least.
Yesterday I went to the first of the four events that I’ll be attending at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This one featured Neil Gaiman, specifically discussing the novel Coraline, along with Chris Riddell who illustrated the new edition that has been published to mark the tenth anniversary of the book. Most of the discussion focused on Coraline, along with related issues such as how the book came to be illustrated, some interesting observations about the process of illustrating books in general, and about other weird children’s literature. I’ve seen Gaiman twice before at the book festival, and once at another reading/signing event, but I was happy to see him again because he is always a charming and fascinating speaker. The fact that this book festival event was so specifically themed also meant that he was discussing things that he hadn’t necessarily covered at previous events. While Gaiman was undoubtedly the star attraction, I have to say that Chris Riddell was also a very entertaining and interesting speaker who had some good points to make. For me, the best bit of the whole evening was the very neat ‘party trick’ they put on, where Neil Gaiman read an excerpt from the book whilst Chris Riddell illustrated it live on an overhead projector. It was a unique and very cool sight to see. Overall I had a great time at the event, and I’m also really looking forward to going back later in the week and next week for the other events I’ll be attending, and to experience more of the book festival atmosphere.
I really like the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I’ve gone to it pretty much every year for the past four or five years, and seen quite a few great authors there. The festival is in August, but the box office opened today, and I’ve acquired tickets to see four fantastic writers: Iain Banks, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville and Neal Stephenson. I’m very much looking forward to August now.
I really like the movie Stardust and I think it is one of those rare films which manages to be better than the book upon which it is based. I have read and liked the book (before I saw the film!) and I consider Neil Gaiman to be an excellent author in general and American Gods is one of my favourite books. But there is just something about the film which works better; I can’t really properly explain it, but the film is just more fun, it just feels more right. Having seen it a few times now, I seem to like it more every time I watch it. If you want an entertaining, enjoyable, and clever fantasy adventure movie, then you could do a lot worse than this one. It only has two flaws that I can see: 1) Ricky Gervais is in it, albeit a mercifully brief appearance, and 2) an appallingly bad song over the end credits. Other than that it’s great, and I really recommend it.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is the sort-of sequel to American Gods. Since I was reading that earlier in the year, I decided that I should read this one too (although they are not directly related). While I’ve read American Gods many times, this is only the second time I’ve read this book, the first time being back in 2005 right after it was released (note the really quite nice hardback edition!).
The book is about Fat Charlie, whose father Mr Nancy dies whilst performing karaoke. It turns out that Mr Nancy is actually the god Anansi (who appeared in American Gods, which is really the extent to which it is a sequel). Fat Charlie also learns that he has a brother, Spider, who was separated from him as a child. He makes the mistake of getting in touch with his brother (contacting him through a spider he found in his bathtub). Spider arrives and disrupts his life, stealing his fiancée and getting him into trouble with the police and his boss.
Really all the book has in common with American Gods is the premise that all of the old gods of the various mythologies exist and were spread around the world as their believers and followers moved to new lands. Whereas American Gods is quite a serious book, this is a lighter story with more of a comedic approach. I don’t like it quite as much as I do American Gods (which is pretty much my favourite novel), but it is a good book and a funny book. It does have some depth to it too, there are some interesting points considering families and identity. As always with Neil Gaiman it is very well written. I enjoyed reading it again, and I’m now considering which of his books I should revisit next.
This is a really nice collection of artwork inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods (one of my all-time favourites). I thought these two were particularly good, because they could almost be book covers.
Earlier I put out a request for some questions I could answer while I struggled through writing some reviews. Michael was kind enough to supply me with a few of them. I’ve combined these three into one post as they are all about books.
Q: If you had to recommend one Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks) book, and one Neil Gaiman book, which would it be, and why?
A: Tough question, restricting me to just one book each!
For Neil Gaiman I would recommend American Gods, which I wrote about here, because it is just my favourite of his books, and I think the best of them too. If we are talking comics however then it has to be the Sandman series. Or if you prefer short stories, go with the collections Smoke and Mirrors or Fragile Things.
For Iain Banks, I think I will have to split him into two and choose one of his ‘mainstream’ books and one of his science fiction books, because they are so different that it wouldn’t be fair otherwise! The Iain M. Banks SF book I would recommend most is The Player of Games, which I wrote about here and I think that post explains the reasons for my recommendation.
For the Iain Banks non-SF books the choice is harder, and I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. But my first choice would be The Bridge, and interestingly when I saw him recently at the book festival, he also said that it is his favourite of his own (non-SF) books. It was the first of his ‘mainstream’ books that I read, and I liked it a lot because it did have a bit of an SF feel to it! I still recall a lot of positives about it, and I plan to read it again some time soon, so hopefully it will stand up to my good memories of it. But if you are looking for something even more non-genre, then I would also recommend The Crow Road, which I wrote about here.
I know a lot of people start with The Wasp Factory (my review here) because it is his first and most famous book, but personally while I do think it is a brilliant book, I know some people have read it and been put off as it is also quite dark and gruesome at times. But not all of his books are like that, so I’d urge such people to give his books a further chance, and I don’t think I’d recommend it as one to start with if you are a more sensitive reader!
Sorry, I didn’t really stick to the one book thing! If I recall correctly, some of those you have already read, so you can tell me whether you agree with my recommendations…
Q: I think you might have answered this one before, but any recommendations on where to start with Haruki Murakami’s books? I noticed the English translation of 1Q84 is due out in October, but I’d like to read his back catalogue before attempting it.
A: I originally planned to read through all of his books by the release of 1Q84 but I don’t think I will make it in time. Nonetheless I have read a fair number of his novels. The two I like the most are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (reviewed here) and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (reviewed here). I think that either of those would be a good starting point for reading Murakami.
See, I can be concise!
Q: I’m interested in reading more Hard Science Fiction (such as Kim Robinson’s Mars Trilogy). Any titles that spring to mind?
A: Now this is an interesting albeit more nerdy question! Hard SF is a genre (or rather should I say sub-genre) that I read quite a bit of a few years ago but my tastes have changed a bit and I seem to have drifted out of it now. I think I can still recommend a few good books that would come under that description though. Funnily enough however, I did read the first volume of the Kim Stanley Robinson trilogy and I did not particularly like it, so bear that in mind!
Anyway, the first name the springs to mind for hard SF is Arthur C Clarke, for example Rendezvous with Rama, which I wrote about here. (Again, one that I know you’ve read!) In fact I can recommend all of the Clarke novels that I’ve read, so let me know if you want more recommendations along those lines. Another one that I really like that I’ve written about here is Ringworld by Larry Niven. A couple more that I liked a lot when I read them awhile ago are are Tau Zero by Poul Anderson and A Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement, both of which I read when I was working my way through the SF Masterworks series. I am aware that those are all quite old books though, but I haven’t really read any of the more modern books in that particular genre I’m afraid.
Anyway, thanks for the questions. I posted this publicly rather than privately because I thought it might be of interest to some of the other readers/followers of this blog, but apologies if I’ve bored people senseless and filled up your dashboard with a nerdy book post. It doesn’t even have any pictures! In the meantime, keep the questions coming please, I will answer some more shortly. If you want a private answer, that is also cool, just say so.