Every January, I reread The Graveyard Book. A rainy day will come, or I’ll be in bed with a cold, and this overwhelming urge to pull it off the shelf again overcomes me. Even the year it was published, I read it again in January. I don’t know why it has such a strong influence on me during this time of year, but I suspect it’s something to do with the sense of mystery that permeates the novel and these early dark days of winter.
I wrote a letter to Gaiman the second or third time I read it, and I searched my computer desperately for a copy because honestly, few things are funnier than seeing me geek out over an author. Unfortunately, although I remember saving a copy before I sent it out, it’s gone now. I can’t even recreate what I wrote, although I know I spent an hour or so working on it while sitting on the couch, watching the rain beat against the window. I also remember the feeling I had – the feeling I always have – after I put this book down. It’s like staring up at the world from the bottom of deep crevasse; up there, the light dances with its shadow and the storms passing make the ground greener, rather than just damp. It’s possible to hear voices, and doors slamming, dogs barking at the music playing too loudly, but deep down, in this narrow reach of earth, everything is muted. Soft-edged. There’s magic, and it’s the kind that’s a little bit dark.
It’s no coincidence, I’m certain, that this is the same feeling I get whenever I enter a cemetery. Each has a quality, an air that’s nearly tangible. No matter how small, walking through those gates, I can feel a change. It’s tinged with the knowledge that even if I felt the urge to shout, it would be tamped down by whatever energy it is I’m experiencing.
That Gaiman wrote a book that so perfectly captured this – well, I suppose it’s to be expected; he’s been one of my favorite authors for twenty years now, after all. His are books that I don’t push on everyone, but instead save for kindred reading spirits. It isn’t fair, really, that I do that, but his writing is…well, it’s a whisper. To me, it embodies the phrase, “walk gently but carry a big stick.” In Gaiman’s books, the wisest characters never forget that.
I have to say that I also love the brutal elegance of this little book. This is a novel I would give to children who don’t like to read (those who do have hopefully already discovered it). It’s what I would call a spiderweb book – delicate, and delightfully intricate, while also being ferociously strong and predatory and frightening. Without a doubt, those are my favorites for young audiences. I don’t think children need mild-mannered books or sanitized reading experiences. I believe they crave an element of danger and darkness because those are the things that are most difficult to face in reality. Reading is a safe space to engage in the consideration of challenging circumstances, and having been a very anxious child myself, I was constantly drawn to books that forced me to face my worst fears. There was something almost magical about it.
Some books seem to spring forth and beg to empower young readers. For me, this will always be one that does just that. It’s hard to think less of one’s self when a book demands respect, when it trusts the intellect of the reader, and when it’s written with so much love for the people lucky enough to turn its pages.
For more about Neil Gaiman, go here.