Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


<3 Books
October 16, 2013 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm not always a Neil Gaiman fan, but this rousing paean to books and libraries definitely brightened my day.
posted by dame (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are always inadequate words for me to do justice to how much pleasure I derive from the simple act of reading, something I cannot imagine not doing for enjoyment. But Neil Gaiman has done a pretty good job of it.
posted by Kitteh at 12:49 PM on October 16, 2013


So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Dammit, they're on to us!
posted by IndigoJones at 1:19 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"As JRR Tolkein reminds us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers."
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:42 PM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Here's a link to the Reading Agency's coverage of Gaiman's lecture. WARNING: ~6mb in four large images, which may take a while (and eat bandwidth) on mobile devices.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:44 PM on October 16, 2013


This part is important about the delegations to Google, Apple and the like:
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Yes, you gotta instill the ability to dream at a young age, so it becomes natural, like breathing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


at last he comes out as pro-books
posted by Legomancer at 1:57 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if you're exposed to too much dystopian hellworld near-future SF at an impressionable age it can give you a very fucked-up relationship with the future.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:59 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be so weird if this turned into a book reco thread. Also yay SF&F and horror and just reading in general! Even that Vince Flynn crap!
posted by Mister_A at 2:15 PM on October 16, 2013


"I'm not always a Neil Gaiman fan..."

Would it be too much of a derail to ask why? Awesome book-writing dude is awesome as far as I can tell...? Or is it just his proximity to Mefi dislike-sump Amanda Palmer?
posted by Sebmojo at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2013


Huh I thought that was a pull quote from TFA. Don't really care though; editors gotta editorialize, nome sane?
posted by Mister_A at 2:20 PM on October 16, 2013


where's the pic of the dos equis guy?
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:27 PM on October 16, 2013


Mister_A: editors gotta editorialize, nome sane?

Except MeFites are generally encouraged to not editorialize in FPPs, as it muddies the waters before anyone comments. Let the material stand on its own, then the conversation will (or won't) flow from there.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2013


Anyway, I rather liked the idea that anything a kid reads is good, because reading at a young age is good. My two-year-old son finally sat through The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which has been on his bookshelf since forever (as far as he is concerned). I don't think he got the humor yet, but his mom enjoyed it. I don't think he'll be sitting through Fortunately, The Milk any time soon, but it was a fun little read for Dad. And the tangential story of Gaiman's Neverwhere getting banned from New Mexico schools reminds me I could re-read that story, but I want to finish Julie Phillip's biography of James Tiptree, Jr. (born Alice B. Sheldon) first. And then I'll want to read a ton of Tiptree, Jr., so Neverwhere will move down the list.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:58 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would it be too much of a derail to ask why?
Putting aside his personal life, I find his style of writing really overwrought and flowery, and many of the references he makes to mythology tend to just sound show-offy rather than adding something to the material. Additionally, his nonfiction writing can come off as sanctimonious even when he's championing something we can all agree is good. I can't tell if his writing has gotten worse since he became more of a public figure or if the Suck Fairy has just hit those volumes especially hard.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:12 PM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Neil Gaiman: Chinese people have no imaginations.
posted by runcibleshaw at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2013


His comments about the value in "escapist" fiction really struck a nerve. I occasionally get trapped in that view of looking down on certain books (*cough* Twilight *cough*) but I try to remember the joy that escapist fiction gave me as a child and how that isn't something that should be quashed in the search for "educational fiction". Any book that any child/teen expresses in should be celebrated.

Personal anecdotal time: I had a horrible abusive childhood where there was absolutely no safe space for me and the one thing that saved me is my mind and the worlds I found in books. That is the only gift that my mother gave me that doesn't make me 100% despise her. When things were bad and I was being hit and abused in sickening ways I could escape in my head to the stories I found in books. I could save myself and the best parts of me by pretending what was happening was actually happening in a story and that it would all work out in the end. It would have been so much worse (and I would probably be in jail) if I had adults in my life that didn't encourage reading and didn't have librarians that loved that I maxed out my allowable books each week and were more than willing to go out of their way to find escapist books that saved my mind.
posted by kanata at 4:58 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had this one thought for years. I vaguely thought about blogging about it a few times; I might have even slipped it into some writings before, I don't remember. I do know that I have told it to people in conversations, but not with any real force. It wasn't a half-formed thought; on the contrary, it was, and is, very complete. It's just... I never got around to exploring it in depth, or writing about it in depth, because after a while it seemed like a physical truth to me, nothing that I needed to expound upon and defend; nothing that anyone likely to read it would contest.

And then I clicked on a link and Neil Gaiman was saying the same thing, with pretty much exactly the same wording I have carried around in my head for years.

You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:

The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.


Reading fiction makes you imagine things as being other than you are. It's as simple as that. As with any skill, this is a skill that requires training to get past a basic level, and the more you read the more you're exercising that skill. Actual thinking people have railed against fiction as "lies" for that very reason for years. They knew of which they spoke; they knew the danger of allowing others to imagine.

(I will take it one step further and one step more specific to genre, and say reading speculative fiction [1] is both better at making the reader realize things could be different, and has the potential to give the reader a little extra edge of blunting some of their fears against systemic change, against the unknown, and the different. It isn't magic. The reader has to be receptive. But the potential is there, of if not making change seem commonplace, at least accepting as normal and the course of things that things are going to be very different next year, next decade, thirty years from now. Hasn't this been an increasingly important skill to have where we have been sitting in the history of humanity since, oh, 1750, give or take?

[1] Fantasy and science fiction with different Mohs numbers both; a discussion about terminology might be derailing.)
posted by seyirci at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Oh, and kanata: I am very sorry you had to go through that and glad you are through with it now. When I read your comment on preview, I was strongly reminded of this image.)
posted by seyirci at 5:07 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neil Gaiman: Chinese people have no imaginations.

That is an incredibly disingenuous interpretation of his experience. He was a guest at one of their first SF conventions and honestly wondered why. So he asked. That was the answer he was given. And your takeaway is Neil Gaiman is ragging on Chinese people? Whoa.
posted by Kitteh at 5:14 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is a really beautiful image seyirci and made me tear up seeing it. That is exactly what books gave me as a child and is why I have made it known to any child in my life that if they ever want a book I will buy it for them.
posted by kanata at 5:29 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it weren't for my kindle, I probably wouldn't have reread Neverwhere recently. It was strange because it felt really dated and I don't know exactly why - London is still full of streets with funny names and homeless people.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2013


Great, Neil Gaiman has hit the list of people who have to be apologised for before you mention that you liked something they did.

Oh, and from the comments it looks like he's also on that list of people who will be misquoted and taken out of context because it's not enough to merely dislike his work, but you have to hate him for reasons.

I like what he had to say, and I'm intrigued by the Miracleman reprint and ending. No pre-emptive defensiveness required (though to be fair, his superfans can be some of the more annoying ones).
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:30 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gaiman obviously thought that anecdote fit into his larger point, or he wouldn't have included it, meaning he thought the nameless "official" was in some sense right, meaning, that Gaiman thinks that Chinese people lack imagination because they're not reading fiction like his own, or those of his peers. I mean, there's a few thousand years of Chinese literature for them to draw on, but I guess some modern sci-fi and fantasy is all they need. That official is an idiot, and Gaiman's an idiot for telling that story.
posted by runcibleshaw at 7:48 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Yeah, this is just plain dumb on a bunch of levels. Does Neil Gaiman think that he's really introducing the Chinese people to fiction, books, and imagination? This also seems like a poor attempt at understanding the forces behind the success of these companies. It is an interesting fact that apparently a science fiction convention in China must be justified by referring to three technology companies with a combined market capitalization of over a trillion dollars though.
posted by leopard at 8:13 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does Neil Gaiman think that he's really introducing the Chinese people to fiction, books, and imagination?

Yeah, it would be pretty stupid if he believed that. Unsurprisingly, if you read the linked article and him talking about going to a Chinese convention, he doesn't say anything remotely like that.

But if you think his speech in support of reading is some way to sneak in his cultural imperialism to the Chinese so they buy more of his books, then your grudge is too heavy to reason with.
posted by gadge emeritus at 2:17 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The excerpt I quoted explicitly says that the Chinese suck at inventing stuff and everyone who works at Apple read science fiction as a child and that there is somebody in China who thinks that the Chinese will become better at inventing stuff if they read more science fiction. Since Gaiman relays this without criticism, I infer that he endorses this view.

Now obviously this isn't the point of the piece, the point of the piece is that books are awesome and imagination is really important. In the process of making this point, Gaiman says that the Chinese are smart but uncreative people and that if they had more science fiction they would also have more truly innovative tech companies, which is dumb. I know it's shocking, I was also taught that you would have to wear a white pointed hat and shout slurs at people and have evil in your heart in order to say something stupid about a nationality.

I don't know who Gaiman is (beyond coming up in those Amanda Palmer threads on this site) but TIL he is some sort of demigod who can only be criticized by people with a "grudge".
posted by leopard at 5:32 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the process of making this point, Gaiman says that the Chinese are smart but uncreative people and that if they had more science fiction they would also have more truly innovative tech companies, which is dumb.

A Chinese official said something similar in reference to the event:
“Imagination is an important premise for creativity. Science fiction literature plays an important role in inspiring people’s imagination and creativity,” said Li Xiuting, vice director of the International Department of the China Association for Science and Technology, at the opening ceremony on Saturday.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 AM on October 17, 2013


This Wikipedia article on Chinese science fiction is interesting. The genres has had a rocky road in the country, going from being discovered via Jules Verne to be being officially repressed, to various peaks and valleys over the last century.

The 2007 conference Gaiman attended had a couple of firsts for China: "Not only was this the first ever international science fiction convention to be held in mainland China,[8] it was also the first international event to be hosted in since China the student protests of 1989"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:12 AM on October 17, 2013


"Not only was this the first ever international science fiction convention to be held in mainland China,[8] it was also the first international event to be hosted in since China the student protests of 1989"

The Wikipedia entry misinterprets the sources it cites, which refer to a small-scale international SF convention held in Chengdu in 1991 (I believe it was associated with Eurocon). Another international conference was held in Beijing in 1997 and apparently featured foreign astronauts. Due to SF's explosive growth in popularity around the turn of the millennium, the 2007 event in Chengdu was held on a much larger scale than its predecessors, but it certainly wasn't China's first international SF con.
posted by zhwj at 6:47 AM on October 17, 2013


Since Gaiman relays this without criticism, I infer that he endorses this view.

Sure, you could do that. Though considering he's merely relaying what he said an official told him, one might presume that he didn't want to lecture a Chinese man in China about his own country's history and capabilities. Even if he disagreed with the official's suggested viewpoint that China was better known for manufacture rather than innovation now. In relaying the anecdote, one might think his larger point - reading is fundamental - might suggest why he would tell a story in which a man speaking for his entire country declared how important reading was - genre reading, even, which is often derided and mocked for not being serious fiction.

Certainly seems more plausible to me, though it wouldn't provide nearly so much of an opportunity to cheerfully accuse him of mindless racism.

TIL he is some sort of demigod who can only be criticized by people with a "grudge".

The grudge comment was in regards to runcibleshaw's comment above yours. I don't regard Gaiman as a demigod, though I do like the works of his I've read. But I do think he deserves a more charitable reading of his commentary than someone zeroing in on one paragraph of his speech, an excerpted copy no less, and assuming the absolute worst of it.

But then, I expect the same from Metafilter comments, and people dive for the bad-faith reading here on the regular.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Personally I'd like it if we talked about the message of the TFA. There can never be enough happy conversations about libraries!
posted by Kitteh at 9:27 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal li...   |   Monster.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments