Friday, January 20, 2017

NEIL GAIMAN

Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the combined assigned viewing AND reading(s) linked below. Students need only post ONE comment addressing BOTH the viewing and the fictional excerpts. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Neil Gaiman at the 2008 National Book Festival
Click link to watch the video.

AND

What the (very bad swear word) is a children's book, anyway?" by Neil Gaiman. Click link to read essay.

AND 

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman:"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet." Click heading to read the rest of the first chapter.

AND

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman: "I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult. Today they gave me comfort, of a kind. I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day." Click heading to read the rest of the excerpt.

36 comments:

Susan Lee said...

Neil Gaiman is without question a very talented writer that is famous all over the world. I remember reading the Graveyard Book and being impressed with the descriptions and the storyline that was simply captivating. I finished the book in almost one sitting because I was so impressed with it and just like his daughter, I was curious to what happened. I was surprised that it took him a while to finish it and that he almost felt that book was too difficult for him. For some reason I thought writing would always come so easily to him because he was so talented. Listening to him read part of the book out loud once again reminded how well it was written and the way he read it made it come alive even though there were no visions. On a side note, after watching the video I wanted to have a signed copy of his book and his book tour also sounded very interesting.
The essay by Geiman describing what a young adult fiction was described things from his own life and experience instead of just facts. I thoroughly enjoyed the essay and was surprised at the way he learned the power of words. I thought that the private school he went to was too extreme and unprofessional with the way they dealt with the situation. Another part that stood out to me was that there was an explicit scene in Stardust. I was one of the people that he mentioned that read it when they were young and I actually could not recall any scenes as such. I think this shows how accomplished of a writer he is.
Both these excerpts required me to read it several times for it to really click with me. A similarity these two have are that he does not outwardly say the point he wants to make. He uses descriptions that are rich with details to convey his message. For the excerpt from The Graveyard Book it was describing a someone slicing another human and he made a scene that was horrifying and gory into something that was almost beautiful and artistic. Nothing is stated in a point-blank manner it is all implied and described. I haven’t read the book where the excerpt is from so I was more lost on this one but the implications were there and the switch where he describes the suit as uncomfortable but that it gave him comfort because it was for a hard day is truly memorable.

Zakiya C said...

I have never read a book by Neil Gaiman, so I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this assignment. Now that I have read pieces of his work, and listened to him talk about and read his work I can really see the person before the writer. Gaiman is a listener and observer of people and the things that make us interesting. I think the thing he said that really stuck with me was his son saying he would replace his dad with two goldfish and then that became a story. Which then relates to his lecture essay where he repeatedly says that authors are not good at answering questions, but they are good at asking questions. To write about goldfish replacing a father there are different questions one must ask themselves and then let the story be the resolution of those questions. Gaiman took it upon himself to delve into a world where it is possible for a father to be replaced by goldfish.
The next thing that Gaiman does that I found really amazing was the amount of detail that he manages to bring to his work. Not just the excerpts that were given but his lecture essay as well. He gives memories from his childhood with great detail and it keeps the listener, or in my case, the reader interested in what he is saying. Also in the excerpt about the knife he leaves the reader wanting more. The way his sentences have so much detail in such a small section of text keeps the reader involved and constantly imagining the seen. I will have to read a whole book of his one day.

Michael Mintz said...

Neil Gaiman’s book writing style really shows the blurry border from an adult horror book and a kid’s novel. I remember reading Caroline and being thoroughly creeped out and scared by the story. In fact, I had a couple of nightmares since I had an old well in my backyard so I was scared a creepy hand would come out of it after reading his books. Also, his speech was interesting as he talked about how some of his ideas were just random cool thoughts he had or from dreams. The fact he said that he had trouble claiming his own ideas when they came from his dreams was interesting to me. I myself have had a couple of ideas randomly pop-up in my head but I had never really thought those ideas didn’t belong to me. So, his view was quite interesting how the universe gifted ideas to people instead of him actually figuring them out himself. The tension he is able to build with his writing is also quite miraculous leaving me with a chill without actually anything happening. Almost like when I watched the movie The Shining were a title card of the day Wednesday appeared yet it scared me because of the whole tone of the movie and the music. It really gave me things to think about like how action isn’t always the best way to proceed in a book instead trying to describe more of the world itself will give the whole book its own vibe and feeling allowing people to be more engaged in the story.

Elaina Yu said...

Before this class, I had only heard the name Neil Gaiman thrown around like an idiom - familiar, but not really with meaning until I went in to learn. I was surprised I watched the entire interview. I was so enthralled, I'm always interested in authors talking about their works, processes, anything. Or anything any person is passionate about. Then I realized that he was the author of Coraline, a book I couldn't finish as a child and haunted me for years. And he was also the author of Good Omens, a book a friend of mine had been suggesting to me for years. As with Stephen King, I admire Gaiman's style and clear voice, but not a fan of horror. But I loved his interview video because I completely understood that feeling of a small detail (an elbow, a phrase, an idea) and then how it takes over the corners of your mind, until you're asking around to supplement this idea and it all just falls into place. I really also loved the unintentional advice he gave about his writing process, which was his story of “I’m not good enough for this idea yet.” No, most of the time, you are as ready as you can be, just grow with it. This whole getting to know Gaiman as a man and figure, not an unattainable figure, was incredibly inspiring and I will definitely check out some of his works.

Samantha Glass said...


I appreciated Neil Gaiman’s article What the [Very Bad Swear Word] is a Children’s Book a lot more than the excerpts of both of his novels. It was interesting to see him talk in person via the Youtube video, but I feel bad because I am not a big enough fan of his writing to really appreciate the book talk.


--But I really did not Gaiman’s essay piece, probably because I tend to enjoy reading essays/memoirs more than fiction pieces (especially horror/thriller). But I loved how he talked about how adults shouldn’t be afraid to let children read what they want because children censor their own books. Gaiman showed this by telling us the story of having his publisher’s daughter read the book to see if it’s a children’s book. The young girl did not want to say she was really afraid of it, but she challenged herself to read to the end because she wanted to know how it ended. By parents and teachers demanding that students read certain texts, we limit their exposure to so many other things. Exploring scary, potentially harmful, and even sexual topics in a book is so much safer than exploring these things in person, especially because many of these topics have the ability to go over children’s heads. It’s a safer way to expose children to the realities of life.


My favorite line from Gaiman’s essay is, “Like all oppressed people, children know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them”. Children know so much more about their teacher, who is in front of the class all day and yapping away and the other students are fighting for 1/25th of a piece of attention. This quote made me think of a Brazilian education reformer names Paulo Freire, who advocated for a more democratic classroom, where students are teachers and teachers are students- both learn from and teach each other. Maybe Gaiman is advocating for a more democratic set of literature, where children and adults can cross-read each other’s genres and it’s not called something: it’s just reading.


Maybe it was that the excerpt was too short for me to appreciate the text, but I really did not understand or enjoy The Graveyard Book. It was really scary and spooky and it didn’t seem like it was in the voice of a baby. It made me wonder if children would ever read children’s lit actually written by children? I know adults are more developed writers and understand how to create a story’s arch, but don’t adults forget what it’s like to be a child? How can they accurately represent those feelings? I remember thinking this was a super important issue as a teenager, so I wrote in my journal so I would not forget what it was like as a teenager.


I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane a bit more, but was confused about why this was a middle grade book- it’s an older man looking back and reminiscing. Aren’t the characters supposed to be between 8 and 18? Maybe he goes back in time later in the novel. But the movie Big is kind of like that- he starts as an adult and follows his adult and child life, and the movie is for children.

Leah Usefara said...

I'd always hear how good of an author Neil Gaiman was growing up without actually reading any of his books until lately. I would hear praises about American Gods and vague references. I finally became interested in his works during my 20th Century Science Fiction class last semester and we discussed how impressive he is. Sandman was the first Graphic Novel to win the World Fantasy Award and the series has been on my to-read list for the past few months. I have only read his Good Omens and The Graveyard Book novels. Gaiman was right when he said the audiobook really helps him pace himself because I had the same exact problem with Good Omens and generally every other book I read. For some reason, I have the impressive that I have no time, I'm too excited, or I'll waste my time if I spend too much concentration on a book I may deem bad in the end. This assumption always leads me to rushing through books and not savoring every joke or pieces of character or plot evidence. Since there wasn't a reading sample of Good Omens on Amazon at the time, the only option I had to read a bit of the book was the audiobook sample. I was charmed by the humor and I could really envision the two British authors as the angel and demon just trying to make the other laugh while trying to make the Anti-Christ good or bad, according to their boss' instructions. However, when I read the book, I just hurried through their journey and couldn't pace myself. Gaiman also made me feel reassured during the interview; showing his insecurities that he isn't a good enough writer and can't match up to his ideas. His inspiration can come in the slightest provocation, a coincidence, a random train of thought and I can identify with that. Initially, I got interested in The Graveyard Book because a graveyard setting is an unusual and appealing concept, especially since I've been binging horror games lately and wanted more supernatural murder mystery in my life. My favorite thing in the entire book is the relationship between Bod and Silas. Even though I loved the universe, the festive events, and the individual characters like the witch and the guardian, I loved how alien Silas is in the beginning and his eventual warmth toward Bod. I wish there was a continuation of Bod's adventures around the world with his...otherworldly knowledge, but I'm happy.

Sam A said...

I really liked the pieces in this weeks assignment. I thought that The Graveyard Book had a really good opening and illustrates what Gaiman is speaking about in his essay. The writing in The Graveyard Book wasn't complex or high-brow, but it was still enthralling and drew the reader in. Yet, a middle school student could have experienced the same feeling. I think that is the magic of well written mg/ya books. They're accessible to everyone and the content is not necessarily geared toward a child or an adult. I think that this is what makes YA so popular. It is usually written in a manner that almost anyone can pick it up and read it, while also having ubiquitous plot and narrative structures that are entertaining to a wide range of people. I think that is the virtue in mg/ya. Gaiman also speaks about how books geared toward younger demographics can be embarrassing for an adult to read lest they be decried as childish. I think that this is huge stigma that the genre has worked very hard to shake off. I think that is slowly getting rid of that stigma. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have been books that adults and children alike have been enjoying in main stream media. However, it still seems to carry the stigma of somehow being less than more refined and more complex genres. I think that this is going to be the next hurdle for mg/ya to conquer.

I always enjoyed books that didn't talk to me as a child. Growing up I loved reading a book that dealt with larger, more adult themes because it felt more real to me. So, it funny to see him speak about how his publishers daughter got Coraline published. I get that book publishing is a business and you want the book to appeal as much as possible to younger crowds, but I was surprised to hear that books would so easily be dismissed simply because they had the chance of scaring children. Now, I have never been a horror book type of person. Me and HP Lovecraft don't hang out on the weekends. However, subjects like horror or tragedy or love/sex don't seem like they should automatically ruled out as unfit for the mg/ya genre. I understand that you can't write a raunchy sex scene where the protagonist finds himself doing some compromising actions, but I feel that the subject of sex on a broader level is something that is fairly apt for a mg/ya reader to read about. I suppose striking that balance between treating them as mature readers and not exposing them too much is fairly thin and muddled at times, but I was always like his publishers daughter. I always became disinterested if a book tiptoed around me as the reader. In fact, the more a book treated the reader as someone who didn't need to be coddled, the more I liked it.

Richard Sableson said...

Richard Urquiza

I have never read any of Neil Gaiman’s work, although I have been previously aware of a few of them, such as Coraline. I was surprised to hear this, because perhaps I had assumed the book was written long ago enough that the author could be considered deceased. But anyway, it was a pleasant experience to learn about him and hear him talk about his craft. Whether I am familiar with an author or not, it is always fascinating to hear them discuss their work and passion for it, and Neil Gaiman clearly has a love for his writing.

In some ways I very much identify and relate with Neil. One part in the video that really resonated with me is when he talked about the inspiration for his novel “The Graveyard”, and how he first thought the idea was too good for him to do it proper justice. He put it aside and waited until he improved, which is a mindset I often have with my ideas. I have three notebooks with me that I tend to carry everywhere, and each on is filled with thoughts and ideas for stories that I am too afraid I will ruin through lack of skill. However, like Neil, it may be best to finally attempt to bring them life, and lack of experience be damned! After all, you have to write to improve at it, and you can’t very much do so by being too much of a perfectionist to try.

In other writing habits we are completely different. For instance, when asked about the reasoning or inspiration behind some of his ideas, he doesn’t seem to remember. Like he says in the article, “I don’t write with answers in mind. I write to find out what I think about something.” This is astonishing to me, because I often don’t dare to write unless I know exactly where I want the story to go, and which questions to answer.

Melissa Cecchini said...

Before this assignment I had heard Neil Gaiman's name, but it was one that didn't really have a face any kind of particular meaning attached to it. It was just a name that existed somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious. But when I was opening the articles so that I could read them all easier, I saw the cover of Coraline in one of them and immediately my brain went "Oh it's that guy. Cool."
I started with the video instead of the articles, and the first thought that went through my mind was that I'd really freaking love to be friends with this guy. He's just so cool, and really funny. But I think above all, I liked him because he was personable. A lot of times you read a book and you fall in love with it and then you meet the author behind it and they're boring. Or they're really full of themselves and feel that everyone in the audience should love them as much as they love them. He wasn't one of those people.
He also said a lot of really awesome things that resonated with me as a writer. Someone asked him where he got his ideas as a writer and he just kind of shrugged and said that many times you have these ideas and you have no idea how they happened. People look at me like I'm insane for not remembering the exact moment I got an idea in all its glory. And a lot of times I have no idea what possessed me to write a particular story. I don't think it's really necessary to know either. The idea is what's important.
I also really liked his answer when someone asked him how much of his ideas were his own and how many did he take from other sources. He told the woman who had asked the question "You don't live in a vacuum". Everyone acts like every idea needs to be 100% original and breakout brand new, and it can't have any ties to anything that has ever happened ever. But I don't think it works that way, or that it's ever worked that way. J.K. Rowling used a lot of mythology in writing her books, and look where she is now. Just a lot of what Gaiman had to say was spot on and really insightful.
I appreciated the conversation-like tone of Gaiman's essay, the fact that he did address the reader and take them by the hand through his journey as he tried to figure out just what a children's book was. I also very strongly agreed with his assertion that children should not be censored in their reading. I remember in elementary school picking up a book that was titled Killing Britney. It did have a lot of violence in it, but it wasn't anything my parents hadn't exposed me to in the movies we would watch. But my school teacher was very upset by the book and questioned me in front of the whole class about it, which was extremely embarrassing.
After reading both excerpts I don't think it would be fair to say I liked one better than the other. I liked them both, but for different reasons. The language in The Ocean at the End of the Lane was prettier. The plot was sort of like an iceberg, simple and small at face value but a lot more depth to it underneath. The Graveyard book had more of my attention as I was reading it, the nature of the plot itself was more interesting. It's one that lends itself to all ages, not just adults OR children. But both were books I'd pick up and read if I came across them in the store.

Siming Hsu said...

I'd never read anything by Neil Gaiman before this class. I was familiar with the titles of some of his works, but somehow just never connected that he was the author. Reading his articles and listening to his lecture, though, was very eye-opening and inspiring. The two excerpts from The Graveyard Book and The Ocean At the End of the Lane both were written simply, with subtle details; they were easy to read, and could most definitely be read by children. And yet as an adult, they were still evocative enough to capture my attention; The Ocean at the End of the Lane in particular made me feel nostalgic and wistful for some quiet, countryside childhood that I had never had in the first place. I think that's amazing, Gaiman executes the magic of transporting your audience so well. It never fails to impress me when works are written so simply that children could read them--and often they are meant specifically for children--and yet the feeling, atmosphere, and message of the writing is still completely effective on adult readers.

Listening to his lecture was also very telling, especially during the moments where he discusses the initial moments of inspiration for books, and how to build ideas into stories. The way he describes it is, I feel, very relatable; it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment inspiration comes forth or when your next great idea hits you. Sometimes it just happens spontaneously, sometimes it builds slowly, sometimes it comes and goes. But when an idea takes hold, for me, the inspiration often lies in the small details, and those details build and build upon each other until something more substantial is born.

Julia said...

To be honest, when I signed up for this class I basically wanted to learn the best ways to sell out. When I think of YA Fiction I think of love triangles between two attractive yet marketably bland boys that our protagonist, the girl who is somehow great at everything and is somehow both plain and shockingly beautiful at the same time, must choose between them as she fights the forces of evil or, in the case of Twilight and, to some extent, Harry Potter gets injured a lot and wakes up in the hospital after the whole thing is through to be told what happened by more competent characters. However, Neil Gaiman's essay made me think about a period I have nearly forgotten. It all came flooding back to me in an instant. Middle school. I think Middle Grade Fiction has always been more sophisticated than Young Adult in the way that Oscar bait is to Summer Blockbusters. Middle Grade Fiction acknowledges the horrifying truth of what it's like to be a child. Gaiman talks about the false nostalgia of adults for childhood, and it clearly made me remember how I have thought the exact same thing throughout my life. Childhood brings about a sense of terrifying helplessness that adults forget how to fathom. There is this strange idea that children aren't afraid of anything and are carefree all the time. Perhaps being an Obsessive Compulsive child, I cannot speak for the general populace, but I always found childhood to be particularly worrying. You had no say in what happened to you and were seen, in the eyes of the law and adults, as a liability. A commodity to be insured like a car or a house. This is why Middle Grade Fiction is so important, perhaps the most important Fiction there is.
My mother always complained about the lack of parents in children's books, but to me it just signifies this fearful fantasy every child has of independence: of agency. The child is tossed into a cruel world that always existed, but this time they are their own being. They can defeat their foes all by themselves through their wit and ingenuity. They are underestimated and use it to their advantage. It takes a special kind of adult to be able to see that, to not be clouded by Freud's beloved infantile amnesia. Childhood is cruel and it exists in far starker color than any other point in life. That is what differentiates a child's reading from an adult's, I suppose.

Benji Sills said...

Before reading these excerpts and listening to him speak, I only knew of Neil Gaiman because one of his books was on my roommate’s shelf. However, after being able to get a sample of his craft and learn about the process behind his writing, I can understand why he deserves a place on any bookshelf. His writing flows beautifully without being over-complicated and his communication of detail is very efficient. I was most struck by some of the things he discussed in regards to his process. I’m strangely reassured by his views on inspiration. I think there’s an idea that one has to be hit by a very specific, identifiable stroke of realization. But I think the idea that there is always this “aha!” moment is false and it’s comforting to hear an extremely successful and prolific writer to say that it’s ok to borrow and synthesize ideas from different places into our own idea. Because he is right that ideas don’t exist in or arise from a vacuum. I’ve certainly never had an “aha!” moment without being inspired from a wide number of places, many of which are challenging to even identify or track down after the fact. I think good ideas are probably formed slowly and are a conglomeration of other ideas we’ve heard and experiences we’ve encountered. Sometimes I feel inept for not being able to just sit down and conjure up something on the spot. It was nice to hear a successful writer reassure that there is no magic inspired genius that I’m lacking, but rather that creating an idea is a process of sorts and one that grows organically and of its own accord.

Brian Nowak said...

Revisiting Neil Gaiman's work since our intro class over the summer, I forgot how much I appreciate Neil Gaiman's poignance. If I remember correctly, you only had us look at the Graveyard book excerpt and the reading/ Q+A at the National Book Festival. With that said, I read the excerpt of Ocean at the End of the Lane this dreary morning and it nearly brought me to tears. I like how each detail is filling a specific space-- the writing is sparse, you might say. For instance, I thought he did a wonderful job of emphasizing the limits of his memory a he traversed the old lane, and then stresses the breakthrough of memory, how it floods the mind with this detail and that, some of them remembered correctly, others struggling between two possible truths. That is a phenomenon I would like very much to be able to translate into my own writing.
As far as his NBF talk, watching it again I appreciate his flexible nature when it comes to receiving ideas for books, like from his children or from the antique salesman in China. I also appreciate that he doesn't force himself to write immediately, necessarily. Having slacked majorly in my own writing over the recent months, I sure hope he is right about returning to ideas. I hope it is still possible.
What the fuck is a children's book? It seems nobody has a clue. It doesn't seem to matter! However, as I undergo training to become a high school English teacher, I think I stand with Gaiman in the sense that I hope I can supply my students with meaningful literature, be it MG, YA, or adult works.

Maggie Lu said...

As Gaiman reads his book at the NBF, the audience can hear how the author himself reads in the voice for the characters he created. It’s always interesting because everyone reads in a different tone, but hearing the creator of the plot and characters, it is a different experience because he can make it come to life the way he envisioned. Gaiman says he had always put off writing books and I find it interesting that he only wrote a page every few years, thinking that he was not a good enough author.
His writing style isn’t particularly hard to read or to understand and it draws the reader in with the choice of words and syntax. I especially like The Ocean at the End of the Lane because as the narrator talks about his childhood memories in his hometown, it reminded me of when I used to live in South Carolina when I was younger. I really like the line “it felt like I had driven back in time. That lane was how I remembered it, when nothing else was.” Although it is different since he is back in his hometown for a funeral, this excerpt is relatable because a few years ago, when I went back down to the south to visit my old neighborhood and town, things were different. Passing different places made me remember specific memories -- going to Food Lion to buy fruit roll ups, running around the restaurant where my parents worked, the public library where I read my first Amelia Bedelia book. The description in the excerpt from Gaiman’s book is so realistic that I can imagine the scenes clearly in my head. I like how certain items or places in the narrator’s hometown reminds him of a specific memory that he wouldn’t have thought of before seeing it again. Mentioning his old friend Lettie Hempstock makes the story more personal and connects him to his past.
While The Ocean at the End of the Lane was more of a nostalgic story where the narrator spends his time reminiscing, The Graveyard Book is very dark. The plot seems like it could be one of the storylines of Criminal Minds – in a dark house with just the moonlight as its only source of light, Jack finished killing the mom, dad, and sister, and now after the baby. Gaiman giving the perspective of Jack as well as the baby allows the audience to follow the thought process of the baby and see what he experiences before Jack gets to him.

Christopher Yi said...

I have never heard of Neil Gaiman before the discussion we had in class, although, I did know of his book Coraline and the movie adaptation that I saw 8 years ago. I remember simply being enthralled with the tone of child-like innocence juxtaposed with eerie horror. I also really enjoyed Neil’s explanation of the creative process of writing and how we draw ideas from our experiences and share them with the world, kind of like how reporters do. He made this point very clear when he succinctly explained that we as people do not exist in a vacuum.
In his essay, he talks about how writing for a certain genre or audience is mostly based on feeling and perhaps it is not the best idea to keep asking yourself pedantic questions of what makes a certain type of writing that type of writing. He described it best with the short phrase “I know it when I see it.” You don’t often question the criteria for what you write because it comes naturally. I’ve come to better understand this view when he mentioned his book, Fortunately, The Milk and how the father being the hero was a concern to his editor as children may not be able to relate to him as much as a kid protagonist. However, he cleverly ends his essay with: “what the fuck is a children’s book anyway?”
The writings samples from his books further helped me understand his blurring of the genres and audiences for his writing. I would have never known that a gruesome murder in the beginning of The Graveyard Book would be allowed in a children’s book. This assignment was refreshing in that it opened my eyes to what liberties writers can take when creating works for children or young adults and that heavy subject matter does not necessarily mean that it is inappropriate for these audiences.

jaclyn liccone said...

Before this class, I had never heard of Neil Gaiman. Just by reading his excerpts I am able to understand a bit about who he is as a writer, and watching the video of him reading his book at the National Book Festival really showed me who he is as a person. I chose to read the excepts and the essay first to get a feel for the type of writer he is which made me realize his writing style is very unique. I have never read something that made me think the way that his writing does. His way of describing, whether it be a person, a place, or a moment in time, is very well done and as the reader, it makes me able to visualize the image exactly as if I were to be there myself. Gaiman is very good at describing through the senses of the reader which is what makes his writing different, “He could smell the child: a milky smell, like chocolate chip cookies, and the sour tang of a wet, disposable, nighttime diaper” (Gaiman, The Graveyard Book). In this sentence he made me use my sense of smell in multiple ways to really get across what the character was smelling. Having really intense description is key and what all writers strive for, but you have to be able to do it well, like Gaiman.

After I read the excerpts I watched the video and I was really able to get a different view of Gaiman. Seeing an author read their own writing makes me appreciate the book that much more. It’s being read from the best perspective possible, the creator himself, so the story experience was as rich as it could be and it captivated me to only want to hear more.

Colleenie vonVorys-Norton said...

I have never read a Neil Gaiman before but I have heard of him because he wrote some episodes for Doctor Who. I don't really watch Doctor Who anymore, and I kinda forgot about Neil Gaiman until this assignment. I really enjoyed reading his work and I did not dread all the readings as much as I thought I would when I first started. What has stuck with me the most after reading and watching the video was him getting inspiration from two of his books from his kids. I am very fascinated with how kids see the world and I love taking inspiration from my little cousins and the worlds they make up.
Honestly, I never really thought before about the difference between a children and adult book. If you asked me before reading this, I probably would have said that the difference would be the length and the language used. As a child (and still to this day) if I am reading something and the language is hard to understand then it won't hold my attention enough. I don't think that the subject matter would affect it as much as how it was told. There is death and terrible things in so many children's stories. There is a literal duel to the death in Beauty and the Beast, the poisoning of a 14 year old girl in Snow White, an almost child bride in Aladdin. And that's just in Disney Princess movies! And we don't label those stories for adults because of that matter. I don't know if there really is a line between what is for kids and what is for adults. Yes, it's a spectrum but isn't everything?

Rachel Westerbeke said...

When he read a chapter from his book to the audience at the National Book Festival, I noticed how descriptive the first paragraph was in setting the scene, yet the description ended in an action that was described very plainly. The rest of the reading didn’t contain the more elaborate and lyrical descriptions and, instead, just moved through the conversation between the characters. Not going crazy with descriptive words after the scene had been set made the writing easier to follow, and I think eliminated distraction from the main purpose of the scene. I also appreciated that he supports audio books as many people believe that books can’t be fully experienced via audio book or as some kind of e-book. I tend to believe that as long as you can see or hear the words, you have everything in the work that is truly important. Also, he discussed how he could get so excited about the ending of a book that he would start to speed read and that audiobooks allow you to keep a steady pace. I can definitely relate to speed-reading when stories get exciting, so I thought that was a useful point.
The language Gaiman uses in his essay on children’s books is well-written without needing to include impressive vocabulary. He is correct in stating that the essay doesn’t really answer the question of what a children’s book really is, but it does discuss works in which the category is unclear and how the issue was resolved. I can definitely understand how the line blurs—I have cousins half my age who can handle gory war movies better than I can…and I have cousins half my age who haven’t graduated from cartoons. I think part of the problem is that kids are dynamic in a way that adults are not perceived to be. Kids are developing and learning and being exposed to areas of life at different rates. Some have been exposed to horror stories as long as they can remember and some aren’t until they hit double digits. But once you’re an adult, that’s it. You will still change, but you have reached a threshold that you can’t return to.

Dan O'Connor said...

I am not new to the work of Neil Gaiman. I have over the years gained a lot of enjoyment from reading his novels and his short stories. What his two talks displayed to me was an author whose concern for story seemed to take precedent over audience in a way. Obviously some of his work is geared more towards different age groups, but from how he spoke and wrote I came away with the impression that the intended reader age was not so much a concern of his as was the publishers. What seemed to be important then was that the story teller or author or whoever could form and deploy the content of their work in such a was as to make much of it engaging with someone. For Gaiman I would say that he his work often strides the line between fiction for adults and fiction for the younger folk. There is often some real things of the fantastical within his body of writing things that apply themselves well to literature which one might give to a child or young person, but the way in which he builds these elements into his work creates things that feel far more adult than they should at times or rather that his stories can have a feeling of oldness and sort of adult bearing even when they are about magic or monsters or what have you.

Ilana Shaiman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilana Shaiman said...

I really liked “The Graveyard Book,” in the way that it described the family and what each bedroom looked like. In two lines of description, and without dialogue, the reader is shown both family dynamics and character traits. In “The Ocean at the end of the Lane,” Gaiman does a great job of conveying the awkwardness of catching up with people you haven’t seen in a long time. With his use of parenthesis, he sums up the experience of feeling of wanting to impress people, comparing yourself to what you think your life should be like, or what you wish it was like.
In the video, Gaiman tells the story of discovering the idea for the graveyard book with his son riding a tricycle at a graveyard in the neighborhood. He said once he got the idea, he started to write a page and a half and then had the thought “I am not a good enough writer to write this idea yet.” He is very funny as he describes his process of going back to it and putting it down for years and then saying to himself, “I’m not getting any better.” It’s interesting because in watching this video, I’m able to get to know the personality of this writer. I am seeing his humor, as well as his ego, and his fears. When a writer tells a story at a casual public speaking event, it’s different than when they write a short story or novel. Hearing the writer speak about his writing process, his family life, and his personal life, allows viewers to see the humanity of the one who brings the stories. We know his voice as a narrator, a character, but now we get to see what inspires that voice, who that voice really is – at least at the time this video was made.

Louise McSorley said...

Despite not reading much of Neil Gaiman before, much of his work has been turned into movies that I've really enjoyed like "Coraline." I gravitate toward the darker side of storytelling and I was very inspired and entertained by his handle of horror elements in his YA and MG. His quote from the YouTube video was particularly inspiring: "...this time I've made no plans so nothing can go wrong." He doesn't seem to take himself so seriously as a writer in that while writing is clearly his passion, he is okay with putting things off and not always having the right answer. Always a helpful reminder.

I've always been more of a visual reader--I like having the words in front of me even if the story is being spoken aloud. So I preferred the story excerpts and article more than the second half of the YouTube video. The article on defining a children's book was very interesting. For me, I believe a children's novel is any book a child can read, enjoy, and, as Gaiman says going "beyond" limits. The books he read as a child were adult ones with adult material. And while much of it made him uncomfortable, it never made him stop reading. He grew and began to understand what it meant to become an adult and deal with adult things. And when certain stories became too graphic or disturbing, he would stop and find something that made him happier or "comfortable." The most important thing that separates an "adult" novel from a "children's novel" is censorship for Gaiman--and not censorship on a parent's part. Children, he says, can censor themselves because they know better than anyone else what they can handle reading and what they cannot.

Crystal Lam said...

Before starting this assignment, I had never read any of Neil Gaiman's works. I had heard of Coraline but never had the chance to read the book or watch the movie. It had seemed very eerie and I was quite confused about its status as a children's book or an adult novel. From Christopher's comment and the other readings, I find that I would be interested in giving the book and possibly the movie a chance.
After reading the excerpt from The Graveyard Book, I definitely want to read the book. In the beginning, it sounded like a possible spin-off of Harry Potter with the killer entering the house to kill a defenseless baby. Just when the reader is sure that the killer is about to complete his mission, a moment of amusement ensues when the shape turns out to be a teddy bear. I am very interested to find out where the story leads. Like Morgan, I want to find out how it ends but as a child, I may have stopped because I was scared of the actual events.

It was pleasantly surprising to read about Neil Gaiman's writing process and how many times his stories are for him to find out how feels about a certain subject or event. When he describes writing, it's a thought process rather than a set plan. He mentions that many times his books end up at lengths that are not quite short enough to be children's novels but also not long enough to be an adult novel. Like Richard's comment, many writers want to know where their story is going before actually writing the actual piece of work. I find myself planning out the ending before I write so I know where it goes. Gaiman's process seems as if the writing takes itself to the ending naturally without him needing to craft how the conclusion will come about. It is always hard to face the unknown but if he can write so well with so many uncertain results, I find it inspiring to think less about how things will end and more about the process. Even then, Gaiman says that he has no idea where his ideas come from. About the buttons for eyes in Coraline, he says in the video that he doesn't remember how he thought of that and for that matter did not think it would be important. Even though I never really read or watched Coraline, even I knew that the buttons were a distinguishing feature and lent to the scariness of the story. People should be less afraid about what they are writing and just write. Sometimes amazing stories can be born from just a random idea written down in a notebook.

Ryan Allen said...

I'm near the end of The Graveyard book and I have to say I've really enjoyed it so far. Gaiman does an admirable job building a highly unusual world and situation without ever coming off overdone or convoluted, which must have been unimaginably difficult. Watching him speak was pleasant because of the honesty with which he described his inspirations and insecurities. It was intriguing to hear that he shelved the idea for the Graveyard Book for a while after coming up with it because he felt he didn't possess the requisite skill the story deserved. Reading it, it definitely shows that he didn't start before having a ton of confidence in the way he was going about the story.

Fortunately before watching the video, I had just gotten past the excerpt he reads aloud. It's an example of a skillful insertion of humor into relatively dark surroundings. And not just humor for humor's sake, but humor that adds a real layer to what's happening. Recently I've been feeling that there's a ton of inspiration to be found right under my nose in every day situations, and hearing Gaiman speak to that was genuinely inspiring.

Marina Martinez said...

I have not yet read a story by Neil Gaiman. I was not aware that he wrote "Coraline". I saw the movie and found it exciting and imaginative. I thought it was intriguing that he did not begin at the first chapter of the book and it inspired me to try that technique when I can’t get the beginning of my stories to come out the way I want. I was impressed upon hearing Gaiman read “The Graveyard” at the National Book Festival. I liked the way his writing flowed and the sensory details throughout his story. The story captured my attention and kept it. I found his writing funny and liked the way he spoke.

I enjoyed reading Gaiman’s article on children’s books. I think that there are certain elements that Gaiman highlights like magic that make people assume a book is suitable for children when other elements, for example sexual ones, are subtle and missed by a younger author. These missed messages can make a book adult as well though, which I think that is one of the confusing things about distinguishing books as children’s or adult.

I liked both excerpts by Gaiman. I found the first excerpt by Gaiman very gory, but so well worded that is was almost concealed. I felt that despite the second excerpt containing less gore it felt more adult. I came to this conclusion because I don’t think a child would find the content very relatable. With gore children know about monsters and weapons, but may become bored with passages about outfit choices and hard days.

Deirdre H said...

The idea of blending grittier "adult" content into middle grade and young adult fiction is really fascinating, because it’s hard to imagine as a concept that something can be really graphic and scary yet still acceptable for young audiences. Neil Gaiman does a really good job of this, and I think that’s pretty evident in the video- he comes off very personable and funny even while he talks about things like the buttons for eyes in Coraline, or the time he was on a trip and someone tried to sell him part of a human bone.

Though I haven’t read any of Gaiman’s full books, it is evident that people really respond to and love his ideas and how original and creative they are. From the excerpts, especially just the short one from the Graveyard Book, it’s apparent that he is really able to capture characters and environments even without big backstories or set-up. I think this is what makes good children’s literature because most kids want to hear stories and get whisked away in them. Not every kid is into the spookier stuff, but not every kid is satisfied with lighter, happier tales either. Personally, I’ve never sought out books that are morbid or creepy, but some of the ones I have read evolved that way over the course of a series that started out as middle grade and evolved into a darker young adult, like Harry Potter and Skulduggery Pleasant, and I found that I really enjoyed them even when the subject turned more graphic (although I’m very bad with horror, generally).

It’s also amazing how the less you say, the more a scene is open to interpretation, and the more nightmare-inducing it has the potential to be.

Becky Clark said...


Before this assignment, I didn’t know too much about Neil Gaiman other than his book Coraline. From the video, I really enjoyed how he is a natural storyteller. I didn’t think I would like the video at first because I saw that it was a half hour long but, once he started to talk about his kid’s tricycle and how he came up with his story for The Graveyard, I found it hard to look away. When he started to talk about the arm in China, I loved how he added elements of humor while getting his point across of how he gets his ideas. He took a creepy idea of an ancient arm being sold on the side of the road and made it more entertaining with humor.

In both the video and the article, Gaiman felt very relatable. As a kid, I never enjoyed school and used books to escape into different worlds just like Gaiman. I would read everything and anything I could get my hands on whether it was children’s fiction or adult. His essay made me think, what really makes up a children’s book? What exactly is the difference between something made for kids to enjoy versus adults? I’ve always thought of Coraline as a book for kids because the main character was a child. However, even today, the button eyes give me nightmares. I was surprised to see that this was almost an adult book. I question if the ideas or the characters make it a children’s book rather than an adult.

I found the excerpt from The Graveyard Book better than The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I really love reading horror novels and The Graveyard Book has a creepy tone to it while The Ocean felt more like looking back on someone’s personal memory. I like the language used in the Graveyard Book as well from the video. I still have the image of the tongue tasting both bitter and sweet things from Gaiman’s reading of Chapter 7. From this assignment, I definitely want to read more of Gaiman’s work and plan on starting with The Graveyard Book.

ALEX LYU said...

The line in "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" where he says "childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good" struck me as reminiscent of a line in Henry James's "What Maisie Knew": "By the time she had grown sharper...she found in her mind a collection of images and echoes to which meanings were attachable—images and echoes kept for her in the childish dusk, the dim closet, the high drawers, like games she wasn't yet big enough to play." I wonder if he drew inspiration from that book.

Regardless, I really enjoyed both those lines because I've recently been struggling with depicting the immediate and the "real" in my writing, most likely a result of me not being "big enough" to "play" with the ideas I had. Often, I would try to jump right into writing a scene without giving myself time to distance myself from the situation/event/story. I would obsess over the visceral without paying attention to context, and produce half-baked ideas.

Those lines reminded me that I should slow down, refrain from forcing a scene, and let the meaning, or my view, of things come to me at their own pace. I always write better when I simply cache my immediate reaction to something, and then come back to it throughout the day/week/month/year until I decide what its relevance is, exactly. That way, I'll have access to many different truths when I eventually pull from various parts of my life, instead of rigidly adhering to my views in the present moment.

It's good to know that even authors as accomplished as Neil Gaiman occasionally realize that they're deep into a project they're not ready for (as he mentioned about "The Graveyard Book"), and put it on hold until later. While everyone has their own style, and, of course, everyone fails, I can't help but to feel somewhat reassured that even a master of the craft shares a similar struggle.


Syeda Khaula Saad said...

Every author has a distinct personality and the wonderful thing about Neil Gaiman is that his personality shines through in both his speech as well as his writing. His humor, which is especially showcased through the video of his reading of “The Graveyard,” brings even more personality to him. But amongst his talk of his fears of not being a good enough writer and his writings on what makes young adult fiction itself, I think the most impactful of Gaiman’s words is his explanation of how he pulls story ideas from his life experiences, and how writing is a process in the same way that discovering the details of a genre is a process.
I really enjoyed how Gaiman broke down the aspects of young adult fiction by explaining it through the mind of the child version of himself in “What the [Very Bad Swear Word] is a Children’s Book Anyway.” When he explained how sex scenes may go over a child’s head but gory details remain engraved in them, I thought about all of the books I read when I was younger and how true this statement was. Gaiman is so successful because he knows how to remember his thoughts as a child and to put things into that perspective, and that makes all the difference in writing.

Sara Hankins said...

After learning in class that The Graveyard Book was a children's book about a family being murdered, I was intrigued as to how that could be pulled off without scaring children too much. Murder is a heavy topic that should never have to violate the innocence of youth, most people will agree, and then to avoid addressing homicide when they know their intended audience is involved. It's even possible that the child will not even understand the severity of death and murder; I know I wasn't very phased when the attacks of the World Trade Center occurred, but then again I was only six years old.

After reading his essay, however, it began to make sense. He writes about murder in the same way he would write about a sex scene in Stardust. Gaiman is vague and uses words that adults are used to alluding to violence and crime, but a child would just read the words without absorbing the real meaning. Why is the knife wet? they might ask. But then they would be too eager to finish the story to dally on such a strange detail. Gaiman is obviously skilled at taking sensitive information and making it audience appropriate, and it makes me not only want to read his adult books but the one about the sneezing panda as well. He teaches readers that there is always a take-home message for every reader whether they were "supposed" to be the reader or not.

Aliyah Green said...

I heard of Neil Gaiman before because of Coraline but I never actually took the time to read the book or watch the movie because it seemed to be too eerie for my taste. By the time I actually considered reading the book I saw that it was a children’s book and thought that I was too old to enjoy such a story. Reading Gaiman’s thoughts in "What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?" It is true that children have a knack for knowing things that people underestimate them knowing. I think that children’s books are a way to get inside the mind of a child and get to know them better since he never actually said what a children’s book was.

I also think that children’s books are meant to teach everyone something and not just children. My sister read this book for school, "Wonder," when she was in the sixth grade . She praised this book to my mother and she also read it. They both will tell you that the story is so good and it is technically a children’s book. And like Colleenie said there are a lot of terrible things that happen in stories that are supposed to be for children.

I now feel as though I have a better understanding of what a children’s book can be rather than what it actually is. After reading and listening to the excerpts from Gaiman’s work, I feel as though the language must be clear and the story should be told through the eyes of a child or with the focus of a child in mind.

Jenny Huang said...

Neil Gaiman was first introduced to me in Tim Burton's movie adaptation of his novel, Coraline, and from then on he seemed to crop up as the author of a number of widely-read books that I'd heard of, like Good Omens, Anansi Boys, Stardust, and later, American Gods. Of the three written works/articles we were given, I found "What the [Very Bad Swear Word] is a Children's book?" to be the most interesting. The quote that relates identifying a children's book to identifying pornography was humorous and in many ways true. He made an interesting point about how children filter themselves and “know more about their oppressors than they do about them.” When you think about it, children are aware of all of the things that people would constitute as something “adult,” like swear words and sex. I found that Gaiman struggling with how to write for a certain audience refreshing, because it calls into question whether children and young adult fiction must necessarily have certain elements to be classified as such. In Gaiman’s excerpt of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” I found it confusing that the main character seemed to be learning towards an old man. However, since the old man was reminiscing on childhood and his past memories, perhaps Gaiman’s novel being classified as MG in that case is in relation to that. In addition, I found it humorous that Coraline turned out to be a children’s book due to an accident rather than a set of requirements that Gaiman checked off of a list.
In terms of his writing style, I believe Gaiman seems to write in a simple and concise manner. His descriptions in the Graveyard Book are minimal and seem to be limited to simplistic language. I don’t know if his style is consistent throughout his adult novels, like American Gods, as well, but I liked reading the excerpts, The Graveyard Book moreso than the Ocean at the End of the Lane. It seems to me that Gaiman is a writer that is more dependent on his interesting plot and ideas rather than his vivid descriptions.

Sierra Commons said...

I wish I had read Neil Gaiman's books when I was younger. (Or maybe not, considering how Coraline is apparently pretty creepy and I've never really been great with scary things). It would be interesting to hold up my memories and experiences reading when I was a "child" to now as an "adult". I appreciated being able to get an idea for the differences from both what Gaiman says and what some others have commented here. It's difficult to understand how children perceive the things they read when I haven't been one or interacted with any for a while.

As far as I can tell, the big difference would agree with the statement that adult books are allowed to be boring. Probably because adults may be interested more in the boring and mundane to act as a way to understand or enrich their own life. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was certainly boring in my opinion, but it had one line that stuck out to me profoundly and that I definitely would have glossed over as a kid.

"Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my father's face, not my own, and I remember the way he would smile at himself, in mirrors, before he went out. 'Looking good,' he'd say to his reflection, approvingly. 'Looking good.'"

Despite that, I still prefer the excitement of The Graveyard Book's excerpt. Most likely the reason that it is acceptable for children is that the writing doesn't actually paint a gory picture. The scene focuses mainly on the knife, using the passive voice and personification in a pretty interesting way. Mentions of the dead family comes almost as an afterthought, quick and matter-of-fact. Adults can fill in the lines and imagine the bloody scene while kids simply understand the outcome and images they are given.

Michelle Chen said...

I first came across Neil Gaiman's "What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?" about a year ago, and I was shocked to read about how Coraline was only published as a children’s book because a young girl wouldn’t admit it scared her so that she could find out how it ended. I was shocked, in part, because I had read Coraline as a child, and it had fucked me up – but I too had not put the book down, despite the nightmares and double takes in the dark. Gaiman says that children are good at self-censorship, that they tend to become bored or scared or frustrated with things that aren’t for them anyway. I do think he’s right. Children are remarkably perceptive.

But, being not too far removed from childhood, I also remember crossing the proverbial line perhaps a few too many times. Often, I was aided in my too-curious searching by the internet, that omniscient amorphous fountain of information. I am, for better or for worse, part of the first generation to grow up with ready and expected access to the internet and all of the knowledge (and cesspools) it contains. Furthermore, we did so in a time before content filters and parental locks existed. And it's harder, I think, to self-censor on the internet when all of the Google search results look the same and don't care who's doing the searching. It's easy to "confirm you are above 13 years of age" when all you need to do is click a button.

Perhaps, though, I am just particularly bad at self-preservation, and therefore self-censorship. My drive to know always seems to win out. After all, as a child I used to read the dictionary before bedtime, so I guess my sense of “boring” has always been a little skewed.

Katie Steely-Brown said...

I was excited to read these articles because I love Neil Gaiman’s books so much. Coraline was one of my favorite books as a kid (it still is one of my favorites, to be honest); and The Graveyard Book and American Gods gained a permanent place on my bookshelves at home once I discovered them.
I like Gaiman as an author so much because he does not treat children like children in his writing, and this was shown in the essays here. My favorite part of the essay “What the F*ck is a Children’s Book” was when he explained that children do not need to have adults censor their books for them because children are smart enough to know when something is too much for them. They are not going to read something that truly scares them, they are going to put the book down. And even if it does scare them — as exemplified by the story about how Gaiman had his publisher’s young daughter read a book to see if it was too much for children— it may not “really” be too much for them. Children should learn that a good book can be scary but also interesting and stimulating enough that they want to get to the end of it to find out what happens. Then they learn that it was not as scary as they thought it was after all, or that they are strong enough to handle it. It is far better to ease a child into the big bad monsters of the world as a kid then spoil them and let them get bowled over by the real world when they grow up because adults have censored children’s and YA books and made them think that there is nothing bad in the world.
There was a good quote in the essay that went, “Like all oppressed people, children know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them.” Basically, adults think they understand children better than children do because they were once a child— but who knows better what they can handle than a child who is actually a child at that point in time?

Aishik Mukherjee said...

Neil Gaimon’s reading, as enthralling as it was, was not the most remarkable portion of the video. The initial prefacing of the book, the journey he took to get there seemed more important. He continues this in “What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?”. His talent in storytelling is becomes almost obvious by the markers in these less crafted moments. What he chooses to focus on is right. When speaking about his journey, in either the video or the afore mentioned article he focuses on exactly the thing we want to know. He is not creating a narrative or a world in these moments, just recollecting what was already done. THe focus cannot be on the myterious object he wants us to know about as the creator of such events. He, being a participant in these recollections can only speak to what interests him. His focus matches what we want to know, what anyone in that situation would think. Then he sums it up exactly. HIs experience is is normalizing most evident when he says “One day, one of the boys came in with a copy of a magazine with naked ladies in it, stolen from his father, and we looked at it, to discover what naked ladies looked like. I do not remember what these particular naked ladies looked like”. No one seems to remember what the women or men in their first illicit moments looks like, though I've never heard this vocalized. The single line mentioning this is not too pertinent to the entire article yet it highlights his strength; being able to notice what is obvious and universal in a voice that seems friendly and equally curious.