I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman – he’s one of my favorite living writers. With the success of Amazon’s adaptation of American Gods, I feel like there are people out there who have never read his books but would like to start. Here’s your quick guide to Gaiman!
If you want to start with The Big One: American Gods
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.
American Gods is probably Gaiman’s best known novel, and it tends to be both most people’s favorite and the first one they read. It’s a long one – the British edition is 736 pages – but I believe it’s worth it. You can really see his love of mythology and storytelling come to life. Anansi Boys is the follow-up to American Gods, but it’s the only Gaiman novel I haven’t actually read!
If you love fairy tales and fantasy: Stardust
Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.
I have a three-way tie for my favorite Neil Gaiman book and this is one of them. It’s modeled on a Victorian fairy tale and is dark, gorgeous, fantastical, and utterly compelling. I love, love, love this book so much. There’s also a fantastic movie adaptation that looks like it should be terrible, but trust me when I say it’s an absolute delight and one of the finest book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen.
If you love London and all things English: Neverwhere
Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
The second in my three-way tie for his best novel. This was the first novel he wrote and it is a shining example of his incredible storytelling skills. He manages to take London, a city that’s so well known to so many people, and twist it into something that it both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The characters are absolutely wonderful and memorable, but the most remarkable character is the city itself. This book also features two of my favorite villains, which is saying something because I absolutely love a good baddie.
If you don’t want to commit to anything too long: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
The third book in the three-way tie! This is one of his newer ones – it was published in 2013 – and I was initially disappointed to see how short it was. Somehow he manages to create a fully fleshed out story in 178 pages. This is his finest example of magical realism in which he blurs the lines between reality and the fantastical with a creeping, unknown terror in the quiet English countryside.
If you love creepy children’s literature: Coraline
Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
This is probably one of the scariest children’s books I’ve ever read, and I absolutely loved it. Again, this is a short book but he manages to create an incredible story that plays on our childhood fears and desires that’s filled with incredible characters. I don’t know how badly this book would have scared me as a kid, but it’s positively chilling as an adult. I haven’t seen the movie that is based on this book, although it is apparently excellent.
You want something sad and beautiful that will break your heart: The Graveyard Book
After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…
Another children’s book, The Graveyard Book is so wonderfully heartbreaking and gorgeous. It has been a long time since I read this one, but I cried and cried and cried. I think I’m due for a re-read.
You want to laugh: Good Omens
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .
This is probably going to be the next TV adaptation. He co-wrote this with the fantastically funny Terry Pratchett and their styles mesh so well. You can just imagine the two of them howling with laughter as they share their passages with each other. Good Omens will probably be the funniest book about the Apocalypse you’ll ever read.
You’re into comics and graphic novels: Sandman
Sandman was what launched Gaiman to fame. I’m not a big comics reader, but Sandman reads like a novel and is complimented by stunning artwork. It’s often hailed as one of the best graphic novel series of all time. There are twelve volumes, so make sure you start with Preludes and Nocturnes.
If novels aren’t your thing, there are plenty of short story collections to choose from including Smoke and Mirrors, Trigger Warnings, and Fragile Things, to name a few. He’s also a lover of mythology and has recently released the lovely Norse Mythology, which will be reviewed here soon.
So there you have it! I hope this helps anyone who is looking to read his work for the first time or wants to expand on what they’ve already read.