One of my favourite authors, who is close to being favourite author of all time if he keeps being so cool, is releasing one of his already published books on the interwebs for free. For real, gratis. This is all in honour of his blog’s 7th birthday. He has put up an online poll to help decide which book to upload. For free1! So, if you’ve never read Neil Gaiman’s work, and think you’ll enjoy being dazzled by spectacular displays of imagination and excellent execution of writing to tell a story, head on over and vote.
So far, American Gods leads the list. I really enjoyed American Gods. Every time I read it, something new and wonderfully interesting grabs my attention and asks why I didn’t spot it before. That’s not to say the previous reads were difficult or tortuous, just that I’ve probably learned something new in real life and thus finally understand the significance of some detail in the book. Another thing I love about American Gods is that P read it recently and loved it. Couldn’t put it down, in fact. It has been hard work finding books that he is willing to read more than a chapter of. He started this back-arsed, with Anansi Boys2 first and back-tracking to American Gods because he found the concept of Anansi so wonderful and mysterious. It may be too much at present to ask him to write a book review. But just you wait; soon he’ll be all evangelical about the books he’s read and loved.
In addition to American Gods and Anansi Boys, six other books were chosen from Gaiman’s growing back catalogue, all of which I heartily recommend to any- and everyone. Two (Coraline and M is for Magic) would be suitable for children, Stardust for “young adults”, and the two other short story collections for those with slightly shorter attention spans (or anyone who suffers from needing to get to the next part of the story even though it’s past 1 am). The final book, currently ranked second in the poll, is the one I voted for (am I allowed to declare my vote?). Mainly because in the words of Neil Gaiman:
Which book, though…? Ah, that’s up to you.
What I want you to do is think — not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?
Of all the books in my library, two stand out. They are ever-changing. I keep having to buy the latest version, usually in paperback, as cheaply as I can. Why? Not because I want every single edition of these books. I’m a reader, not a collector, after all. I love these two books and read them again and again because they give me considerable pleasure. But I can’t seem to hang on to them. These are the books that I lend to folk who just want something to read. They aren’t usually avid readers themselves, but for some reason or other, usually involving coach/train/air travel, need a book to amuse them for several hours. So, I lend out one of these two books. And NEVER get them back! Never! Not once!3. One is the fantabulous Good Omens (not up for grabs in the current give-away). The second is the book that started out life as a TV series: Neverwhere, the book I would like you to read.
If you have ever lived in or visited a city, and turned down an alley one day and had that spooky feeling that you were entering some secret underbelly that was nothing like the city street you just turned off, then this is the book for you. If you’ve ever been alone on the platform waiting for the Tube/Metro/subway, and your imagination wanders off into eerie-land, you’ll love this book. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many stray cats everywhere, you may find the answer here. It would be unfair and inaccurate to say this is Neil Gaiman’s best work, because that belongs to the special work of love that is the Sandman comic/graphic novel series4. But I really think Neverwhere is where someone new to the strange and wonderful workings of Neil Gaiman’s written imagination should start. Full-on weirdness anchored in reality.
Neverwhere is currently 2nd in the poll. If you trust my recommendation, vote for it. I won’t be overly upset if it doesn’t win, because the other 7 are truly marvellous creations too. But I’d be sad that you didn’t get to read Neverwhere for free. Well, you still can if you borrow it off me.
1 There are loads of other amazing works available on his website for free. A few short stories, also found in his own or other anthologies, are there, along with more eclectic things like Crazy Hair and the explanation of the origins of Scary Trousers.
2 A sort-of sequel, but perfectly perfect as a stand-alone.
3 Well, apart from P, of course, who I can tickle until he puts the book back on the shelf.
4 Or American Gods or Stardust or Coraline or Wolves in the Walls or any of his other brilliant works, many of which he probably hasn’t even put to paper yet. I won’t argue with you because I just can’t decide either.