Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

On Reading 100 Books (Actually, more like 50)

On January 21, 2014, I shared this picture on social media with the accompanying caption positing that I would attempt to read one hundred books during the year.


I’m so artsty it makes me sick.

Almost as soon as my fingers pounded out the goal, I realized that reading one hundred books was out of the question; it was already practically February.  So instead I said that reading fifty would be more likely.  I don’t have a calculator in front of me, but that’s like one every week or something.

As of writing this, I’ve read fifty-one books and am on my way toward finishing number fifty-two.

Now, I realize that this isn’t a great accomplishment by any means.  Still, I was impressed with myself for setting a goal and achieving it.  While I’ve always enjoyed reading–I do work at a public library after all–there was something almost stifling about knowing that I had to finish this goal.  In fact, almost as soon as I posted the picture, one of my friends commented that it’s better to keep the goals that you set to yourself because announcing the goals tricks your mind into thinking they have already been completed.

There were many times when I started reading a book and just couldn’t get into it, and wanted to stop.  For instance, I started reading The King in Yellow after watching True Detective over the summer, but I didn’t finish it until early December.  That’s outrageous! The book is only 256 pages.  I should have been able to knock that out in a weekend.  So I set it aside and read other books.  All the while I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that the time I put into reading those hundred or so pages would be worthless unless I finished the book in its entirety.

So I pressed on toward my goal’s end.  I knew I had to, but it wasn’t just because I’d already put it out there on the Internet. I had to do it because if I don’t finish a book, I feel like I’m disrespecting the author.

When I first take a book in my hands, open the cover and feel the paper, crisp and dry between my fingers, I’m entering into an agreement with that author and into a relationship with that book.  For however many pages, I belong to that book and it belongs to me. When I put it down, even for a few days, I feel like we’ve abandoned each other. By not being interesting or not grabbing my attention, the book has recanted its agreement with me.

A recent study showed that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, such as when you read fiction, improves your ability to show compassion.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble abandoning those books—because I know inside those pages, I’m someone else, maybe even someone better, if only for 300 or so pages.

Please save your psychoanalyses until the end, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve listed the fifty-one books on the next three pages, broken into three categories:  Good, Godawful and Great (because I like alliteration. If I liked assonance, I’d call them All Right, Awful and Amazing).  I briefly thought about ranking them, but then I realized that my rankings would do nothing to sway you if you’d already read a particular book and loved it and vice versa.  All I can say is that I highly recommend all the ones that I’ve put in the Great category.


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Walking Between Worlds

Sci-Fi and Fantasy often provide new worlds for readers to explore. A purer form of escapism would be hard to find. In many cases a book immediately immerses you in a new world. If you read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, you start in the far future with dudes in powered armor nuking hostile aliens. A Game Of Thrones opens in a fantastic land with three desperate Nights Watchmen encountering the undead.

Of late I seem to be gravitating toward a slightly subtler brand of escape in my sci-fi and fantasy reading. Maybe it comes from my own interest in parallel and alternate worlds, but the idea of a character from our world discovering and crossing into a new one fascinates me. This is a sub-genre that in my experience has  no real name. So I’ll call it “threshold sci-fi,” as the characters involved often do pass through or cross some physical, or metaphysical line into another world. I’ll talk about one I’m reading now, and a few of my other favorites, and maybe folks who read this can add a few more titles that fit the label.

Skin-Map  The Skin Map by Steven Lawhead.  The first book in the Bright Empires series features the protagonist, Kit, a twenty-something Londoner with a largely unfulfilled life, meeting his 125-year-old great grandfather after taking an ill advised short cut in a dirty alleyway. Actually a ley-line bridging multiple “Earths” and time periods, the alley leads Kit to his long missing and presumed dead great grandfather, and opens  whole new worlds of danger and adventure to him. Sinister forces move through these worlds, and heroes and villains find themselves seeking a map etched on pieces of human skin. Finding the map will unlock the pathways to power and control of this amazing multiverse. After showing the usual befuddlement one would assume comes when everything you thought you knew about the universe proves untrue, Kit rises to the occasion and embarks on a grand adventure. This one is really hitting the “threshold sci-fi” sweet spot for me, and I cannot wait to finish it and move on to the next book in the series.


Neverewhere_cover  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  This one might be more “urban fantasy” than “threshold sci-fi,” but it still fits my newly minted category, I think. Modern Londoner Richard Mayhew makes a fateful decision to aid a homeless woman in distress, but finds more than he bargains for when she turns out to be a member of a heretofore unknown society of magical subterraneans. Torn from the safety of his humdrum life, Richard struggles to survive in a London Underground of magic and mystery. While Richard winds up a bit wimpy for my taste, Gaiman’s awesome world building abilities shine through and make you believe the magical realm beneath London really could exist. In the end Richard has to choose between worlds; he cannot live in both. This choice is often a feature of “threshold sci-fi.” Once a character crosses that line, he undergoes a transformation of some kind. Sometimes it’s physical, but often it represents a changed world view that makes returning to his old life impossible.


Imajica_cover   Imajica by Clive Barker.  I’ve written about this one in other posts, but I love it so much, I am going to talk about it again here! London artist John Furie Zacharias, also known as “Gentle”, becomes embroiled in strange events that lead him to revelations of other worlds connected to Earth by a strange void called the “In Ovo.”  While mind blowing in itself, Gentle quickly learns that beings from these other worlds want his girlfriend dead, and that he himself is part of a grander destiny that will force him to cross the In Ovo and accept his heretofore unknown powers. Another Londoner? Is this a pattern? I promise it’s not!  You don’t have to be a Londoner to become embroiled in a “threshold sci-fi” story, but author Clive Barker is British, and his almost lyrical ability to write both about London and the strange environs beyond the In Ovo make this massive tome of a tale worth the ride.


Gates-to-Witch-World_cover  The Gates To Witch World by Andre Norton.  I’ve written about this one before too, but the first book in this collection, Witch World, is quintessential “threshold sci-fi,” and bears mentioning again here.  Simon Tregarth (not a Londoner) is a desperate, war-haunted man hunted by assassins and forced to choose escape by the most desperate of measures, the Siege Perilous. In passing through it the person incurs its judgment and travels to another place worthy of his or her character and standing.  Tregarth gets the Witch World.  Norton takes the Siege Perilous from Arthurian legend and makes it the ultimate threshold of no return.

Plenty of other books and series feature threshold themes, mixing them with urban fantasy or straight-up fantasy trappings. The key for me remains the element of choice. Every good threshold story features a moment where the protagonist crosses over, and his or her life changes forever because of it.

Still, if you know of the location of any such threshold in our own world, Siege Perilous or not, let me know! While I am not a Londoner, I’d certainly be up for trying my luck! In the meantime, share any titles you might know of that fit into this tiny corner of the sci-fi genre.




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Superman or Green Lantern Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me

Taken from the Facebook page of the Carnegie Library.

Taken from the Facebook page of the Carnegie Library. Photo by Ian Eberhardt. Drawing by Elyse Anderson.

I am a middle-aged woman, mom, librarian, and (drum roll please) a comic book geek. I started actively collecting comic books around 1980 as a teenager, but even before that I had a bunch of Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, Mad Magazines, and compilations of Peanuts that I appropriated from my grandfather.

Comics—I mean graphic novels—are more than just the sum of their parts, writing and illustration. The image on the paper evokes emotions—pleasure, fear, creepiness, hilarity, anxiety, romance, passion. A great graphic novel will have a talented writer at its helm, but can only work when an illustrator translates the feeling on the page with style.

My favorite emotion-evoking graphic novels:

Swamp ThingSaga of the Swamp Thing How can I describe what this is about without making it seem lame? Set (mainly) in the swamps of Louisiana, a man dies and becomes a plant elemental, fighting on the environment’s behalf. It’s also a romance between a woman and a monster. It really is so much more nuanced than I can relate here. I enjoyed Len Wein’s pulpy original from 1972, Secret of the Swamp Thing, but Alan Moore’s tenure (1984-1987), with illustrations by Stephen R. Bissette, is masterful and groundbreaking. This was the first mainstream comic book written for adults, not because of eroticism or violence, but for its complex thematic elements. I love this so much that Moore’s more famous Watchmen and V for Vendetta series were disappointments.

Here is a bonus for those familiar with Alan Moore and Frank Miller (of The Dark Knight Returns fame) but haven’t seen this yet: Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller.


Heartbreak SoupLove and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez. This series in toto is one of the most poignant pieces of literature I have read. Favorably compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the authors use the panels to convey deeper meaning. Little bubbles emanate from the mouth of a sickly child causing his older brother to warn him not to laugh. A tough female sheriff’s inner dialog is conveyed as thought bubbles. A wordless panel shows a baby in a playpen while blood is pooling on the floor from out of view. In opposition to my colleague, I enjoy Beto’s work more. When I picked up part 2 of Duck Feet (a story set in the fictional town of Palomar, somewhere in Latin America), it changed my literary life forever.


Building StoriesBuilding Stories (contains 2 books, 5 booklets, 1 newspaper, 5 folded sheets, 1 folded board, in a box) by Chris Ware. So sad. So depressing. So, so awesome. Every piece fits together in ways that don’t become clear until you read all of them. It doesn’t matter what you start with either. The cast includes a few people, a few bees and a building. You get snapshots of their lives and interactions at different points in time. Excuse me, Chris Ware, but just how did you look into my mind and write about my life?


SandmanSandman by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is my very favorite writer right now, and his latest effort Ocean at the End of the Lane  is among his best work. I remember not being terribly impressed by this series until issue 3 or 4, but since then I have been an avid and obsessive Neil fan. The series has a few different artists, and the interpretations of the material changes in interesting/disturbing/beautiful ways. Bonus nerd alert: the character Matthew (the crow) is really Matt Cable from the Swamp Thing.


Here is one that was critically acclaimed, but I am giving a pan to:

Are You My MotherAre You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel. There are so many references and quotes taken directly from other books she read, and the illustrations, while expertly drawn, are mostly of those quotes, and Bechdel herself talking to her mother, reading a book, or looking at her computer. Why be graphic at all? So boring!

These are all graphic novels on the “Dark Side.” My next post will be about some of my favorite lighter fare. Do you have any favorites that you’d like to share? I need new blood!

See you in the funny pages,



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The Sandman’s 20th birthday

A friendly sci-fi blog pointed out that November marks the 20th anniversary of Neil Gaiman‘s oneironautic graphic novel epic The Sandman.  If you need further motivation to check out the series, the blog goes on to list the five ways The Sandman changed the world, and the author isn’t just talking about the numerous spin-offs the series inspired (which include popular series like Death, Lucifer, and Sandman Mystery Theatre).

If you’ve already read The Sandman, and fallen in love with its characters and mythology, you can become an expert by reading the many books that analyze the comic strip, like The Sandman Companion or The Sandman Papers.

And, just because the series is long over, doesn’t mean that the mythology has ended.  In this article, Gaiman discusses the new Sandman projects happening to commemorate the anniversary–which means that we can all keep dreaming.


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