I have read fantastic books over the last week. The first was Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats, which brings together about 500 pages of Gaiman’s non-fiction and journalism over the last few decades. I was not expecting much of it, but it blew me away.
I mark the books I really love by the level of jealousy they engender within me. I don’t get jealous of books that I like; spend enough time around writers, picking over the internal processes of plot and structure and language, and you’ll start to figure out certain tricks. The internal logic of good books becomes comprehensible, something you could probably wander off and achieve given sufficient time to study, write, and revise.
Great books slip past my defences. They get read with a kind of childlike joy, reminding me of why I fell so hard for books when I was a kid. Great books are still magic, in a way I’m not yet sure how to replicate, and I feel pangs of jealousy even as I flip through the pages.
Great books keep me up at night, because I keep reading and keep reading, devouring pages like they’re the only thing keeping me alive.
Gaiman writes a lot of great books, but I didn’t really expect The View from the Cheap Seats to be one of them. It’s essays, and speeches, and introductions from other books. It’s articles that have appeared, scattered here and there on websites. It’s stuff that has appeared before, if you’ve followed Gaiman’s career for decades, and read things as they’ve come out.
I have seen a lot of this, I thought. But it will be handy to have it all in one place, I guess.
And there are sections, tiny slivers of the book, where that is 100% true. I sat, and I read, and I thought, well, that was nice.
But the rest?
The rest made me jealous, in ways I did not expect. It made me want to write more, and write better, and find the magic. It made me want to go learn how to write essays that will break your heart.
It made me go back to the novella draft, peer at all that I’d done and was planning to do, and ask myself, well, how do I do this better?
Great writing pushes me, in ways I don’t expect.
PROGRESS ON FLOAT