STARRED REVIEW
November 2020

The Neil Gaiman Reader

By Neil Gaiman
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Neil Gaiman is generally categorized as a writer of fantasy or speculative fiction, but as the 52 selections in The Neil Gaiman Reader confirm, the beloved storyteller’s gifts defy neat classification. This doorstop-size volume will surely be welcomed by Gaiman’s legion of fans, but its greater purpose may be to introduce his work to those who are not yet acolytes. Spanning his career from 1984 to 2018, these stories, novellas and excerpts from novels are presented in chronological order and offer a broad overview of his talent for fiction.

When it came time to select the stories included here, Gaiman delegated the job to his fans, who voted for their favorites online. The novel excerpts, on the other hand, were chosen by the author and his editor and include extracts from some of his most popular works, including American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere. For die-hard fans who have already read his entire opus, Gaiman throws in one previously unpublished story, “Monkey and the Lady,” a whimsically philosophical fable. The end product is a hefty volume that warrants dipping into rather than devouring cover-to-cover, an approach that Gaiman himself encourages in his preface.

There is something here for nearly every taste. While the heart of a Gaiman story always contains an element of the fantastical, there is also always something rudimentarily human at its core. This quality, along with his superior narrative skills, may be what most separates Gaiman from less polished writers in the fantasy genre. A story such as “Chivalry,” wherein a pensioner buys the Holy Grail at a thrift shop for 30 pence and is then visited by an excruciatingly polite and valorous Sir Galahad, is at turns hilarious and surprisingly touching. “The Goldfish and Other Stories” brilliantly captures the vagaries and absurdities of the film business while being about so much more: quickly fading history, unexpected friendship and the cultural mythology that can be created despite documented proof to the contrary. The devastating loss of memory to senility propels “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” which is also a backdoor homage to Gaiman’s masterful literary progenitor. “Snow, Glass, Apples” may leave you rethinking every fairy tale you have taken at face value since childhood.

The Neil Gaiman Reader is filled with far too many riches to explore here. In his foreword, Marlon James writes that the ghost of Jorge Luis Borges, the great fabulist, hovers over these stories, but really, Gaiman’s influences are more numerous and far-flung. Indeed, this volume provides evidence that Gaiman has transcended those influences to become the influencer himself, creating fictional landscapes that inspire and move us as much as they entertain.

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The Neil Gaiman Reader

The Neil Gaiman Reader

By Neil Gaiman
William Morrow
ISBN 9780063031852

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