Love Letters to Literature #5
Dear Neil Gaiman,
I think the best thing I’ve learned from reading your books, is how powerful storytelling can be. Of course, being a writer, I know how important stories are. But there are times in my own writing that I forget how magical and memorable it can be to get sucked into a book. I suppose that's what I'm hoping for my future readers someday.
You reminded me of this in your 2009 Newberry Acceptance Speech, which was conveniently located at the end of my copy of The Graveyard Book. At the end of this speech, you say, "we who make stories know that we will tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write."
I absolutely love this advice.
In reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, Stardust, and even Coraline, I’ve discovered the importance of building worlds that feel real even when they are filled with fantasy.
In The Ocean at the End of Lane, the narrator explains, “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
I understood this, maybe better than anything else because I grew up with books filled with fantasy and fiction and they felt more real to me than even the real world.
In this book, I fell madly in love with the protagonist, sure. But even deeper in love with the Hempstock ladies. I suppose it might have something to do with a childhood filled with magical women from both literature and film: Sally and Gillian Owens, the Sanderson sisters, Hermione and Luna and Minerva Mcgonagall, even the creepy coven of high school girls from the movie The Craft. But I also think my undeniable affection for the Hempstock witches has everything to do with your writing. Though shrouded in mystery, it is clear you know everything there is to know about these women. And for good reason. A reason I wouldn't understand until I got to The Graveyard Book. (Plus that field full of kittens left me dazzled).
I can't wait to come back to this again for the third time, maybe a year from now or several more down the line. Because there's something amazing about reading a book after you've changed. And you remind us that “nothing's ever the same…be it a second later or a hundred years. It's always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.”
Now I don't think there's enough I can say about The Graveyard Book because for me, it is one of those books that will mark this time in my life, and I'm so grateful for that. Just looking at the cover makes me think, ”leave no path untaken." And at this point in my life, that's so important.
Also there's another Hempstock witch that appears in Nobody Owens' graveyard. You give us Liza Hempstock, and she's just as magical as the rest of your Hempstock clan. Sometimes fun, sometimes ridiculously creepy, Liza helps Bod as he grows up with the other ghosts and ghouls within his home. In the end I learned that "wherever you go, you take yourself with you," and that meant everything.
In Stardust, the world of Faerie was beautiful and believable, and I think it exists because of all the stories you loved as a child. I felt a little bit nostalgic, picking out pieces of other worlds that I loved as a child, too.
Between the pages of a gloriously old copy, I discovered Daisy Hempstock, who doesn't seem particularly magical in this book, but her name enthralled me all the same. And in the end I recited a line from the book over and over as a sort of mantra: "You have to believe. Otherwise it will never happen."
Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for helping me remember things that I've forgotten, things as small as stardust and even as large as oceans. But I suppose that's what we hope for when reading a book. I think all of us hope to remember something we've forgotten, or to learn something new, or to reclaim some part of ourselves that we let slip away. Maybe I'm crazy. But that's what I hope for when I fall into a book. Because books will always be my home away from home.