It probably isn’t surprising that as a librarian, most of my heroes are writers and illustrators. I’ve been lucky enough in my lifetime to have gotten the chance to meet some of these role models – I helped Tomi dePaola draw a picture, watched Katherine Patterson sign my copy of Jacob Have I Loved, asked Chuck Palahniuk to sing me his favorite lullaby, shook hands with Scott McCloud (and given restaurant recommendations to his wife!), made eye contact with Henry Rollins, confessed my adoration to A.S. King & Andrew Smith, and been subtly insulted by Douglas Coupland. But as amazing as each of those encounters was, none of them were as moving or impactful as the evening I spent just this past Saturday with Neil Gaiman.
Let me state right up front that I did not actually meet Neil Gaiman on Saturday. He spoke at Tower Theater in Upper Darby and I sat in the front row of the balcony watching and listening to him. Nearly all of the seats in the theater were filled and he received a standing ovation before he even spoke his first word. He carried with him two books, some folded pieces of printer paper, and a stack of index cards. He held up the cards to us – “I like to start these talks with questions from the audience because questions are the perfect starting off point. Usually I get thirty questions and they’re all rubbish. But tonight I have about 600 and they are all wonderful.” I had walked past the “Ask Neil Gaiman a Question” table on my way in because I couldn’t think of a question I wanted to ask that wouldn’t make me look foolish. As he started flipping through the cards, I was sad that I hadn’t taken my chance.
He read many of the questions, often including the askers’ names and he answered them.
Yes, there will be a sequel to Neverwhere and it will be here sooner than we think.
Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is a lovely person.
Yes, he will be writing more episodes of Doctor Who, but unfortunately, not anytime soon.
Yes, he is deeply saddened that Terry Pratchett won’t be calling him randomly in the middle of the night anymore and thank you all for your beautiful and touching memorials.
No, he will not marry you, no matter how much you ask, because he is already married and expecting a new baby in just four months.
No, he doesn’t have a favorite book, although when he was younger he wished he had written Lord of the Rings.
The most poignant responses were the ones he gave to an eleven year old who asked how she could become a real writer. His advice is to read as much as possible, even things you think you may not like, and to finish writing projects no matter how bad you think they are because you will learn more from the awful writing you finish that the good writing you abandon. He was also incredibly gentle in answering a question about depression, reminding us all that no matter how dark the night seems, the sun will always be there to greet us in the morning.
In between the questions, he read to us. He read three stories from his most recent collection of short stories, Trigger Warning, a section from Good Omens (my favorite scene, in fact!), and a poem he wrote upon finding out that he was going to be a father again. I could listen to him read anything, whether it was his own work, a legal brief, or a Chinese take-out menu. He filled the whole of Tower Theater with his lilting, accented voice and everyone silently listened. Unlike other music or speaker events I’ve attended recently, no one got out of their seats to visit the bathroom and everyone kept his and her phone tucked away because Neil Gaiman commanded our attention and we were overjoyed to give it to him.
If you haven’t read any Neil Gaiman, we have quite a bit at UDPL. He’s written everything from picture books to YA novels to graphic novels and adult fiction. I recommend all of it! But here are just a few that we have on our shelves that you may want to pick up:
Fortunately, the Milk – For when you want a silly story to read to a child
The Graveyard Book – For when you want a unique and unexpected coming of age tale
Sandman – For when you still want to read comics, but are tired of Superman
Trigger Warning – For when you don’t know what you want because it’s filled with many, many wonderful stories.