Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the First

Dudes. I have discovered an awesome secret. Neil Gaiman is not only a fantastic author, but a fantastic narrator as well! And I have proved this scientifically by using BOTH my ears and my eyes to read this book. That’s right. I’m doing the homework twice! I’m Hermione Granger! Anyway, this started off as an accident, of the “Oh crap I’m not going to have time to read four stories by Sunday because it’s already Thursday but hey my library right here has the audiobook I can yoink after work and listen to during work tomorrow [a day passes] hey these are pretty fantastic stories but I think I need to read that ‘Fairy Reel’ one because it went by kind of quickly oh hey while I’m here I think I’ll read the others again too” variety…. That’s never happened to you? Right. Anyway. I think I’m going to keep on with the dual reading because these stories are quite short and I can.

So. Yes. Here are the four splendid things I read in the last couple days:

It’s a good thing I went back and eyes-read the introduction, because it did not translate well to audio. Gaiman goes through the book and tells the story, long or short, behind each of the stories in the collection. Some are just like, “I was commissioned to write this for another project that you can go buy if you want because it has awesome authors in it,” others are like, “I wrote this and no one liked it and then I wrote it again and it was better,” and one includes a short story of its own that seemed to come out of nowhere on the audio and makes much more sense in print. It has served to make me very excited about some of the stories I’ll be reading in the weeks to come.

“A Study in Emerald”
It’s been about four years since I read A Study in Scarlet, and about that many months since I watched “A Study in Pink” (sidenote: omg I cannot wait for series two!), so I can’t tell you exactly how these three stories diverge, but I can tell you that they are similar enough, and particularly “Emerald” and Scarlet are similar enough, to fool you a little bit. Which Gaiman does, with, I imagine, an evil laugh. “Emerald” is the same story you know, with the meeting of our two protagonists, and Lestrade needing a bit of help with his German, but then, as is mentioned in the introduction, it takes a bit of a Lovecraftian turn. And while I’m sure I’m missing a lot of nuances, not knowing The Lovecraft, I still found myself very intrigued with this sort of alternate universe Holmes story.

“The Fairy Reel”
The introduction’s description of this: “Not much of a poem, really, but enormous fun to read aloud.” Gaiman is being a little modest, here, as I found this a fantastic poem when I eyes-read it about three times in a row, but he is also telling the truth that it is so much prettier when you just ignore the words and let the rhythm and the sound of Gaiman’s voice wash over you. After just listening to it, I was like, “Husband! Sit still and listen to this poem!” It is much meant for sharing.

“October in the Chair”
So, first, October is my favorite month of the year for many reasons, probably firstly because it’s my birthday month! So I can tell you that Gaiman got it wrong — October is a lady, not a gent. But I will forgive this mistake, because the story that October tells is creepy and wonderful. It’s the predecessor to The Graveyard Book, which I need to re-read, and you can see the bits and pieces Gaiman takes from it, but it is also a perfectly strong story on its own of a boy who runs away and decides that anything is better than going back home. Which, on the one hand, I’m like, “That’s terrible! Go home!” and on the other I’m like, “Dooooo it.” So, conflicted. Also, Gaiman’s voices for the other months, especially June, are hilarious and not quite inflected in the print. Another point for ears-reading!

I am so excited for reading the rest of these stories, especially now that I have them on audio. I may have to ration myself to a story a day, though, lest I get so excited I finish it all in one go!

18 thoughts on “Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the First

  1. Ellen says:

    I wasn't in love with “October on the Chair” but now you're making me think that by just listening to it the story would be so much better for me, since the things I liked about it (the runt! hanging out with ghosts!) were never the things with the voices. It would be fun to hear all the months actually speaking, so I may have to see if I can get an audio file.

    I have to hold myself back to keep from reading all these stories in a week or so, too. For the intro and the first three, I meant to read them a day at a time…but somehow, went through them all in one sitting.

  2. Alison says:

    Oh, yes, the audio is brilliant. Highly recommended! And the all-in-one-go problem is part of why I ended up reading them again later — so that I could go slowly and appreciate the subtleties that I missed on first listen.

  3. Carl V. says:

    All of Gaiman's books where he reads them himself are wonderful! It is so great to hear him give life to the stories in the way that they sounded in his head when he wrote them. I've only “read” this book once, right after it came out. Every other time I have listened to it on audio. I love having Neil read to me.

    You should read some Lovecraft sometime. Not only is it good, if you like classic creepy stories, but it will give you and even greater appreciation for the Lovecraftian elements of this excellent story. It also makes it even more terrifying.

    Gaiman reading The Fairy Reel himself makes it exponentially better than reading it yourself, in my opinion. I would never have considered reading it the way that he did and the rhythm of it works so well.

    I'm glad you mentioned Gaiman and voices. One thing I like about his narration is that he does do voices and at times he just does a different dialect, which is especially interesting when he is doing various ones from England in his stories as they do make them 'read' differently, if that makes any sense.

    I've been doing better than I thought with not rushing too terribly far ahead with these stories. I have such a tendency to gobble them up quickly and it is nice to be doing this with all of you and chewing them more slowly this time.

    October is a favorite month for me as well, the start of my favorite three month period of the year. Happy early birthday.

  4. Alison says:

    Carl — I will have to try some Lovecraft… do you have any recommendations on where to start?

    And I really may have to go back and listen to all the Gaiman I've read before and see what I was missing out on!

  5. Carl V. says:

    I really like these two collections:

    They contain an interesting mix of his stories and the annotations are very interesting. Either would be a great place to start.

    American Gods is also very good even though it is not read by Gaiman. The reader is fantastic. Same with Anansi Boys. They picked the perfect reader for it.

  6. bookswithoutanypictures says:

    I need to actually read Lovecraft as well. I'm hoping to do that for RIP this year, if I can manage to make time.

    Oh, and now you've all made me curious about the audio versions of these stories… I'm normally not a big fan of audio books, because I read a lot faster than the narrators and like the feel of a book in my hand. I'm almost thinking that I might want to give them more of a chance now…

  7. redhead says:

    I've mostly only read Gaiman's novels and YA stuff, i really need to give his short works a try!

    I listen to audio books when I'm travelling, I'll see if the library has it on audio. . . cuz I think I could listen to that man's voice for hours and be a very happy camper.

  8. Carl V. says:

    I've read all of Gaiman's books and then later went and listened to the audio version and I enjoy doing it that way. I like holding the book and having my own personal experience with it and then having Gaiman, or in a few cases other readers, give me their take on the story by listening to it being read to me. And all of Gaiman's audio books, be they read by him or others, are tremendously well done.

  9. dooliterature says:

    I've been hearing a lot of good things about the audio version of this book – I might just have to get myself a copy!
    Glad you're enjoying the stories. (: I, too, am going to have to ration these stories out. I want to read them all now! I'll have to hide the book from myself so I'm not tempted.

  10. xalwaysdreamx says:

    Ahah! Never heard of “A Study in Pink”! Will be looking this up, now. I totally agree with you about the evil laughter in the background after reading the end to “A Study in Emerald”. I totally felt like I fell into every little plot trap Neil Gaiman set up for us. I love those ads he puts before each of the little chapters! My favorite being Jekyll's Powders hehe.


  11. Carl V. says:

    “A Study in Pink” is the title for the first episode of the new Sherlock series that came out last year. It is just a clever play on “A Study in Scarlet”.

  12. Alison says:

    Carl — I will check those Lovecraft stories out! I do love me some annotations. 🙂 And I'm sure I can find some time somewhere to listen to all of Neil Gaiman's books. Somewhere. Also, I do like both ears- and eyes-reading these stories because they are differently fantastic!

    bookswithoutanypictures — I've gotten into audiobooks because I have a job that is mindless enough to allow me to listen to them eight hours a day. Otherwise, I would not be able to sit still long enough to get through them! But I would very much recommend the audio for this especially because it goes slower than you can read it on your own and you can pick up some things that you would otherwise miss.

    Andrea — I've read a smattering of Gaiman, and these short stories are just as awesome as any of those longer works. And shorter! And yes, I am finding that Neil Gaiman could read me the phone book and I'd be happy…

    dooliterature — Yes! Do! And hiding the book from yourself is a brilliant idea… unless you forget where you put it. 🙂

    Sharry — As Carl said, it's the new Sherlock, and it's wonderful and you should go watch it right now if you have any interest in a 21st-century Holmes. I kind of skimmed over the ads when listening, but they were really well done in print, I thought. Highly amusing!

  13. Emily Barton says:

    OMG, you're having the same experience I've had (listening and then reading). I'm so glad to find I'm not the only one who didn't get the “short story hidden within the Introduction” while listening and had to refer to the print version to figure it out. Did you find yourself thinking, “Wait? Did I space out? For how long? Have the stories begun?” It was truly weird. It seems we had pretty much the same reactions to the stories/poem. I read The Fairy Reel several times after listening to him read it, but his reading was superb, no?

  14. Kristen M. says:

    I'm totally not an audiobook person but I listened to The Graveyard Book last year anyway (as a re-read of sorts). I had trouble paying attention but I still loved the characters as Gaiman read them. I wish he could have been my dad, telling me stories at night by moonlight.

  15. Alison says:

    Emily — That is exactly what I was like. “'The Mapmaker'? I thought the first story was 'A Study in Emerald'? This doesn't sound like Holmes at all!” And Gaiman reading “The Fairy Reel” was superb, yes. 🙂

    Kristen — I do space out sometimes with audiobooks, which is part of why I decided to listen to and read this book. When you space out on a short story you miss so much more! And oooh, I like the stories by moonlight idea!

  16. wereadtoknow says:

    Usually I'm not at all a fan of audio books (something to do with getting distracted and feeling like I can't just SIT and listen without having to do something else) but the thought of Neil Gaiman's sexy, sexy voice reading fairy/horror/mystery stories for a few hours? That's definitely an idea I can get behind! I also thought it would have been a special treat if we'd gotten to hear what all the months looked like, instead of just a few of them! Thanks for great thoughts.
    – Chelsea

  17. Alison says:

    wereadtoknow — I definitely have to multitask my audiobooks, whether it's with working, working out, or driving. And I did feel a little cheated with only hearing from a few months, but since October is my favorite month I say it's a victory for me! 🙂

    Beth — I remember you mentioning it when I listened in on that Neil Gaiman podcast you and Cari did, back when I was like, “Oh, audiobooks, whatever.” Now that my stance has changed, I am definitely going to have to go back and listen to The Graveyard Book!

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