The other day I mentioned China Mieville--new to my reading list as of this week--and remarked that I had not gotten around to his well-regarded books yet because they are generally considered to be fantasy and that's not my genre of choice, even when the stories are supposedly awesome. Years ago, my long-lost friend Joe prodded and pressured me into reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (just the first tome of it). It was a hard slog for me, let me tell you. I could appreciate why Jordan's legions of fans loved that book and its many sequels, but something inherent in its high fantastical nature made me not love it as much. Around that same period, the mid-1990s, I delved into Clive Barker, whom we could certainly call a modern fantasist, definitely a horror writer, but certainly not an sf author. I like his stuff a lot. It's not high fantasy and has enough crazy sick-ass horror--which I do like quite well--to keep me excited. And, of course, he's such a terrific writer. Also during the decade of 1990s, I was introduced to the work of Neil Gaiman, whose best known work at the time was the Sandman comic book series. I was not then and am not now a big consumer of comics. I generally take them on a case by case basis when one is brought to my attention and do not seek them out that often. I enjoyed Sandman quite a bit, though, and Gaiman's name stuck in my head. This was before the publication of his novels, however, and I wasn't aware what if anything else he had to offer. And there wasn't anything like Wikipedia where one can go and just pull up a list of everything any writer has published. Fast forward to 1997 (or maybe it was 1998), and I was working as sous chef at the Whittemore House, a fancy private club on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. Neil Gaiman was on campus as a guest of honor of some sort and I learned, to my great excitement, that he would be having lunch that day in one of our private dining rooms. I told all of my co-workers, including the event planner who had booked the luncheon, of the deep significance of someone as illustrious as Neil Gaiman coming within our walls and eating our food. No one in the Whittemore House except for me had ever heard of him and their eyes glazed over when I mentioned Sandman, a friggin comic book! Though my work at this place consisted principally of planning and executing the food--and not serving it--I finagled my way into being involved with actually bringing the food to the dining room and I, myself personally, placed Neil Gaiman's lunch before him. The plate was beautiful, and I must say that he was quite impressed both with the food and with the great finesse of my service. Well, I don't know if that's true or not because I never actually spoke to him. I snuffed out deep within my heart any fannish impulse to say something like, "I really admire your work! Mr. Gaiman!!" Gradually, I make my way to the point of this entry...A few years later, I became aware that Gaiman had published some novels and decided that I must, of course, read them. And that's where we come back around to my thing with fantasy and my trepidation about whether or not I will be able to like China Mieville, another contemporary fantasist. I admit now, in public, that my copy of Gaiman's American Gods is sitting on my shelf unfinished with the mark still in it about a hundred pages deep where I stopped and moved on to something else...about seven years ago. In spite of his lovely style and huge imagination and just plain coolness, I found myself grinding to a halt with this book. Why? I don't know, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the "gods" aspect of the thing. The fantasy elements, even as updated as they are, tripped me up. I have decided, however, that in the near future, I will give American Gods (and urban/contemp fantasy in general) the chance it deserves. Two things inspire me to revisit that book in particular and Gaiman's work in general: 1) I recently read his young adult novel InterWorld (with Michael Reaves) and it was completely charming, quite exciting and even pretty scary; 2) I recently discovered his blog, which is by far the best and most voluminous writer's blog I have ever seen with entries going back by the hundreds for years. You should quit reading this page now and go directly to Gaiman's site. It's addictive. A link to it is down below in my "favorite site" section (yeah, I keep doing that--sending you down to that list instead of just putting the link right here--because I want everyone to scroll down through the whole page and see what else I have to offer). The images with this entry are, of course, the covers of the aforementioned Gaiman books and also the great Whittemore House in St. Louis, the site of my in-person encounter with the genius and super-blogger.
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Saturday, November 22, 2008