Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
For all my love of Neil Gaiman (wanna hear about the time he came to my college?), I’ve never read his short stories. Which is odd; you’d think someone who stumbled across him so young would start there. But no, my Gaiman itinerary goes Good Omens, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere, and, now, Fragile Things. (Coraline is in there somewhere. Y’all know about my memory.) But there are two Neil Gaiman short stories that I have been dying to read; “The Problem of Susan”, a piece of The Chronicles of Narnia fanfiction in the genre commonly known in the fandom as Susan!fic, and “Snow Glass Apples”, a twist on Snow White. When I couldn’t decide what to read next, I found Fragile Things in my school library; clearly, it was a sign.
With the advent (and growing popularity) of eBooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.
How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?
To be totally honest, I don’t think listening to a commentary track enhances a film. When you say enhance, I think about things like improving video quality and the like, which improves the overall experience of watching that story unfold—commentaries are a behind-the-scenes thing. You’d never watch a film for the first time with the director’s commentary track on!
In any case, I like extras. I really enjoy the bonus material in the 2006 edition of Good Omens, which consisted of a foreword, pieces written by each author on the other author, and discussion of the creation of the book. I love stuff like that, and as long as it doesn’t get into the main text (although I would certainly accept something equivalent to a Director’s Cut!), I’m completely fine with it.
In fact, Laura Miller recently wrote about this very subject for Salon, focusing on the use of digital books for poetry—towards the end, she imagines a version of “The Canterbury Tales” where the audio track is in Middle English but the text on the page is a modern English translation. I think that’s well worth exploring.
Y’all know me—I raid thrift stores on a regular basis for books, to the point that I come to basically know their inventory off-hand. (It really doesn’t help that the one with the lowest prices on books is right next to my favorite Italian restaurant in my hometown.) But this often means that I run across handwritten dedications in books, which alternately make me sad or laugh out loud. Sad because these books were given as heartfelt gifts—hence the dedication—and hilarious because, well, sometimes you just know why the book was donated. To this day, I regret not buying the book given to an bookish aunt by a niece with a dedication proclaiming her appreciation for her aunt giving her a love of reading… ruined by the misspelling of the possessive “their” as “they’re”. Ouch.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
read by Martin Jarvis
Good Omens is one of the first adult novels I bought for myself as a wee lass that I discovered through a recommendation of sorts. It was a favorite book of Sandra Fuhr, a web comic artist whom I still follow. My mother required me to read Silas Marner before I could read the much-anticipated novel; accordingly, I remember nothing about Silas Marner to this day. Good Omens, on the other hand, has become one of my favorite books, lovingly read, reread, and purchased for friends’ birthdays. Casting around for something for Reading by Ear, I saw the audiobook for Good Omens at my library and knew it was time to revisit this old favorite.
TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2011
Yes, I know. You’ve all seen publication dates before: dates in 2007, 2008, 2009. None of those were ever hard dates, however. Most of them… well, call it wishful thinking, boundless optimism, cockeyed dreams, honest mistakes, whatever you like.
This date is different. This date is real.
Barring tsunamis, general strikes, world wars, or asteroid strikes, you will have the novel in your hands on July 12. I hope you like it.
from George R. R. Martin’s website
Naturally, as a recent fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I was over the moon on Thursday, bobbing through class and life like a buoy. Since I won’t be able to watch Game of Thrones until it’s released on DVD (or I make a friend who has HBO), these were certainly glad tidings. I can only imagine what it must be like for people who read A Feast for Crows the day it came out and have been waiting ever since. Actually, I don’t—several people (several of whom I don’t even know!) have been very vocal to me about how much they hate being forced to wait… and wait… and wait. It’s been interesting, being new to the fandom and all, to examine the issue of George R. R. Martin’s debt to his fans—or, as Neil Gaiman puts it, “entitlement issues“. (His words! Not mine!)
Back in the May of last year, Diana Gabaldon made a post on her blog decrying the evils of fanfiction, calling it immoral and illegal. (The post has since been removed, but it’s been archived.) While it’s every author’s right to ask their fandom not to write fanfiction, such a violent outcry seemed a bit odd, seeing as her male lead was inspired by a certain Jamie from Doctor Who. The best response to this kerfuffle was Aja Romano’s post, “I’m done explaining to people why fanfic is okay.” If you do nothing else today, read Romano’s post—it’s a brilliant and damning response, which I’ve taken to heart. In fact, I’m willing to take it one step further.
Fanfiction is, at its best, literary criticism.
The Gaiman Conundrum: As an author improves in the course of their career, how does one evaluate their earlier work in relation to their later work?
I’ve named this the Gaiman Conundrum because of my experience with Neil Gaiman. As a wee lass of thirteen, I picked up American Gods and was utterly blown away. Soon after, I picked up Good Omens, a novel that never fails me to make me laugh out loud. (And it’s the same joke every time! I’m easy to please.) And Anansi Boys was even better. But when I picked up Neverwhere, I felt a little empty. It was good, but it didn’t measure up to his later work to such a degree that I felt a little disappointed in it. (I suppose the gushing praise from Tori Amos on the cover didn’t help things.) So, how, as a book blogger and reader, ought I deal with this situation?
Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?
To be totally honest, no. As I’ve mentioned before, my memory prior to fourteen is kind of spotty—I’m not sure if it’s a defense mechanism against my preteen self (who had a whole mass of issues) or because nothing interesting really happened to me until high school. However, by process of elimination, I think we can get somewhere here.
The first novel I bought for myself was, I believe, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which stands on my bookshelf to this day. I cannot remember the first book I checked out of the library, but it was probably one of The Royal Diaries from my middle school library or a Dragonriders of Pern novel.
I’m trying to correct the gaping hole in my reading life where short story collections could go; I’m getting braver about, well, braving bad stories to get to good stories. So today, I’m sharing two of the safest short story collections found on my reading list; one collection that’s wildly nostalgic for me, and one collection from an author who rarely disappoints me.
Today, I am moving back to college. Naturally, I’ve been concerned about packing my school things (do my folders match?) to packing my clothes (how exactly does one say military chic while despairing of the heat?), but I’ve also been concerned about my books. This year, I’m taking a course on Jane Austen, and I now own her entire canon, which feels odd, to say the least. I’m also taking a class on Shakespeare and race, which demands several volumes. And let’s not even talk about my textbook for my pre-1700s English literature course. It’s practically a weapon.
But my main concern is, which books should I take for personal reading?