The story of the time I met Neil Gaiman and he said something extremely lovely to me

I have been reading to Social Sister for more than eighteen years now — off more than on, since we went to college, just as a function of our never being in the same place for very long, but still: Eighteen years. A whole person who can vote. She got brainwashed early into thinking this was a good form of entertainment, and I enjoy it because there is nothing quite like seeing someone else experience a book you love in real time.

Anyway, we just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I was reading for the first time while I was reading it to her. I’ve finally read it now!, and hence, I shall tell you about the time I met Neil Gaiman at an event pertaining to the 2013 release of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (No pictures, I’m afraid! They might have been allowed (I can’t remember, actually), but I hate pictures of myself too much to have even considered taking any.) There was a talk first, in which Neil Gaiman issued a rousing endorsement of semicolons, and then I did a thing I have never done, which was to stand in line to have a book signed.

I had brought Reflections on the Magic of Writing, a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays to which Neil Gaiman wrote a foreword. When I gave it to Neil Gaiman to sign and told him (though probably very incoherently) why I wanted him to sign it, he said, “I miss her. I wanted to give this book [The Ocean at the End of the Lane] to her when it was finished. I think it’s more like hers than others I’ve written.”

I wanted to say “Yes, it sounds like it is very her; her books are all about the way children understand things.” I said probably some very stammery incoherent version of that instead; and Neil Gaiman said, “I think it’s quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways.”

Fact about me: When someone mentions a lesser-known book of Diana Wynne Jones to me (such as Time of the Ghost), I lose all reason. Ask my friends if you don’t believe me. I did it this time too. I shrieked “I LOVE TIME OF THE GHOST I JUST READ TIME OF THE GHOST,” which is true and is what I would have said to anyone; but it was embarrassing because I wanted to be cool 100% of the time I was talking to Neil Gaiman and shrieky 0% of the time. So then I was embarrassed and I said thank you and left.

Oh well. You cannot be cool all the time, especially if you actually are not cool. I am pleased to know that Neil Gaiman thinks that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways. It pleases me in the way that I am always pleased when somebody says something that displays the same affectionate and easy level of familiarity with Diana Wynne Jones’s oeuvre that 1) I have; and 2) is her due because she is an amazingly gifted writer and her books should be standard childhood books that all children read. Except it made me happier in this case than usual because it was an author I also love who was saying it.

And now I have told you about it (over a year later). And hopefully when you have read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or before then!), you will think, “Oh, I am intrigued by the stated similarity to Time of the Ghost. I had better rush out and read Time of the Ghost, a book I now know is Neil Gaiman-endorsed.”

The end.

The superlatives of an outstanding reading year

DAMN this was a good year for books. As I was scrolling through old posts trying to make a Best of 2013 list, I was astounded at the percentage of posts this year that were four or five stars. Now, I will say that as years go on, I have become ever less inclined to review books about which I felt neutral, but even so, 2013 was an incredible year for books. It was so good that I gave up on the Best of 2013 idea, which would have felt uncurated because it would have included almost everything I read this year, and decided instead to tailor my list of superlatives to the particular strengths of this year.

Best bookish thing that is not a book

To nobody’s surprise, Emma Approved. Are you watching it yet, or have you been holding off because you were burned by Welcome to Sanditon? If the latter, I’d like to take this opportunity to endorse Emma Approved with a full heart. Emma and Mr. Knightley have excellent chemistry; Sen. Elton is pleasingly personable but you can see how he will turn out to be secretly douchey; and as in most Emma adaptations, Harriet and Mr. Martin steal any scene they’re in together. This creative team is brilliant, and my wish is that they keep on doing video blog adaptations of 19th-century classics forever. The 19th century was a good time for Lit’rature. It’s not like they’d run out of ideas. Mainly I don’t want them to stop before they get around to Jane Eyre.

Best job by me of convincing my mother of an opinion of mine that she disagrees with and I have been trying to talk her around to my position for more than a decade now

This defense of Sirius Black. Mumsy still does not love him, but she conceded that I had a point, and that my point made her like him better than she used to. Hooray for me!

Most deserving of its hype

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell. The blogosphere could not stop talking about Eleanor and Park this year. Y’all were not lying. This book is damn amazing. I wanted to read it again the minute I finished it. I cannot wait to own my own copy, which I will cherish and put a book plate in with my name in my fanciest handwriting.

Most deserving of how m.f. excited I was about it before it came out

More Than This, by Patrick Ness. I went into A Monster Calls with too-high expectations, and when More Than This started off so slowly, I became terribly anxious that I wouldn’t love it the way Patrick Ness’s books deserve to be loved. But it rallied with the introduction of two new-and-wonderful characters, and I ended up loving it. In particular I love it that Patrick Ness is not in a rut. More Than This is totally different to the Chaos Walking series, which is totally different to The Crane Wife (review forthcoming), which is totally different to A Monster Calls. I love him, and I am excited for whatever he wants to do next.

Lowest expectations for a book that ended up being pretty good actually

Shadows, by Robin McKinley. As I’ve mentioned before, I count a couple of Robin McKinley’s books among my favorite books in the world. But only a couple, and the rest of her books leave me feeling dissatisfied and bored. My expectations of Shadows were rock-bottom, and it turned out to be a really fun read.

Most wanted to be The Secret History and was angry and disappointed when it wasn’t

You thought I was going to say The Goldfinch, didn’t you? Ha, ha, you were wrong. The answer is, The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood. I did not like it. Why wasn’t it more like The Secret History? Why aren’t all books more like The Secret History? These are questions I cannot answer.

Loveliest surprise

You’ll be tired of me saying it, but Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I didn’t expect not to like it, but I was surprised by how much I ended up liking it. A runner-up, because I did expect not to like it, was Kate Atkinson’s strange and wonderful Life after Life.

Saddest fictional death

Uncle Finn in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rivka Brunt. That book wrecked me. Although it’s difficult to say in a year so packed with wonderful reads, I am going to go ahead and say that Tell the Wolves I’m Home was my best book of 2013. Eleanor and Park was awfully, awfully good, but I’m giving it to Tell the Wolves I’m Home by dint of the fact that it’s not getting quite as much play and thus needs me to love it extra.

Saddest real-life death

Elizabeth Peters, of course. I am crushed that Elizabeth Peters has died, and I regret that I never wrote her a letter to tell her how much enjoyment I got from her books over the years.

Made me feel the best about myself for enjoying it

HHhH, by Laurent Binet. I often struggle with books in translation, so I’m always thrilled — with the author and myself — to encounter a book in translation that I unreservedly love. HHhH is that kind of book. It is surprisingly lovely and sweet for a book about assassinating a Nazi officer.

Whack-a-doodlest book lent the most gravitas by its author’s serious, Southern-accented radio interviews

Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright – If you haven’t read this book about scientology yet, now’s a good time to read it. I think it would be fun to read over a vacation: lots of crazy parts that you can read out loud to your friends-and-relations, who can’t escape from you because y’all are on vacation.

Favorite term I coined myself like a genius

“Process dystopia” to describe the kind of book that shows the world all going to hell, instead of starting the book after the world has already gone to hell.

Coolest design

Obviously, Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. No contest, because I haven’t finished reading the JJ Abrams / Doug Dorst collaboration S yet.

Best execution of a tricky premise

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. This book! So good! Karen Joy Fowler does not invent a premise and coast on it. She follows through all the way. She commits. I loved the writing, I loved the jokes, and I loved the sadness. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves gets additional credit for reminding me to care about James Tiptree Jr., an author I now really like.

Jolliest good fun

Lexicon, by Max Barry. This was just fun. It was fun and fun and fun, and there are not enough books in this world that are just pure fun.

Lovablest book that did not appeal to me on paper

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Nothing about the synopsis for this book would have called to me, but fortunately I read part of it in a NetGalley excerpts package and fell in love with the narrative voice. I loved it, and I think it’s something special and particular, and I’m not just saying that because the ending is perfectly geared towards my sensibilities.

Best Harry Potter news

It’s a tie! It’s a tie between the news that JK Rowling is writing a movie about Newt Scamander and his escapades as a wizard naturalist in the early twentieth century, and the news that the UK is releasing beautiful new editions of the Harry Potter books illustrated by Jim Kay of A Monster Calls. Y’all, I miss Harry Potter.

Most merits its long long length

Again, not The Goldfinch! (I think that could have been edited down a bit.) This one goes to Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s great. I didn’t want it to end.

Author least afraid of going balls-to-the-wall crazy with plots

Laini Taylor! I am well excited for the third book in her Nouns of Substances and Atmospheric Nouns trilogy. She just goes all out with her storylines, and that is wonderful to me, as anyone who has ever heard me speak about The Vampire Diaries will know.

Best character

Boris, from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. There aren’t enough good things to say about Boris. If the book only consisted of passages with Boris in them, and had no other plot, it would be worth it just for that. I don’t remember the last time I encountered a character in a book that I enjoyed spending time with as much as Boris from The Goldfinch.

Insanest that I still haven’t finished reading it

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. I know I know I know I know. But here’s what’s up: I’m reading it to Social Sister. I’ll finish reading it when I finish reading it to Social Sister. That’s how we roll.

And that’s 2013, my friends! I’ll be away from blogging over the next couple of weeks to celebrate holidays with the family, and I wish you all happy holidays and a wonderful New Year. See you in January!