Neil Gaiman: ‘Whatever I loved about Enid Blyton won’t be there when I return as an adult’ | Books

My earliest reading memory
I was three years old, we lived in Purbrook, near Portsmouth, and if I was remarkably good, my mother would order a book from the local bookstore and a month later we’d pick it up. I remember a childhood day Hiawatha, a beautiful edition of The Pied Piper of Hamelin illustrated by Margaret Tarrant, and an illustrated Mikado I learned the lyrics of the songs without the melodies: “Waiting for the feel of a short, sharp nudge from a cheap and crisp chopper on a big black block” and so on. Wonderfully morbid stuff for a three-year-old.

My favorite book growing up
If you had asked me at seven or eight, it would have been the Narnia books, which I have read endlessly – I wanted to live in them. But if you asked me at nine or ten, it would be The Lord of the Rings. I was convinced that it was not only the best book anyone had ever written, but that it was the best book anyone would ever write. I just had to figure out how it ended since my school only had the first two books. When I won the English school prize, I asked for The Return of the King to be my prize book.

The book that changed me as a teenager
Roger Zelazny’s novels Lord of Light and creatures of light and dark. He was a beautiful writer with a wonderful style of prose, and he made it seem like so much fun to write. I was about to write, but Zelazny made it a point to be sure.

The writer who changed my mind
It wasn’t until I was 22 that I realized I could stop dreaming of being a writer and be a writer instead. It was Harlan Ellison’s fault, from his introduction to a short story called Count the Clock that Tells the Time, in a collection called Shatterday. He wrote about wasting time, looking around and time is up. It slotted right into everything I’d ever thought or dreamed of becoming a writer, and in that moment I was determined to be a writer. I thought it was better to try and fail than not try and let time pass.

The book that made me want to be a writer
I can’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer, but CS Lewis and his Narnia books definitely made me realize that these stories I loved were written by one person. Lewis didn’t pretend to be invisible, he was very happy in the text and made these nice, kind comments to the reader. I loved this so much and loved the idea of ​​doing it too.

The book I came back to
Gene Wolfe was an author I respected but didn’t love, and by the time I was 20 I was struggling to read the first part of The Book of the New Sun series, The Shadow of the Torturer. I don’t know why I picked it up again maybe a year later, but I was surprised that it was now the most interesting book in the world.

The book I could never read again
I’m having a very hard time going back to Enid Blyton. I even find it difficult to read them to my children. It’s strange because I remember how much I loved Blyton and I’m someone who loves to go back to beloved children’s books and yet what I loved isn’t there when I return as an adult.

The book I discovered later in life
Charles Dickens gloomy house, a book I didn’t get to until my late 40’s. I guess I was just there for the spontaneous human cremation, which really isn’t a particularly important part of the novel. But I fell deeply in love with the book – the plot, the prose, the techniques – the whole – and rediscovered a childhood fondness for Dickens.

The book I’m reading right now
I am immensely enjoying Penn Jillette’s forthcoming novel Random. And on Audible I visit The Black Ridge: Amongst the Cuillin of Skye by Simon Ingram, narrated by Richard Burnip, a glorious book about Skye and the Cuillin Hills and the people who climbed them. I enjoy it so much as a listening experience, if only because everything is pronounced correctly, which wasn’t the case when I read it to myself.

read my consolation
Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. I read it every decade and find new things in it. Although I was alone for many months during lockdown a few years ago, my comfort readings tended to be books I loved as a child. The most interesting of the books I’ve rediscovered is by Nicholas Stuart Gray, unjustly forgotten today but at his best one of the most brilliant children’s writers of the 20th century.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran, is published by Headline

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