Book Review · Entertainment in AZ · Writing

I Hugged Neil Gaiman

Author Neil Gaiman.
Author Neil Gaiman.

I greatly dislike crowds. But I love Neil Gaiman enough to deal with them. Last night, I popped a Klonopin, wore a tiny top-hat, and told myself, “You can do this. You can be in a room with 2000 people for several hours. You can do this. For love of Neil.”

Changing Hands Bookstore put together a highly organized event, albeit long. This ain’t their first rodeo, although I doubt many authors attract the obsessive fan adoration as British gent Neil Gaiman. Author of my favorites, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, and Neverwhere, among many others. Comic book genius. Dr. Who screenwriter. Recognizable by his hair alone. The list goes on …

We were all there to celebrate the release of his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. More than that, we were there to pay homage to a man who has changed our lives with words alone. As a writer myself, there was a twinge of jealousy over this writer-man’s accomplishments, because truly, he is a rock star. You woulda thought Mick Jaggar was on stage, circa early eighties.

Although he may vaguely resemble Tim Burton, Gaiman doesn’t have the uncomfortable weirdness of the quirky director. Neil Gaiman has charm—the kind only tall, self-deprecating British men can have. He has a wicked sense of humor (which comes through often in his books), and I was overjoyed to hear him read from his new novel. He has a voice that’s made to be heard.

Gaiman's newly released "Ocean at the End of the Lane."
Gaiman’s newly released “Ocean at the End of the Lane.”
After his speech and an amusing round of Q&A, book signing chaos ensued. By then, anxiety itched the back of my neck like a skeleton claw. “Nope. No panic attacks. Not now,” I told myself. Then, I got in line with my brand new copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane and my much-read edition of The Graveyard Book.

The closer I got to the signing table, the more I noticed few people were talking to Neil. Most fans just stared at him in awe, for fear of opening their mouths and possibly saying something stupid in front of an icon. However, I’d made up my mind; I was going to say something, because how often do I meet a person I emulate and adore?

It was my turn. I stepped up to the table. Neil glanced up at me, down at my book, and then he really looked at me. A smile lit his face, and he said, “Well, you really dressed up! Fantastic! You look absolutely gorgeous!”

I think I almost melted. I even posed for him and said, “All for you!” He seemed mystified by this, and he just kept smiling. I knew I was hogging the line; didn’t care.

I asked him, “Any advice for a young writer?”

“Finish something.” (So true!!)

“I have,” I replied.

“Get it published.”

“Working on it.”

“Keep writing,” he said.

“I will.”

I must have been dancing on my toes, because he finally said, “Do you want a hug?”

I imagine I sounded like Minnie Mouse when I replied, “YES, I WANT A HUG!”

Then, Neil Gaiman gave me a hug and said, “Any woman who wears a fascinator deserves to be hugged.” He even took my business card.

Once my knees stopped shaking (and I stopped muttering, “He hugged me,” to everyone I saw), I realized there were things to be learned from this experience.

  1. If I truly plan to become a successful, published author, I need to get a handle on my social anxiety disorder. I speak in front of people—lots of people—but I’m terrified every time I do it. Neil Gaiman was comfortable on that stage. Great at off the cuff comments. His shoulders weren’t up around his ears, and his hands didn’t shake. If I ever expect to “be famous,” the social anxiety has gotta go.
  2. Going the extra mile earns amazing rewards. I wore a black satin dress, a tiny top hat, and stiletto heels last night—to a nerdy book event. Yet, I was the one who made Neil Gaiman stop signing. I was the one who got a hug. Because I made him feel special by dressing up, he made me feel special. Positivity flows both ways.
  3. Normal is overrated. Thoroughly. Neil beat out Dan Brown for number one on the bestseller list yesterday by writing what he loves—quirky, creepy, dark little stories that are not necessarily for the mass populace. Most of my work is not for mass consumption, either, but as long as I own it, love it, and believe in what I do, who cares? There’s a fan base for everything, so long as I am true to myself and my work.

I learned other things, too, about Neil’s tea-drinking habits, his “dull days” at home, and how the story for Stardust was inspired by Tucson. I also joked with a fellow Cumberbitch about two degrees of separation. Our dearest Benedict starred in the radio version of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, so I’m sure they met, probably shook hands. Therefore, since I hugged Neil Gaiman, I also hugged Benedict Cumberbatch. Right?

I had trouble going to sleep last night. I’m already almost halfway through The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is so far spectacular and sad. I’m in full-on groupie mode; will be for the next couple days. The proof? I woke up smiling this morning, and how often do I do that?

Thanks for the hug, Neil. You do so much more than write books.

Book Review

Read This Before You’re Dead

My father is on this reading kick right now. He’s trying to read literature that’s considered “classic.” He called me yesterday after finishing Catcher in the Rye and asked, “Sara, why is this book considered a classic?” I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t remember why. I remember the book, of course. I remember Holden Caulfield (who my father found to be quite amusing). I remember the f-word. Other than that, I have forgotten why Catcher in the Rye is considered a “classic.”

Jake looked up the definition of “classic literature” yesterday after my conversation with good old Dad. According to

  • A classic usually expresses some artistic quality—an expression of life, truth, and beauty.
  • A classic stands the test of time.
  • A classic has universal appeal.

Sure, okay, makes sense, right? I looked up a list of “Classic Novels,” and BLECH! I read a bunch of them in college, and I hated them. For example, The Great Gatsby is the most overrated book on the planet, and To the Lighthouse … well, let’s be honest, I never finished it, I was so bored. I wrote an entire college paper based on Spark Notes.

There are others, like Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm that were great, but they weren’t my favorites. I guess this study of “classics” made me want to make my own list. So. I did …

Sara Dobie’s List of Books You Must Read Before You Are Dead

1. Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Zafon is the best writer on Earth right now. His books are set in Spain. They’re considered “gothic fiction,” which means they’re beautiful, creepy, and filled with ghostly happenings. Angel’s Game is my ultimate favorite book … and that’s saying something.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The book is mysterious, creepy, and highly entertaining. Plus it’ll scare you if you read it at night; I love when books do that.

3. Map of Time by Felix Palma
This is Palma’s first book translated into English, and I can’t wait for more. HG Wells is the lead character. Lots of time travel (but not too much as to be confusing). Extremely intelligent plot line and a quirky narrative voice.

4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Written for children (but not really). It’s a very adult book, in my opinion, about a boy named “Nobody” who’s raised in a cemetery by ghosts. I believe Gaiman is my generation’s version of Lewis Carroll.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
One of the only “classics” that I believe is “classic.”

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Everyone on the face of the planet should read Fahrenheit 451, several times. It’ll make you realize how close our culture really is to becoming a sci-fi book.

7. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
It’s not supernatural. It’s psychological. People in southern Ohio who are bad, bad people doing bad things. Beautiful in its brutality.

8. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I don’t usually like Palahniuk. I think he’s a pompous writer who overuses sentence fragments. That said Fight Club is his masterpiece. Chuck is a perfect example of modern American writing, and it’s not always a good thing … but Fight Club is spectacular.

9. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A woman slowly loses her mind while on bed rest. If you’re having an “off” day, don’t read this one. Wait until you feel stable, happy, and brave, and then, strap yourself in for an uncomfortable ride.

10. Everything’s Eventual (short story collection) by Stephen King
The best short story collection in the history of the world. At least, I think it is.

This list is not exhaustive. I could go on forever about good books. This list is a pretty good collection of my personal favorites, though. So now, it’s your turn. Tell me what else I need to be reading. What else should be considered “classic literature?” And not in the academic sense. What is classic—to you?