A Study in Emerald
The Fairy Reel
October in the Chair
from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 2006.
Plans are such fragile things, always ready to go up in smoke at the mere mention of a match strike. You see, I'd planned to pick up this book at the library Thursday evening when I was working. I thought things at work might even be slow enough that I'd get a chance to start reading the first four pieces in the book for Carl's R.I.P. group read before I even got it home. Mother Nature had other plans (and hers are almost always less fragile than mere human plans). She proceeded to drench Lancaster County, PA last week with so much rain that we had extensive flooding all around us. The library was closed. I couldn't pick up my book. I couldn't even be sure the library would be open on Friday in order for me to pick up the book (it was, but at the time, the forecast was for the rain and flood warnings to continue well into Friday).
Sometimes, however, when a fragile thing breaks, something even better comes of it. (The heart often breaks and then gets glued back together by something far better than the thing that broke it.) I didn't want to miss this weekend of reading and posting my thoughts, and yet, with all the flooding, I had no real hope of getting out and getting a copy of the book. Then, I remembered that I'd seen the audio version of it while re-shelving materials at the library and also that I have two unused credits sitting in my Audible account. I searched for it, discovered it was only one credit, and soon had it downloaded onto my phone.
Not only was the day saved, but it was saved in a beautiful way. You see, Neil Gaiman himself reads the audio version of this collection of stories and poems. If I didn't already have a huge reader's crush on Gaiman, this would certainly guarantee its birth. He reads it beautifully: dramatic without being overly so, inflection everywhere it should be and nowhere it shouldn't, perfect pacing, and, of course, he has a lovely accent (to an American ear, anyway). You may be thinking, "Well, of course he reads it perfectly. He wrote it." But, believe me, I've listened to plenty of audiobooks read by their authors, and nothing has ever come close to this. I highly recommend your getting a copy and listening, which is not to say that I didn't, once the flooding was all over, still pick up the print copy from the library. I'm such a reader, and Gaiman is such a writer, that, as much of a joy as it was to listen to him tell his tales, I wanted to "reread," so to speak, parts of it to make sure I hadn't missed anything.
Here's what I thought of the actual pieces:
I don't typically read Introductions before I've read a book, because I've learned the hard way that they can include spoilers. Sometimes what they include might not be considered spoilers to most, but are to me, because, basically, I like to come to a book for the first time knowing almost nothing about it, if I can. "Oh, it's about a woman who lives in New York," is the sort of description I want. But, we were assigned the Introduction, so, even though Gaiman tells us we should read these pieces in any order we choose, I decided to start with it (especially since it's much easier to "read" an audiobook straight through like that).
Like everything else he writes, Gaiman certainly knows what he's doing when it comes to writing an Introduction. First, he gives us a little bit of background for the collection, where he got the idea for it and how it evolved, even how the title changed and why. Then he addresses each piece with brief annotations of how they came to be. There isn't a single spoiler. What there is is plenty of enticement. As I listened, I found myself over and over thinking, "Ooo, that sounds great. I can't wait to read it." If I ever find myself having to write an Introduction to something, I'm going to use this as a model.
A Study in Emerald
Well, really, how can you go wrong with a story of Sherlock Holmes meets the world of H.P. Lovecraft as put together by Neil Gaiman? Need I say more? Well, I can say one more thing, which is that I really ought to reread Lovecraft some day.
The Fairy Reel
This is the first poem by Neil Gaiman I've ever read (barring any poetry that has crept its way into Sandman comics. I can't remember any off the top of my head, but I'm quite sure it's there, especially in the third collection Dream Country). I'll (hope to) entice you to read it with these first four lines,
If I were young, as I once was, and dreamsand death more distant then,I wouldn't split my soul in two, and keephalf in the world of men. p.28
Gaiman basically tells us, when describing a different poem in the book, that he understands some of his readers don't like poetry, that we can skip the poems in his book. Then he produces a poem that's so perfect that he could probably convert a million high school students who insist they hate poetry, and he claims it's "not much of a poem, really, but enormous fun to read aloud."(xiii) To make it even better, let Gaiman read it aloud to you. I, for one, am eager to read all his poetry now.
October in the Chair
This was my favorite of what we read for this week's post. It was the jumping off point for what would eventually become The Graveyard Book, a book I loved, so it was fun for me to see how the short story evolved into the novel. I absolutely loved the way Gaiman characterizes the months of the year, was disappointed to leave them in order to "hear the story," but was just as enthralled with the story-within-the-story the minute it got going as I was with them. (That may not make sense, but I'm trying hard not to spoil it, knowing full well that I may already have said too much. Sorry, those of you for whom I should've just said, "It's a story about October sitting in a chair.") This story beautifully highlights Gaiman's unique imagination and the wonderful way he views the world (or other worlds, as the case may be). Gaiman dedicates this one to Ray Bradbury, and I can see why.
And now, on to next week's readings...