Recently a friend emailed me saying she wanted to try reading something by Neil Gaiman and asked if I had any recommendations. My first reaction was to be gratified that someone had recognized me for a Gaiman superfan and wanted my expert opinion as such. When the glow of flattery wore off, though, I was overwhelmed. There’s so much to choose from. Where to begin?
After a little dithering, I did manage to send a reasonably coherent email back. I’ve adapted it here for Gaiman virgins and veterans alike. He’s written and contributed to works for all ages and across many different genres, so you can stick with what you know or try something completely new.
All Time Favorite: Good Omens (co-authored by Terry Pratchett)
My first encounter with Gaiman’s work was his collaboration with another favorite author of mine, Terry Pratchett. Good Omens is a novel about the Apocalypse, as predicted in The Book of Revelation. Except it’s funny. I’ve given this as a gift many times. I also find opportunities to quote Good Omens in my daily life, thanks in no small part to all the music jokes (If I’ve ever confused you by attributing “Fat Bottomed Girls” to Ralph Vaughn Williams, this is why).
Short Stories: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
I resent 90% of all short stories, but I love the ones by Neil Gaiman. They are bizarre and haunting, full of familiar characters from fairy tales and classic literature reimagined and made strange. Fragile Things is my personal favorite collection of his but Smoke and Mirrors has many gems as well. If you like those, the novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane maintains the folkloric, dreamy feel of his best stories while being a bit longer.
Comic: The Sandman (illustrated by various artists)
This series was what got me into American comics, and I’m very pleased it did. The central plot concerns Morpheus, the King of Dreams. But in a universe where everything you dream exists in a parallel reality, anything is possible, and Gaiman thoroughly explores those possibilities. If you’ve been thinking about getting into comics but are daunted by the sheer volume of complex worlds and stories out there, Sandman is a good place to start. Also it’s available at any library with even a small graphic novel selection. I own the 7 1/2 pound hardcover editions and reread at least once a year.
Adult Novel: Anansi Boys
I recommend this to first-time Gaiman readers since it’s fun and stands alone. The main character, Fat Charlie, discovers that his father is the West African trickster god Anansi. It takes place in the same universe as American Gods, which is obviously a masterpiece but it’s very sad and dense and I need to be in the right mood for it. Anansi Boys is, by comparison, a romp.
Radio Play: Neverwhere (dramatized by Dirk Maggs)
This has also been a novel and a miniseries, but I think the BBC4 radio adaptation really shines. Starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and a host of other notable voices, it’s a wonderfully creepy portal fantasy about a city beneath a city. Highly recommended if you’re into London and its tube stops.
Middle Grade: Coraline (illustrated by Dave McKean)
Another portal fantasy, on a smaller scale. Coraline is transported to an alternate-universe version of her home, complete with her “Other Mother” and “Other Father.” At first the new world is wonderful, but soon turns sinister and dangerous. It skips the gross-out factor present in lots YA and adult horror, but it’s still delightfully spooky and suspenseful.
Picture Book: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (illustrated by Dave McKean)
I don’t read a lot of picture books these days, but I delighted and terrified some kindergarteners with this once. The illustrations are quirky and complex, with lots of details that kids love to point out and wonder about. It’s also just scary enough to be fun.
Those are my best ones for Neil Gaiman. What do you recommend to people who are curious about your favorite author?