Tuesday, Neil Gaiman's latest novel, The Ocean At the End of the Lane, was released to much fanfare. It is the first novel he's written for adults in eight years and everyone is already raving about it (after starting it last night, I'm only 20ish pages in and already love it). To promote his book, Gaiman is embarking on a signing tour that he's calling The Last U.S. Signing Tour. When I saw that it was the last he would do, I immediately bought a ticket to see him at the Brooklyn Academy of Music — and it was a truly wonderful experience. (If you can get a ticket to one of the signings, you should do that right now.)
The evening began with an introduction from Peter Aguero, from The Moth and the BTK Band. He talked about Neil Gaiman for a few minutes, and at one point he said, "He's just a guy named Neil. He's just a dude. He wrote a book about some sand." Aguero's casual nonchalance set the mood for the night; there were 1,200 of us in the theater, but it felt like an intimate evening with a guy named Neil.
The only things on the stage were a podium, two microphones, and a large cutout of the cover of The Ocean At the End of the Lane. Gaiman walked onstage, in his typical all-black attire, and he read to us. He read us Chapter Two of his new book, and it was excellent. Somehow, it reminded me of my own childhood, even though it was nothing like my childhood. Maybe it was that it reminded me of what it was like to be a child, to think in that very pure, yet incredibly complicated, way that children think.
Gaiman also shared his process for crafting the novel. It started out as a short story, he said, which he began writing because he missed his wife, Amanda Palmer. But then it wasn't a short story; it was a novelette. And then it was no longer a novelette, but a novella. By the time he was finished and had done a word count, he realized he had "accidentally written a novel." I think that's a fitting way for him to have written this book, which is, among other things, about children. Children don't generally plan things out ahead of time — they just do what feels right. Accidents sometimes make for the best adventures.
Amanda Palmer, Gaiman's aforementioned wife, also made an appearance (she wrote a blog post about her relationship with Gaiman while he wrote this book; it's worth a read) to sing us a song she had written a few weeks ago. It was sad and it made me cry, but it also made me feel connected, because lots of people were crying.
Following her performance, Palmer stayed to ask Gaiman some questions, both her own and ones from the audience. Gaiman told us how personal this book is and how scared he's been to release it because it's so personal. He also told us how amazing this past week has been because of that. The reviews for The Ocean At the End of the Lane are the best reviews of his life, he said, and he's loved reading them. "These are the kind of reviews that normally you have to have photographs of the reviewer in a compromising position with farm animals," he said. Laughter followed. There was a lot of laughter that night — this guy named Neil is funny.
Gaiman also talked about keeping books alive in a physical format. (I particularly liked this bit because e-books are e-vil.) He told us that "the way books are going to survive as books is by being beautiful." And The Ocean At the End of the Lane is beautiful. The cover is a haunting image of a young girl floating in the ocean. It is blue and dark and perfect and the pages are soft and uneven, giving it an old and worn feel. It also smells fantastic. While much can be said for the convenience of e-books on planes and trains, they can't give you that.
One of my favorite moments of the night was Gaiman's response to whether or not he used semicolons. "Semicolons are wonderful," he said. See everyone, Neil likes semicolons. Will you stop hating on them so much now? (And maybe, while you're at it, learn how to properly use them? They're wonderful!)
I waited until 1:00 in the morning, in a line that wrapped around two corners of the block, for Gaiman to sign my copy of The Ocean At the End of the Lane. I became friends with the people in line with me as we discussed this book, Gaiman's other books, Doctor Who, and four hours worth of many different things. When I finally got to the man of the hour, he signed my book with a smile (and only the slightest hint of exhaustion). I thanked him for a lovely evening, and he thanked me for listening. He seemed genuinely pleased that I was so pleased. It was a short exchange, but it is one I will treasure.
"He's just a dude named Neil," Peter Aguero told us that night. "But he's kind of not."