Friday, October 19, 2007

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman - RIP #5

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
Copyright 2007
HarperCollins fiction/short stories
250 pages
Allegedly for children (watch her pull out her soapbox)

What led you to pick up this book? I snatched this one while I was browsing the library. It was added to my wish list after reading an RIP II review.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. The book is a collection of short stories marketed to children - very tacky of HarperCollins, if you ask me, as I think most of them are really very adult. My guess is that the publisher is trying to ride the coattails of the "national bestselling" book Coraline.

What did you like most about the book? I'm not going to describe all of the stories, merely because I'm short on time, but instead speak in generalities. I really enjoyed Gaiman's ability to take a simple tale and add some unique qualities to it. Characters were easy to visualize, whether likable or revolting (or in between). Far and away my favorite story is "Chivalry", the tale of a woman who finds the Holy Grail in a charity shop and buys it for 30 pence. A knight then shows up to attempt to recover the Holy Grail and keeps returning with interesting offers. I just loved that story!

What did you think of the characters? I like the fact that characters were so well-drawn. I think that's what makes his stories seem rather plausible, imaginative or fantastic as they may be. One thing I loved about "Chivalry" was the elderly woman. She was wise and funny. I adored the way she dealt with the knight, her casual mode of speech, the way she put the knight to work and left the reader hanging a bit, before her decision whether or not to trade the Holy Grail for whatever he was offering.

Share some quotes from the book.

Mrs. Whitaker peered at the sword. "It must be very sharp," she said, after a while.
"It can slice a falling hair in twain. Nay, it could slice a sunbeam," said Galaad, proudly.
"Well, then, maybe you ought to put it away," said Mrs. Whitaker.
"Don't you want it?" Galaad seemed disappointed.
"No, thank you," said Mrs. Whitaker. It occurred to her that her late husband, Henry, would have quite liked it. He would have hung it on the wall in his study next to the stuffed carp he had caught in Scotland, and pointed it out to visitors.
Galaad rewrapped the oiled leather around the sword Balmung and tied it up with white cord.
He sat there, disconsolate.
Mrs. Whitaker made him some cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches for the journey back and wrapped them in greaseproof paper. She gave him an apple for Grizell. He seemed very pleased with both gifts.

--from "Chivalry"

Quotes that baffled me, considering that the book is being marketed to children:

I was working in London, doing A & R for one of the major record companies. I was commuting into London by train most days, coming back some evenings.

--from "Troll Bridge"

"Effete bitch," he muttered beneath his breath. Still, it was reassuring to see other council members here. He wondered if any of them knew anything he didn't.

--from "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge"

Share a favorite scene from the book: I love the scene in "Chivalry" when Mrs. Whitaker's friend, Mrs. Greenburg, comes for her weekly visit and Mrs. Whitaker very casually tells her (upon inquiry) that the shiny cup on her mantle is the Holy Grail . . . to which Mrs. Greenburg replies that her son has a similar cup he won in a swimming tournament, but it has his name on the side.

I also really like the ending scene in "Sunbird," which is unfortunately a spoiler. I found "Sunbird" also was oddly adult, about a group of epicureans who have run out of unique things to taste. But, it's a great story.

In general: When I check out or buy a book from the children's or young adult section, I do so intending to read something light and geared for a younger crowd. In that way, I was very much put off by this collection of stories. It irritated me no end that they were written for a more mature audience. I loved the illustrations and enjoyed about half of the stories. Some of them simply left me cold, but that's typical for short story collections. It's a rare anthology that contains stories I would consider consistently high-caliber. I can't say enough that I simply do not think this book is for children.

3/5 - Average. It took me a while to get through this one and I was in no way overwhelmed with adoration for his writing. So far, Neil Gaiman is an author I feel lukewarm about. I thought "Chivalry" was exceptionally fun reading and there were elements of each story that I really liked. But, I'm still reserving judgment on the author till I've read Neverwhere.


  1. Yes, Neverwhere :)

    I love Chivalry. It's one of my favorites too! As I've said before, I totally agree that this book should NOT be marketed as a children's book...not at all. I don't know if this was a Neil Gaiman decision or a Harper Collins decision as these were all stories that have been previously published.

    I didn't realize that Sunbird was in this collection. I love that story too. It's another one of my favorites.

    Glad you read this one. You're one of the few people I've found that finds his work "lukewarm" and that makes me happy! Most people who don't love him just hate him, so I'm glad you've been able to find some stuff that you like in his writing.

  2. Chris,

    I'm going to slot Neverwhere in as soon as I can, just because it's been waiting for over a year! It looks like October's a bust, though. Running out of time, here. :)

    I'm so glad to see that Chivalry's a favorite of yours, also. I thought of you, while I was reading the story - you know, just "Wonder what Chris thinks of this one?"

    And, glad you agree that the book doesn't belong in the children's section. Obviously, I feel pretty strongly about that. I'm leaning toward "publisher's doing" because, in the end, an author sells but really has no control over the marketing. Who knows, he might be really frustrated about the placement.

    Yep, Sunbird is in there. Don't you love the ending?

    Oh, good, I'm glad you don't think it's just awful that I'm lukewarm about Gaiman. I really don't feel strongly one way or the other. Some of his stories are wonderful and there are facets of his writing that I like. But, some are just blah. Obviously, I'm determined to give the man plenty of chances! That may be your doing! :)

  3. great review, I havent read this one, I may have to add it to my ever growing TBR list. 'Chivalry' sounds like a good one.

  4. Naida,

    I had a passing thought that the book was almost worth buying just for "Chivalry". But, I'd rather buy the story in different form, if only because I think the publisher is sort of scamming people by releasing the book as a children's publication. Still . . . it's a great story and that cover is terrific, isn't it?

  5. I love your new squirrel header! What a great picture.

    Neverwhere is on my TBR list too. One of my good friends gave it to me but it keeps getting pushed back by other things.

  6. Nikki,

    Thank you. I was pretty thrilled with that photo - always love a good squirrel action shot. LOL

    Same here; I just keep pushing Neverwhere back on the piles. I think I got it before last year's RIP Challenge. Anyway, I know I decided to hold it for this year and there are only 11 days left in October. So, maybe it will be a November book! :)

  7. Anonymous1:53 PM

    I haven't read Neverwhere yet but I did like American Gods.

    That is a bit odd that the book is YA. YA is so much more grown up than in my day.

    Chivalry sounds good though.

  8. I've been relatively lukewarm about Gaiman myself. American Gods was a great premise, but the writing didn't blow me away. I LOVED Coraline, but haven't picked up any more Gaiman since then. I did buy Smoke and Mirrors the other day, though (another collection of short stories) and I'm looking forward to giving them a try.

  9. Carrie,

    Neverwhere is already on my TBRs, so I've got to read it. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed American Gods; I know you're discriminating.

    That's true, YA books seem to become more adult all the time. I think it's probably a sign of changing culture - TV is the same. All those TV-14 ratings during prime time would have been unfathomable, not that long ago.

    Chivalry's great. I loved everything about that particular story.


    Coraline is the only other Gaiman book I've read and it didn't thrill my socks off, although I liked Coraline's blunt logic. She was an interesting character. And, I did love the atmosphere. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on Smoke & Mirrors. I flipped through it not long after Neverwhere arrived and decided I'd better wait till I decided whether I liked that Gaiman fellow. LOL

  10. Re: Effete - I'll be glad when the F word makes it into fadism. I'm so over it, Blah!

  11. Me, too, Maggie.

    Pssst! Nice to "see" you. :)

  12. I love your new "currently reading" picture in your sidebar! :)

  13. Les,

    We took that outside the natatorium in Jackson, this weekend. Poppet is always willing to come out of the purse for a pose - it gets rather stuffy in there, you know. :)

  14. I'm surprised at some of the books that are categorized as young adult or children's literature. Most recently, Book Thief. I was surprised it was YA. From the quotes you've shared, these stories don't sound like the children's market was the best choice for this book.

    I'm going to check my library for this book because you've whetted my appetite to read Chivalry.

    I love your squirrel picture, too.

  15. Booklogged,

    Me, too. Even more surprising to me are the ones that are very obviously written to a teenage audience but with sexual content implying that anyone who doesn't have sex before graduating high school is just flat weird. Meg Cabot's books are great, but she's one of the authors who makes that comment repeatedly and it irritates me no end.

    I was surprised to find out The Book Thief was classified as a YA, too. It was on display in the front of the store, when I got my copy, and the one review I read didn't mention that. I didn't find out till after I read the book that it was YA. It's pretty mature reading material, isn't it?

    Chivalry's really good. It's definitely worth it to find the book just for that story.

    My squirrel and I thank you. :)

  16. Marketing is a funny thing. We've had a lot of discussion about the marketing of the movie "...Terabithia." Anyway, I've seen Gaiman's name all over the blogworld and sooner or later I'm going to have to check him out. Stephanie at Confessions of a Bookaholic is reading his "Fragile Things" right now and really enjoying it...which I believe is geared toward adults.

  17. Anonymous10:06 AM

    "Chivalry" is a particularly awesome Gaiman story.

    I can't fathom, really, why the publisher marketed this to children. Really, Gaiman writes children's stories for adults.

  18. Hmmm....I'm reading Fragile Things right now. And I'm loving Neil Gaiman. But I'm surprised that this was marketed to kids. Sunbird and How to Talk to Girl's at Parites are both in Fragile Things. And I think they are really adult in nature to be honest.

    And thanks for your comments on my blog about Chad. Kids. I never knew it could be so hard being a parent!

  19. Heather,

    That's an interesting way to put it. I wouldn't have thought of it, myself, but "children's stories for adults" seems like an apt description.


    I wondered which stories might have crossed over between Fragile Things and M is for Magic. Yep, I would say Sunbird and How to Talk to Girls at Parties are both very adult.

    And, you're welcome. Our own bully experience was really upsetting; I pummeled my psychologist friend with questions because *my* son is the one who finally blew up and threw the first punch. I was so worried that he was going to turn into a criminal or something. This too shall pass is a good thing to remember. My eldest is about to graduate from college. He's a sweetie and he learned a good lesson that was never repeated.

  20. What a great timing! I recently finished reading "Coraline" and LOVED it! I'm going to keep a look out for this book! :)

  21. Melody,

    You'll have to tell me what you think. I enjoyed some of the stories but others left me a little cold.

  22. Anonymous9:00 AM

    Hi - I just tagged you for a fun meme!

  23. Hi Lynne,

    Thanks! That looks like a fun meme. :)


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