Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book a Week 12)

Escapist fantasies take many forms: superhero books, scifi stories, swords and sorcery tales, and romance novels.  They don’t all do the same things, but they can scratch the same itch. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has something in common with Chuck Palaniuk’s Fight Club they both follow pushovers, bored and worn down by the world they submit to and they both tell exciting, violent, and unpredictable yarns.

It’s probably a good thing that we don’t walk around punching dudes in the face everyday, but that doesn’t mean we all wouldn’t like to take a little less shit.  Neverwhere‘s main character Richard Mayhew takes a lot of shit.   He gets it from his fiancé, his colleagues, his boss, even his boss’s secretary.  The story gets rolling when he finally defies the wishes of his controlling fiancé by helping an injured vagrant (your typical manic pixie adventurer from a parallel world). From there the curtain comes up and the show is on.

Mayhew escapes.

Here I would like to pause and define a term.  I worry that someone is going to read “escapist” and think less of the work.  On the contrary, escape is only possible in a fine work. It implies a level of engagement on the part of the reader that a poorer story can’t hope for.  Neverwhere is as rich and tempting, as Jasmine from the Aladdin was when I first saw it at eleven.

Let me set up a straw man here because I can hear the complaints.

You say, “What about the real world? We live in it.”

I say, “Yes.”

You say, “We need perspective on this world.”

I say, “Yes.”

You (well not you, but some less thoughtful reader) say, “An escape is a waste of time we should be spending paying attention to it.”

I say, “Hell No!”

That’s the beauty of escapes, they have to talk to us, the people of the real world, fictional characters are great, but they don’t read their own books.  The escape only works if we can see and understand the characters we need to be able to get their situations in order to care or escape into them.

A fine fantasy novel is like a similarly.   Neverwhere is a fine book, as visceral as hunting a boar the size of an ox with a bladed weapon.

If that sounds good you might also like Fight Club.

Read a lot, Write a lot (Book a Week Series – Introduction)

“Read a lot, write a lot.” This is the mantra of a good writer or, at least, the one I stole from Stephen King. He says that a good writer should read between 70 and 80 books a year and I take him at his word.

In chess, if you never study the masters, you will be stuck under a low ceiling. You also need to log your time playing. If you don’t, you cannot develop an eye for the patterns. Following the “read a lot, write a lot” advice doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a great writer but not doing it probably ensures you won’t. So I’ll be reading a lot and writing about reading, too.

Reading is an emotional topic for me because for a long time as a kid I could not read. I am dyslexic and didn’t learn to read more than a sentence at a time until the third grade. At that point, I only half read books. I would undertake to read a paragraph out loud and then my mother would read the next paragraph to me.

It was generous of my mother to do this every morning. And I think it got me on my feet. The practice, the unavoidable act of reading, forced me to catch up.

By the time I was 13, you wouldn’t necessarily notice that I had had any trouble reading. I still read slowly but no longer had to read aloud, take untimed tests or rewrite things I had written backwards. The training wheels came off a little before puberty.

But, I was always sensitive about it. I felt stupid for not learning faster. I wanted to avoid reading the same way a kid who can’t throw a baseball as well as the rest wants to avoid gym.

Now I read frequently, but nothing like 70 or 80 books a year. So, I am game for a challenge. I am setting myself the goal of a book per week. If I keep on pace that makes 52 books in a year (did I say 70 or 80? I meant 52). For the next, who knows how many weeks, I will read and post a review for a different book here on North and Clark. Full disclosure, I plan to cheat every way I can: graphic novels, books I already finished this week and audio books are all fair game. I still think it will stretch me as a writer to take in all this material and knowing I will be reflecting on the books here in the blog will force me to read more closely. If you’re interested, follow along. I am going to start tomorrow with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.


Coming up

Week 1 – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Week 2 – The Mission Song by John LeCarré

Week 3 – Machine Man by Max Barry