I am comfortable in my belief that there has been at least one book in everyone’s lives that has left them feeling changed. Whether it’s a well-known classic, an obscure treasure, or a book that hasn’t officially been published, they leave a mark. I have chosen 10 quotes from Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats that have left a mark on me, and I hope they will resonate with you as well:
“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”
(“Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013,” page 25)
Even if you haven’t written a word in your life, the stories we read, even the ones we hear provide comfort and encouragement. We can all remember a moment in our lives where a story, written or oral, has forever changed our perspective on some aspect of life.
“The miracle of prose is this: it begins with the words. What we, as authors, give to the reader isn’t the story. We don’t give them the people or the places or the emotions. What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use to build the book themselves. No two readers can or will ever read the same book, because the reader builds the book in collaboration with the author.”
(“Three Authors: On Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton: The MythCon 35 Guest of Honor Speech,” page 40)
A perfect example of this is reading a book and then seeing the movie. The adaptation is never quite how you imagined it. Ever asked a friend who they thought would best play a character in your book? I know I have, and I have vastly different opinions.
“…I believe in the things [myths] can tell us. I believe in the stories we can tell with them. I believe in the reflections that they show us, when they are told. And, forget it or ignore it at your peril, it remains true: these stories have power.”
(“Some Reflections on Myth (With Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales),” page 63)
I really don’t think I have to go in to how powerful stories truly are.
“I worry when people ask me how to stop their children reading bad fiction. What a child takes from a book is never what an adult takes from it. Ideas that are hackneyed and dull for adults are fresh and new and world-changing for children. And besides, you bring yourself to a book, and children are capable of imbuing words with magic that not even the author knew was there.”
(“What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book, Anyway? The Zena Sutherland Lecture,” page 84)
There is something sad about growing up. I feel as though the world is slightly less magical than the years when a raven could be like a writing desk (sly insertion of a Lewis Carroll reference). I’ve gone back to read books I have read as a child and been disappointed by how mundane they now feel. Children truly do have an ability to see magic in places we never suspect.
“Sometimes writers write about a world that does not yet exist. We do it for a hundred reasons. (Because it’s good to look forward, not back. Because we need to illuminate a path we hope or we fear humanity will take. Because the world of the future seems more enticing or more interesting than the world of today. Because we need to warn you. To encourage. To examine. To imagine.)”
(“Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 and What Science Fiction Is and Does,” page 177)
Suffice it to say that I never tire of wondering what the future will hold. So bring it on, authors everywhere, beguile me with tales of the future!
“Listen, now. Read this carefully, because I am going to tell you something important. More than that: I am about to tell you one of the secrets of the trade. I mean it. This is the magic trick upon which all good fiction depends: it’s the angled mirror in the box behind which the doves are hidden, the hidden compartment beneath the table. It’s this: There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean. That was it.”
(“Confessions: On Astro City and Kurt Busiek,” page 257)
I have had experiences reading where it felt as though the book was speaking directly to me and the experiences I’ve had. I read between the lines and found the narrative of my own life. The author did not intend this to happen, but as Gaiman so eloquently explains: There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean.
“Be proud of your mistakes… Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong, too scared to do anything.”
(“2004 Harvey Awards Speech,” page 304)
This is, perhaps, the most important things to take away from life. As the recently famous YOLO explains, you only live once. Far better to experience the world and make mistakes along the way, than to sit at home afraid to experience life because you’re afraid you’ll make mistakes. It’s far less painful than you might imagine.
[On not knowing what you’re doing when you start a career in the Arts] “This is great. People who know what they’re doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing it again, yet.”
(“Make Good Art,” page 452)
If people stopped trying every time someone said something was impossible, we’d likely not have airplanes, telephones, lightbulbs, or iPhones. So Gaiman’s words speak true to all disciplines and to all people.
“…when you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
(“Make Good Art,” page 453)
As a recent graduate myself, I feel these words on a spiritual level. Rejection is never a pleasant feeling. However, that should never stop you from trying. Gaiman’s words apply to more than just the arts. And each reader will take the parts of his prose that they need, that they connect with.
“Life is a stream: an ongoing conversation of nature with itself, contradictory and opinionated and dangerous. And the stream is made up of births and deaths, of things that come into existence and pass away. But there is always life, and things feeding on life.”
(“Eight Views of Mount Fuji: Beloved Demons and Anthony Martignetti,” page 484)
Here, Gaiman captures a feature of life everyone can relate to. Whether it is the death of a relative or friend, or the birth of a new relative or friend, this dichotomy of life and death is universal. And like nature, unstoppable, but necessary. And we float along on the current whether we like it or not.
There truly is not enough room to list all the wonderful quotes that resonated with me, and I suspect with many of you. I beseech you to pick up the book and see for yourself which parts you identify with. I see myself in Gaiman’s experiences, the same way others see themselves in mine.
The question is, who will you be when you’ve finished?
Tweet me your favourite quote! @SarahG_93