So Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out in June. It’s called The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
I mention this for those of you who live deep in the wilderness or high atop some craggy mountain. (I’m assuming you access my blog with the help of some sort of friendly pigeon, or by using a type of prana-bindu meditation.)
I assume everyone except a complete eremite knows this book is coming out. Because generally speaking, I’m pretty clueless, and I’ve known about it for over half a year.
That means for half a year I have *craved* this book. I have desired it with a sort of grim, white-knuckled intensity that is normally the purview of sociopaths and teenage boys.
The worst part was that I knew Advance Reading Copies existed somewhere, but I didn’t know who I could schmooze to get one. You see, I’m at that point in my career where I know how publishing works, but I’m not exactly sure if it’s entirely cool to… say… contact Neil’s publisher and just ask for an ARC.
Trapped between my powerful desires and my own uselessness, eventually I did the modern equivalent of crying out the name of my beloved to the unfeeling sky, which is to say that I whined about it on goodreads.
Surprisingly, this helped a bit. I got it off my chest and was able to move on with my life.
Then, months later, when I’d almost manged to forget about it, something arrived in the mail:
And on the back cover….
Y’know, I feel like I should try to be cool about this. I am a professional author after all, have been for years. That means in some odd way I’m a colleague of Gaiman’s. Part of me feels that, as a professional, I should feign some sort of nonchalance about getting this book.
But it’s just not true. I am the furthest thing from nonchalance. I am brim-full of chalance. Overflowing with it.
The truth is, when I opened the envelope and saw this book, my heart actually beat faster. I was filled with a giddy joy. For a couple days, I carried it around with me. I showed it to my friends, filling them with rage and despair.
The truth is, I’m not a grown up. Underneath all of this, I’m still the same kid who used to spend all his allowance at Waldenbooks.
The truth is, I love books. I love them beyond all reason and sense. I will not pretend otherwise, and I am not ashamed. I am a geek, and the thought of having a special book signed by one of my absolute favorite authors fills me with a ridiculous and disproportionate amount of joy.
So. I got the book. My fondest wish. My heart’s desire.
You know about the shape of stories. You know where things go after this. Now we gently slide into a sweet and simple ending, an easy ever-after. Right?
No. Oh no. If you think that then you’re forgetting who I am. You’re forgetting who Gaiman is too.
I lack the ability to write a simple story with a simple ending. (I am, even now, telling you a story about a story. I cannot help it.)
And Gaiman’s stories, while they may be sweet, are never merely sweet. And when his stories are simple, they are deceptively so.
So this is the place where the story takes a turn.
* * *
Once I had the book, I did not read it.
At first the reason was a simple one. I was in the middle of a book. I can’t stop a book halfway any more than you can stop a sneeze. Neither can I read two books at once. The very idea strikes me as being vaguely obscene.
So I finished the book I was reading.
But still I didn’t read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The problem this time was that I was busy, putting in 12-14 hour days. Then I was traveling and didn’t want to risk taking the book. When I returned, I was swamped again, desperately trying to catch up on the work I had missed.
Then I caught up a little bit. Not entirely, but enough to have some breathing room. Enough to read.
Still I didn’t read the book.
Through all of this, the book sat on my desk where I could see it. It was nice having it there. Looking at it made me happy. Sometimes I would reach out and touch it a little bit. Occasionally I would pick it up and turn it over in my hands a little.
Then I would put it back down, unopened and unread.
I didn’t think much about it at first. After all, I was still busy. I would wait until I had enough time to relax and enjoy it….
So it continued to sit by my computer. I would reach out and touch it. Its presence comforted me.
Then, after a couple of days, something occurred to me. This is addict behavior. This is exactly how an experienced drug addict with good coping mechanisms treats their stash. Those of you who have had junkie friends will probably know exactly what I’m talking about…
Once I started thinking about my reading in these terms, the parallels were a little disturbing. I read about 150 novels a year, that’s not counting the comic books I’m increasingly fond of. Not nearly as much reading as I used to do, but it’s still a hell of a lot considering I’m usually working 10-12 hours a day.
I binge read. I read compulsively. I have been known to break plans with others in favor of staying home and reading. When I go too long without reading, I get irritable and depressed. The list goes on and on….
It kinda sounds like I’m making a joke here, but I’m really not. While labeling my reading a full-blown addiction would be a little silly (not to mention insulting to folks who struggle with genuine chemical addictions) I actually suspect that I may have an honest-to-god compulsive obsession with reading.
That said, as far as compulsions go, I’m pretty okay with it.
Besides, even if I wanted to fight it at this point, I doubt I could break the habit. The thought fills me with genuine horror. (Which is, of course, another sign of addiction.)
Still, the realization was a little troubling. So, looking for a little comfort, I did what I always do.
I started reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The only reason it took two sittings is because the restaurant closed and kicked me out.
(I feel as if I should mention at this point there won’t be any spoilers in this blog. I don’t go in for that sort of thing.)
I will say this. It made me smile. I laughed out loud. I cried. Not because of any particular sad moment, but because sometimes the shape a story makes is like a key turning inside me and I cannot do anything but weep.
Gaiman’s stories do this to me with fair regularity, which is one of the reasons I’m so fond of him. We are not similar writers. Not at all. But I like to think we share a fondness for the shape of stories.
Ultimately, when you tell a friend about a book, there is only one truly meaningful question to answer: “Is this book worth your time?”
So I will simply say, “Yes.”
If you’re curious to hear more, I wax more rhapsodic over here on goodreads.
P.S. Absolutely worth your time…..