Neil Gaiman: Where do I even start?

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)

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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?

New Books That I Will Actually Preorder

I’m not that good at keeping up with new releases. So many of the books I want to read are already published. Some of them are on my bookshelf. Even if I’m interested in an upcoming book, there’s very rarely one that I need to start reading as soon as it comes out. Most of them can wait.

There are exceptions, of course, usually by my favorite authors. Here are three that I will need to have on my Kindle as soon as humanly possible:

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The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin, August 16th, 2016

I read my first book by N.K. Jemisin three years ago, and I haven’t shut up about her since. The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth series. The first book, The Fifth Season, was hands-down the best book I read last year. The story takes place on the Stillness, a continent plagued by natural disasters and social unrest. Unlike most of Jemisin’s books, which tend to be self-contained, The Fifth Season ended on a pretty spectacular cliff hanger. I’m so excited to find out what happens next in The Obelisk Gate.

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Goldenhand, Garth Nix, October 4, 2016

It would be difficult to overstate the influence Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series has had on me. I can trace my love of hyper-competent ladies fighting dead things right back to his books. The Within the borders of the kingdom, the dead don’t always stay dead, and a powerful necromancer called the Abhorsen is on hand to put them back in the ground. If that sounds like your jam, you should check out Sabriel, the first novel in the series, which was published in 1995. If you’ve already visited the Old Kingdom, you’re probably also looking forward to catching up with your favorite characters, seeing as it’s been more than ten years since The Creature in the Case.

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Miranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey, February 14th, 2017

Jacqueline Carey has many talents. She moves smoothly between high fantasy and urban fantasy, coming-of-age stories and erotic romance, and everything in between. Her newest project is a re-imagining of The Tempest. Shakespeare’s play focuses on Prospero, a wizard plotting revenge on a remote island. The novel will tell the story of Prospero’s daughter Miranda and his slave Caliban. I don’t have a lot of strong feelings about The Tempest (or Shakespeare in general, tbh) but I trust Carey’s ability to recognize and tell an amazing story. Also, how gorgeous is this cover art by Tran Nguyen?

Those three are at the top of my pre-order list right now. What new releases are you looking forward to?