[above, l-r: Neil with broken finger, me, Gardner Dozois; photo by Kyle Cassidy]Neil Gaiman breezed through town last night, bringing autumn in his wake, as by a special arrangement with the Seasonal Powers he does every year. He appeared at the Gershman Y to promote his newest work, The Graveyard Book. I was on my usual rounds, walking up and down the earth, and noticed an hour beforehand a line a block long waiting patiently in the rain. So, yeah, the man is a rock star.
Neil is so popular, in fact, that the crowds showing up for signings have gotten large enough to make such events physically painful for him. (In Brazil, 2000 people showed up for a signing, and he signed from four in the afternoon until two in the morning. His arm swelled up to twice its normal size and had to be iced down afterwards. Nobody should have to go through that.)
So on this tour, he's trying something different. Rather than him doing autographs, there's a table of pre-signed books for sale. To make up for that lack of human contact, he first reads an entire chapter of his book, a different chapter at each stop, in order, and each reading recorded on video and then put up on the Web, so that by the end of the tour you can see and hear him read the entire thing, if you wish. (I think a lot of people will.) Then there's an intermission, during which the trailer for the film version of Coraline is shown, and somewhere backstage Neil sorts through questions members of the audience have written on 3 by 5 cards. And finally he comes back and answers as many of those questions as he can in the time allotted him.
How did it work out in practice? Pretty damn brilliantly. It will surprise no one that he's a first-rate reader but -- trust me on this -- it's a lot harder than it looks. And he had the audience. They laughed at all the right places, they were tense at all the scary places. They were rapt. You can find the link for the video at Neil's blog.
As for the question-answering . . . I can't say Neil has the timing of a stand-up comedian, because that's not what he was doing. He was being more of a stand-up witty-and-charming-and-not-at-all-stuck-up-or-pretentious-ian. And, oh man, the audience ate it up. I was there with three young friends and they were perfectly satisfied with the experience.
Afterwards, Neil went out to dinner with a few of his pals, myself included. He said that for him the best part was answering the questions, because he never knew what was going to be asked, which made the experience fresh and interesting for him every time. So if anybody's wondering what he's really like, after the show's over . . . Well, he's pretty much the same as the guy you see on stage. You'd like him.
And as always . . .
I've updated Poem du Jour with another Billy Collins poem and one by Czeslaw Milosz I covered on learning that he had died.