Neil Gaiman’s having a pretty big year (who am I kidding – he’s having a pretty big life). In June, his newest adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, hit the stands, and he made another splash in September with a new brief chapter book for children called Fortunately, the Milk. Since I buy every novel Gaiman writes in hardcover months before it’s actually published, I usually forget all about his books until they show up on my doorstep. (Well, that’s not entirely true. I follow him on twitter, so “forgetting” is not exactly possible, but I zone out after I reach a certain saturation point on promotional material.) As it happened, I was traveling when Fortunately, the Milk arrived, so although the internet seemed insistent about spoiling it for me, I didn’t get around to reading it until about a week ago.
If I seem a little annoyed with the internet, I am. This is the second book in a row by Gaiman that has been so mercilessly hyped through the few channels I pay attention to that I felt a little underwhelmed when I actually got around to reading it. Don’t get me wrong – it’s adorable, and, as advertised, it is definitely Gaiman’s most ridiculous book to date; if you have young children (or, like me, enjoy the occasional foray into picture books, or picture short stories, as this turned out to be), this book is a lovely choice.
It’s written as superbly as ever, and the illustrations in the American version (a different artist worked on the UK release, although I can’t remember what this means for copies going to other countries) were wonderful, if not my personal favorite style. As far as I can tell, every other person using a computer and writing in English adored it, and I don’t think they’re wrong. I’ve already recommended it to my friend (both for herself and to enjoy with her sons), and I will happily buy copies of it for the upcoming birthdays of several children I know. I often found myself smiling as I read it, and although I don’t want to share the plot, I will say it’s a sweet book for the slightly absent-minded but wonderful fathers in our lives (an interesting juxtaposition, in fact, to the father figure portrayed in Ocean).
I think, though, that the reason I’m not over the moon about this book (and why I liked but didn’t love The Ocean at the End of the Lane) was not because Gaiman’s writing has suffered any changes in recent years, but because his books no longer feel like the secretive, magical experience I used to have. I’m now so inundated with information about him as an author and human being, with dates of tours, with promotional material months before his books are released – I just don’t have the opportunity to discover his work in the way I once could. I desperately want to love them because he’s been my favorite author for nearly as long as I’ve had such a thing, but this year, it just hasn’t felt the same.
Maybe I need to pull back, disconnect myself from the special opportunities and information he provides on sites like Twitter so that I can return to a place where I am once again delighted by the incredible stories he has the power to tell. I certainly never get tired of rereading my old favorites, but I don’t want to miss out on having another experience like the one I had when reading, say, The Graveyard Book for the first time. That novel was published almost exactly five years ago, and I still remember how powerfully it moved me. I had been reading Gaiman for nearly two decades, and yet I was overwhelmed anew by his gift for storytelling. I want that feeling again.
I want to wander into a bookstore and be surprised by the sight of a new book by him. I’d like to take it home and curl up with it without ever having heard a word about it. I need selfish me time to be alone with his stories before the whole world shares their very special feelings, and those perceptions start to bleed over into my own.
Maybe that’s too much to ask for. Or maybe it’s too much to receive, but I can still ask, and hope, and work to find that lovely old feeling again.
For more about Neil Gaiman, go here.