In the last few weeks I read two books written by Neil Gaiman. I finished Neverwhere last night and read The Ocean at the End of the Lane a few weeks before that. I read Coraline a few years ago…and remembering some picture books I bought last year, I reread The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish today. In some ways I’m surprised that I like these books, they are a little bit fantasy with some parable-type qualities woven in.
So what do I read, you might ask? That question seems to become more and more complicated. If you follow me on Goodreads you may notice that I have binged on several YA series. I’ve read the Hunger Games series followed by a number of dystopian novels including Blood Red Road, Divergent and Insurgent, The Water Wars, and the Maze Runner series (that was not my favorite series). I’ve also read some series more in the fantasy category including The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, The Mortal Instruments (City of Bones…), The Infernal Devices, and Graceling Realm. Interspersed were murder mysteries by Gillian Flynn and Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen…and then there were the 4000+ pages of The Game of Thrones (haven’t gotten to A Dance with Dragons yet). I’ve also read other odds and ends, novels and plenty of books for kids, especially graphic novels for the younger crowd.
But back to Neverwhere. I read a lot. Fiction and non-fiction, fantasy, mystery, realistic fiction, historical fiction and everything in between. And some books stay with me longer than others. I liked Neverwhere. Some reviewer described it as an urban fairytale. In some ways I think that most of Gaiman’s books are fairytales of sort…maybe in the Grimm tradition. When I think of Richard (of Neverwhere) and the unnamed narrator in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, they are both those anti-heroes who learn powerful life lessons as they interact with supernatural beings from somewhere other than the world of humans that you and I live most of our lives in. They are flawed, often seen as weak pushover types as the story begins. They find their strength in unusual ways.
These are stories about overcoming difficulties…in many cases difficulties that the adults around them just don’t get. When I think about Gaiman’s books I find myself thinking about the qualities of grit and resilience that we look to cultivate in our students…and that teachers need too in our current educational climate. Neverwhere is a story about trusting your gut, learning from close observation, and hanging in there even when the going gets tough and things are scary. It’s about feeling invisible and doing what is right anyway and finally about realizing that what you thought you needed and wanted for your life might not really be what you were looking for.
Gaiman’s books are richly layered, both readable and complex. There are books for kids (The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish), for older kids (Coraline) and stories for adults. And I haven’t read them all yet. I think The Graveyard Book is up next for me. What’s your favorite Gaiman book? What else do you recommend?