- Neil Gaiman has some big white dogs, a lamppost, and some funny neighbours. Scroll down for the money shots.
Apologies to those hoping for more substantial content, this will just be a desperate catch-up list of quick notes on blogworthy things that I never found time to write properly about but don’t want to forget.
- Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim (David Sedaris): Funnier, sadder, and generally more engaging than Barrel Fever.
- A Burnt-Out Case (Graham Greene): Greene never disappoints. I don’t think this is an especially famous novel of his, but it is no less perceptive or original than any of his best. It also feels very elegantly structured – not usually something this O’level literature student is able to spot in a novel, but which seemed particularly outstanding in this one.
- Maus: My Father Bleeds History (Art Spiegelman): Just Book I, I’ll read Book II as soon as the other borrowers in the library let me, and am aware that whatever commentary I attempt here is necessarily incomplete. Not sure if my feeling about the book is shared by others, but it seems to me that although it is ostensibly a fairly straightforward Holocaust story, the true heart of this book lies not in the story itself, but the fact and manner of its telling – by a protagonist to an author, from human speech into stylized illustration, and above all, by a father to a son.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Sorry for the blasphemy, but as someone who last read the books when I was 12, and therefore has no specific memory of them beyond an abstract aura of wittiness and a couple of ubiquitous email taglines, I found this thoroughly enjoyable.
- Sideways: We didn’t rush to watch it in the cinema because it seemed like the sort of movie you could enjoy just as well on DVD, and it is. Despite its incredible acclaim I’m really struggling to come up with anything strongly positive to say about it. It felt like a slow car ride through pleasant but unremarkable countryside inhabited by people you care very little about. You don’t object to the journey, but you’d just as happily never take it again. Case in point: I can’t fault Paul Giamatti’s acting here, but despite playing a character far more likable than in his previous “loser” outing, something about American Splendor made me root for Harvey Pekar, and something about Sideways made me stop caring about Miles.
- Downfall: The best film I have seen so far this year, and one of the top five of my life. Can you even imagine a similar film being made in Japan? [Very tangentially, the broader political/societal culture which gives fruition to films (among other manifestations) like this is one reason I think Germany is a great nation, and its disappointing contrast in Japan is one reason I have never been able to admire or embrace Japanese culture the way many of my peers seem to do.]
- Poetic Licence: I love poetry on paper, but poetry readings much less, so I have to admit the only reason I went to this was that Yish had free tickets. Well, shame on me for my rock-bottom expectations, because this was one of the best poetry events I’ve ever been to. The team behind this should be very proud that they took on something quite ambitious – 46 poems to dramatize! – and did a pretty good job for most of them, finding and expressing the latent drama of the poems without compromising the primacy of their words. Yish gave an impromptu performance of Loud Poem to the cast afterwards, which was fun. The only part of the evening I didn’t enjoy was when Eleanor introduced me to Ivan Heng and, tongue-tied and star-struck, I stammered, “Hi…I’m a big fan…” AND NOTHING MORE.
- Neil Gaiman in Singapore: My boobs came between me and Neil Gaiman on the Monday and Tuesday of his visit to Singapore (I’d had the surgery on Monday), but goddamit I wasn’t going to let them spoil my fun on Wednesday! (Yes, one can define queueing for 5 hours for two signatures as “fun” if the signatures in question are from Neil Gaiman.) By the time I got to the front, Neil was obviously pretty tired, so I didn’t get anything as elaborate as the Coraline rat I got the last time, but at least I got “Sweet dreams” on the last panel of The Sound Of Her Wings and eyes drawn in the skull on Neil’s “goodbye” message (just after the last page of The Wake). I mumbled something stupid about having had surgery two days before, but just having to come see him anyway. He stopped signing my book, and looked up at me. “And you’ve been waiting in this huge queue all this while?” “Um, yeah.” “You really shouldn’t have, but thank you so very much,” as he reached out and squeezed my hand. And just like that, five hours in line paled before thirty seconds of very genuine warmth from a man who, by the end of the night, had signed for a thousand people.
Things are usually dire on any blog which has to substitute quizzes for content, but bear with me for now. Lots is planned, I just have to find 24 extra hours in the week to write it down properly.
Which Endless Are You? is totally predictable for anyone who’s read a decent amount of Sandman, so you can easily figure out the result even before you click the button to find out. But I swear I didn’t tailor my answers, I really just am that compatible with the sexiest two-dimensional being ever.
Dream, the third of The Endless, you are in charge
of the Dreaming, all imagination and
creativity, everyone knows your beautiful
realm, but none truly understand it. You are
dark and brooding, creative, and spend a lot of
time by yourself, just thinking. You are almost
as serious as Destiny, but not quite. Everyone
is enchanted by you, but you keep them all at a
distance, even when you shouldn’t.
I’m getting rather tired of this. Every night I flop around restlessly in bed until about three. I wake up at seven, but because I know I haven’t had enough sleep, I try to go back to sleep till nine. I inevitably wake up at noon, feeling absolutely wasted.
That last stretch of sleep between nine and noon forms the bulk of my complaint. Somehow during that time I’m plunged into incredibly stressful dreams, and it’s really not much fun.
I no longer want to dream about Shu-pei (old, much-loved school friend) inexplicably chasing me mercilessly and murderously around a shopping centre until I am forced to fly to evade her. When I had fled through the aisles of a supermarket and finally got cornered by high shelves in the frozen food section, you will not believe the cruel cold hand of terror that gripped my heart when, as I hovered fearfully in the air above her growling below, she concentrated hard for a moment and started rising into the air too. She wasn’t as good at flying as me, and floated down again, but she was learning. I woke up soon after sweating and shaking.
I no longer want to dream about it apparently being the day before my WEDDING (look, I REALLY have no explanation for these fucking dreams, I do find this particular dream setting disturbingly weird too), which I have somehow forgotten to invite any of my friends to, and I am frantically trying to call them up and tell them because I don’t want to spend one of the most important days of my life without them, but no one by that name ever existed at all the numbers I try.
I no longer want the losing-all-my-teeth dream which I must have had more than five times before already, but somehow every time I dream it, even though I tell myself it has to be a dream just like before, I can feel the teeth wrenching themselves out of my mouth one by one and taste the blood, and this time, oh my God, this time it’s not a dream, I really have lost all my teeth, how will I go on with no teeth at the age of twenty-two (dentures don’t occur to me okay smart-arse, it’s a dream) and ow ow OW MY JAW IS BREAKING ITSELF and then I wake up.
I know they sound damn funny in hindsight. They’re probably funny to you too because you’re, like, immortal, and tend not to be plunged into existential insecurity. They’re not very funny to me at the time though. Please make them stop.
P.S. Have I ever told you you’re totally the sexiest fictional immortal two-dimensional entity ever?
[To anyone who clicked on the above link and has decided I’m crazy, you kind of have to read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics to get the whole picture (how apt)]
Neil Gaiman drew me a rat. :)
Now I’m sure that hundreds, nay, thousands of people who’ve been to his Coraline signings can all brandish similar rats, but allow me the illusion that, for one moment anyway, he was drawing the rat just for me.
I last queued up to get something signed a very, very long time ago. Def Leppard (stop laughing, they’re great fun) were signing in Tower Records Singapore, and I had a greatest hits album and time to kill. A considerable time before that, there were The Artists (very loosely defined!) Formerly Known As PJ & Duncan (okay, laugh). But here there was an element of personal attention and a real awareness of what all this meant to everyone who queued up for hours for that minute of contact that I don’t remember experiencing before. The girl in front of me broke down and started crying, and he reached out and hugged her tight for a good 30 seconds or more.
I’m not trying to place Neil Gaiman on a pedestal and gush that he’s a wonderful, wonderful person, because I have no idea what sort of person he is. But the public persona he presented to us was warm and self-deprecatingly funny without sounding forced or scripted. I didn’t feel like I was on a conveyor belt, and given that I most certainly was, much appreciation goes out to Neil and the good people at Foyles for successfully pulling off that illusion.
A pleasant extra to what was already an enjoyable occasion was the astounding coincidence of me and Benny, who I’ve emailed but never seen, just happening to sit next to each other for the reading and not knowing it. Later on in the signing queue, a Foyles person was handing out slips of paper to write your name on if you wanted Neil to dedicate anything. I heard him say “Benny” behind me, turned, and stated, rather absurdly, “I think you’ve emailed me before.” He asked if I was Michelle. Mutual surprise and a lot of omigodness ensued. Even more omigodness from me when he asked me to guess who he’d run into earlier in the day, I randomly guessed DJ Shadow as a joke, and turned out to be right. OMIGOD.
You know what’s stupid? Planning all along to go to Neil Gaiman’s signing and interview session on August 22, getting your unfortunate boyfriend to go and buy a ticket for an author he can’t even remember the name of, doing all sorts of happy jumpy things once the ticket’s been acquired, and then completely forgetting to bring anything with you from Singapore that you want signed. GAH. I guess I’ll just have to present a part of my anatomy.
I re-read Neverwhere, after chatting to Luke, who was reading it for the first time. I love this book quite madly, probably due to the combination of loving Neil Gaiman and loving London madly as well.
I love the way the hugely different worlds of London Above and London Below overlap, yet don’t quite merge, at stations of the London Underground. The Gap is a ravenous predatorial pouncing fog if you’re from London Below, as opposed to the minor hazard we’re told to Mind by a disembodied voice that’s become background noise to most of us. If you get off at British Museum (long-closed to London Above), ads for moustache wax and two shilling seaside holidays are still plastered on the walls.
There’s something about London, and the London Neil Gaiman presents in Neverwhere, that makes it almost easy to believe that in London Below there are black friars at Blackfriars, an actual angel in Islington, shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush who you should hope you never have to meet, Coke and chocolates from platform vending machines are served if you are a guest at Earl’s Court, and you have to get to the floating market at Harrod’s (the previous one was in Big Ben – it floats from place to place) by crossing Night’s Bridge.
From Neil Gaiman’s journal:
“I finished Miguelanxo Prado’s story for Endless Nights yesterday — a very strange story, in which we get to see one of Dream’s first relationships, and learn weird things about the DC universe at the dawn of time (so there will be some people who will find it really cool that Killalla of the Glow is from Oa, and some people will simply go “What a short name for a world”). The strangest thing was writing a two page scene for Delight – who is, obviously, in a hundred million years or so, going to be Delirium, but isn’t her yet.”
The information above will mean nothing to you if you’ve never read Sandman, but if you have, please join with me now in responding: I WANT.
Urgh of the day, courtesy of Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers):
“You cut up monkeys?” I whispered to Diana. “Rhesus pieces?”
The other book I finished yesterday was Smoke And Mirrors, and let me just say that if I were Neil Gaiman, no child of mine would ever be allowed to read any of my writing (except the books specifically meant for children) until they were at least 15 and I was satisfied they were emotionally stable.
He has a knack of finding the nightmare elements that lurk in everyday life (and in the wonderings of any imaginative kid lying awake in bed) and fleshing them out from fringe dwellers of reality to full-fledged, card-carrying members of the Scary Things Which Really Exist, Really community.
Perhaps I’m assuming an overly-protective parental persona here, but I still remember 15-year-old me eying clowns and dolls (except if they were Barbies, in which case I’d have fond memories of childhood haircut cum decapitation afternoons) with trepidation, and all this without watching It or Child’s Play, mind you.
But it’s not so much that I think reading Neil Gaiman would terrify a child, because that depends on the child, I guess. I think what bothers me is that the suggestion a child gets from reading Neil Gaiman is that nothing is ever quite what it seems. That there are dark undertones to everything, that bide their time and lie in wait for the unfortunate and unwary. And I think that childhood (and, perhaps, old age) are the rare times in life that you should be allowed to embrace certainties. You can always trust Mummy. Snow White was good, the mean queen was bad. Your jack-in-the-box isn’t evil.
Ironically, one of the reasons Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers is precisely this ability he has to subvert the order of things, to cast menacing shadows on familiar objects. And that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed Smoke And Mirrors. But I wouldn’t read those stories to a child.
I wonder what bedtime stories have been told in the Gaiman household.
Rarely does it occur that I run through my house attempting the triple jump. Especially since I’ve only ever seen it done on TV. But then again, rarely does it occur that one of my favourite authors in the world, Neil Gaiman, finally launches his own site.
Rarely (okay, actually pretty often, but I wanted that element of repetition) does it occur that I reel off absurdly long streams of obscenities as I run through my house attempting the triple jump. But then again, rarely does it occur that I remember that Neil Gaiman is making an appearance TEN MINUTES away from where I live in London on Saturday July 7, 1 PM at Forbidden Planet (New Oxford Street), but I’m NOT IN FRIGGIN’ LONDON.
This is one of those times when I have to remind myself about starving children, the AIDS plague, and looming environmental crises in order to put things in perspective.