Gateway to Gaiman: Your Guide That Answers The Eternal Question, “What Neil Gaiman Novel Should I Read First?”

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
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My favorite authors consistently fall into two categories:

  1. They have a consistent mastery of language, and use that language to achieve a specific effect, such as humor or poeticness. (Is that a word? Meh. It is now.)
  2. They write in a LOT of different genres and mediums.

Because of this, it’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman’s writing is consistently deep, beautiful, and mythic. There are a lot of fantasy writers out there, but I guarantee you– none of them are quite like Gaiman. Trust me on this.

So when I say to people that one of my favorite writers is Neil Gaiman, I mainly get one response: “Oh. I’ve never heard of him. What book of his should I start out with?

This is not an easy question to answer. Because Gaiman’s writings are so varied, varying between humor and horror, children’s picture books and deeply adult graphic novels, I think that it’s a little bit hard to answer. Sometimes I’ll say one thing, sometimes another, but in any case, the right Starting Gaiman Book is kind of hard to decide. It varies from person to person.

Therefore, I have compiled this list of Neil Gaiman books to start you off on reading some of the most imaginative, well-written, and frankly insane fantasy you’ll ever encounter.

 

If You Are A Child, Or A Person Who Likes To Hang Out In Graveyards: The Graveyard Book

This children’s book adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is probably destined to become just as much a classic as the work that inspired it. Essentially, The Graveyard Book is a collection of linked short stories that charts the adventures of young Nobody “Bod” Owens as he learns to grow up living in a graveyard in a small English city. (Please note, this book does start out with Bod’s family being murdered, and there are some particularly scary scenes that might frighten some sensitive adult readers. But it’s still really freaking good.)

Also note that this book won both the Newbery Award and the Hugo Award.

 

If You Sometimes Go Walking In The Woods, Hoping To Catch A Glimpse Of An Elf Or Dwarf: Stardust

Do you like The Princess Bride? Are you a person who never really outgrew faerie tales?

Well then, this book is for you. It’s a fun, romantic, smart fantasy novel that evokes the traditions of Olde-Schoole Faerie Tayles™.

I’d also go so far as to say that this book would be perfect for early teens and precocious tweens as an introduction to Gaiman’s oeuvre. However, parents be warned: there is a (very short) sex scene in the first chapter, and later on in the book is an uncensored F-bomb. It’s very unlikely that your kids will care, but you know: parents are a little weird about stuff like that. So I’m just warning you guys.

 

If You Wander Around In Cities, Exploring Interesting Abandoned Houses And Opening Unmarked Doors: Neverwhere

I’ve heard this book described as “a Goth Alice in Wonderland”. While there are definitely influences from both Goth culture and Lewis Carroll, this book is really a hodgepodge of all sorts of things.

Richard Mayhew, a young office drone, saves the life of a homeless girl on the streets of London, and journeys into a hidden underworld beneath the streets of the city, a world only known about by the homeless population of London, a world of magic and miracles. The book is filled with fascinating characters, from the flamboyant Marquis de Carabas; to the warrior woman Hunter, most skilled bodyguard alive; to Islington, the Angel with A Secret.

This book is also notable for its villains, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, who are both hilariously funny and utterly terrifying at the same time– which is a delicate balance to walk.

 

If You Just Want A Quick Weekend Read: Anansi Boys

The follow-up to the brilliant American Gods (about which, more below), Anansi Boys is the only work of Gaiman’s that I’d consider a “romp”. Fat Charlie Nancy, at his father’s funeral, learns that his father was the African trickster god Anansi. He also learns that he has a long-lost twin brother who inherited his father’s powers. Hijinks and shenanigans (and, dare I say it, monkey shines?) ensue.

Side note: This is the only book about black people by a white author that I’ve ever read that doesn’t manage to be oversentimental or racist. It’s also a lot of fun.

 

If You Have A Short Attention Span: Fragile Things

This is a collection of short stories that spans the gamut (I know! A whole gamut!) of genres, with fantasy, horror, SF, and realism represented in abundance. There’s a few love stories, and a few funny stories, and a few erotic stories, and much more besides. There’s not much to go wrong with in this collection. It’s brilliant, and an excellent gateway drug.

 

If You Enjoy Humor, And Are Not Too Put Off By Blasphemy: Good Omens: The Nice And Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Good Omens reads like the Book of Revelations written by Douglas Adams.

I’ll let that just sink in for a second.

Side Note: The coauthor of this book is Terry Pratchett, British humorist, knight, and creator of the Discworld series. Sir Terry is also one of my favorite authors, and if you want to read some of the smartest, funniest fiction of the last fifty years, you should try to pick him up.

Hmm… I might actually have to write a Gateway to Discworld blog post sometime.

Let’s put that on the shelf for now.

~ Ian

 

P.S. One final note…

If You Are Starting To Read Neil Gaiman, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AVOID THESE BOOKS:

American Gods:

This book isn’t bad. In fact, it’s brilliant.

But the problem is, it’s not a good book to read if you’re new to reading Neil Gaiman.

I’ve been known to describe this book as a hybrid of Jack Kerouac and Stephen King, with a little bit of Beowulf thrown in for good measure. But that doesn’t begin to sum up the bizarre madness of this book, which is a kind of road-novel ghost-story fantasy-epic, with all the gods of both the old world and the new running around America and engaged in a psychic war that threatens to engulf reality.

It’s really bloody good. But it’s not for new readers. The sheer amount of strangeness that eminates from the pages of this book is probably enough to put most people off.

Sandman:

The Sandman series of graphic novels is one of the best, most imaginative works of fantasy since Lord of the Rings.

It’s also two thousand pages long.

So yeah. I’d recommend staying away from it until you have enough time (and money) to make the commitment.

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