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Stories by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

A book of good short stories is sort of like wandering the Parte Vieja of Donosti in the Basque Country and sampling pintxos from the different bars. Each one is completely different than the one before, but just as unique and exceptional. I just finished reading probably what is now my favorite collection of short stories, entitled, aptly enough, Stories. The editors, Neil Gaiman (of varied fame) and Al Sarrantonio, have pulled together an impressive group of writers to contribute to this collection. Some of the bigger names include Jodi Picoult, Chuck Palahniuk (who wrote The Fight Club), and Joyce Carol Oates.

Many of these stories have a fantasy or supernatural bent to them, but some of them are simply of ordinary people in quite unordinary situations. Some of them are simply odd, and others are quite dark. One, for example, is the story of a serial killer, from the point of view of the killer himself. Others are stories of revenge or simply stories of life. While some made bigger impressions on me than others, none of them disappointed.

I won’t go into any detail about any of the stories, as I’d prefer to let anyone who might be so inclined to discover this great collection for themselves. I will say that, while I tend to enjoy fantasy, it was the other stories that resonated more strongly for me. And the darker ones were, indeed, a bit disturbing. All, however, are highly recommended.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has become quite a well known author.  With the recent movie Coraline, based on the book of the same name by Mr. Gaiman, he is fast becoming a household name.  I’ve read a few of his previous efforts, including American Gods and his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, both of which I greatly enjoyed.  His newest book, a children’s book like Coraline, is The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book recently won the The John Newbery Medal for “the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” an honor which I think it richly deserved.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but I’m sure that there might be some spoilers in what follows.  I would rather describe my general thoughts about the story.  The story centers around the childhood of a young boy, Nobody Owens, as he grows up after a tragedy in his family.  I imagine it won’t be much of a spoiler, since the title of the book essentially gives this point away, to say that Bod, as Nobody is nicknamed, grows up in a graveyard.  I’ve read that Gaiman was inspired on this point by The Jungle Book, putting a young boy in a very odd environment in which to grow up.  The plot revolves around Bod growing up and learning about the graveyard and the world around him, as well as the mystery surrounding the events that led him to the graveyard in the first place.

The story is fast paced, with several adventures as Bod discovers new corners of the graveyard.  The reader essentially grows up with Bod, learning about both the world in which Bod lives as well as the greater world beyond the physical world in which most people live.  We learn that Ghouls, Werewolves, and, while never explicitly stated, Vampires exist in this world.  Bod has to learn to navigate both the everyday world as well as this supernatural world in order to survive.

There are three main aspects of the story that I particularly enjoyed.  First, there is a diverse cast of characters and, while we don’t get to know most of them very well, they all add a lot of color to the universe of The Graveyard Book.  Second, the plot is definitely suspenseful, and at the peak I definitely didn’t want to put it down.  It is a real page turner.  Finally, the book is meant for children.  Maybe not the youngest, but maybe preteens or so.  As such, I like that it doesn’t offer a world-view that is all roses.  That is, bad things happen to Bod and, even when he does the right thing, it doesn’t always work out for him.  And the ending is bitter-sweet.  I’ll leave it at that.

I highly recommend this book.  It is full of imagination and I expect that most kids would love the world that Gaiman has created.  I am torn in hoping that Gaiman further explores the world of the graveyard, but, at the same time, it is maybe better to leave those corners too to the imagination.

There is a website dedicated to the book.