Book Review: The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected non-fiction, by Neil Gaiman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_view_from_the_cheap_seatsYou just know that any author who begins a collection with a piece about the importance of libraries has his or her head firmly screwed on. So it is with Neil Gaiman, my new superhero.

Actually, the very first piece in this fabulous collection is his credo, and I just have to quote the last sentences, “ I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will, eventually, win. Because the ideas are invisible, and they linger, and sometimes they can even be true”.

This wide-ranging collection is divided into ten sections, ranging from personal beliefs and opinions through friends, the art of science fiction writing, how comics work, opinions on music – and all written so that they engage you right away. Even the non sci-fi readers (like me) may be inspired to return to some of the classics of sci-fi to see if our experience stacks up against Gaiman’s. I now have an enormous reading list of things I “really ought to have read” but somehow either did not get around to, or dismissed out of hand!

Neil Gaiman always makes you think – whether it’s his fiction or his non-fiction is immaterial really. A comment at the end of a piece about Charlie Hebdo and the PEN awards is a quote from the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo: “Growing up to be a citizen is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images, can be shocking. Being shocked is part of democratic debate. Being shot is not”. It would appear that many people out there either don’t know this, or have forgotten. To be reminded is essential.

On a lighter note, a comment about the nature of writing fiction has stuck with me also. To paraphrase – the story itself is not complete until you, the reader, have read it. The writer provides the framework, and of course the narrative, but how each reader interprets that and makes it their own version is what gives life to the story. That makes story even more powerful, I think.

I am going to buy this book, as it is such a great collection. This is definitely the current top of my non-fiction reading list – it just pushed Etgar Keret’s memoir down a notch, and that was hard to do!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction
by Neil Gaiman
Published by Headline
ISBN 9781472208019

Etgar Keret: This Israeli Life

pp_etgar_keretThis was one of those events that I picked at random, on the grounds that Etgar Keret sounded like an interesting name, and I don’t know many Israeli people and would like to hear from one. I’m so glad I did.

Damien Wilkins interviewed Israeli author, filmmaker and cartoonist Etgar Keret at the Embassy Theatre. Keret was warm, funny, thoughtful and compassionate. I made an immediate resolution to read all his books.

He spoke about ‘the wandering Jew’, saying that the concept of a Jew living in their own country is pretty new. For example, a Kiwi Jew can think of themselves as a Jew (as distinct from New Zealanders) and as a Kiwi (as distinct from Jews). Reflexiveness is a fundamental Jewish trait, but that two-tier thinking is the first thing you give up when you have your own country. Keret travels a lot, and he says this travel enables him to reintroduce himself to Israel, and to be more aware of change.

Keret spoke about fighting, both in the sense of war and in the sense of the artistic struggle. He said his mother told him if he must fight, to fight someone smaller. He joked about his own small stature, saying in New Zealand maybe he could wrestle some possums. “I became a writer because it’s the only way I know how to fight and not to hurt anybody. I want to create in an environment that has some kind of friction; I want to to feel courageous in the creative sphere.”

He spoke about the subversive power of literature, saying “There’s nothing cultural about a boycott … You never know what you’re going to find in a book. I want people to read books and be affected by them.” Keret admires “the ambiguity of existence”, although “it’s difficult to keep this ambiguity when you live in a horrifying reality.” He spoke about how literature enables us to see all people, even people who do terrible things, as humans, and akin to us in their humanity.

Keret says the constant politicisation is tiring. “I have a yearning to live in Golden Bay and write a story about a kid who finds a crab and no one tries to figure out whether the crab is the Palestinians.” With his strong accent and beautiful voice, Keret was a pleasure to listen to.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Etgar Keret: This Israeli Life
12.30pm, Friday 11 March, at The Embassy
NZ Festival Writer’s Week, Wellington

Etgar will take the stage once more as a judge of Literary Idol, on Sunday, 13 March.