The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

Every January, I reread The Graveyard Book. A rainy day will come, or I’ll be in bed with a cold, and this overwhelming urge to pull it off the shelf again overcomes me. Even the year it was published, I read it again in January. I don’t know why it has such a strong influence on me during this time of year, but I suspect it’s something to do with the sense of mystery that permeates the novel and these early dark days of winter.

I wrote a letter to Gaiman the second or third time I read it, and I searched my computer desperately for a copy because honestly, few things are funnier than seeing me geek out over an author. Unfortunately, although I remember saving a copy before I sent it out, it’s gone now. I can’t even recreate what I wrote, although I know I spent an hour or so working on it while sitting on the couch, watching the rain beat against the window. I also remember the feeling I had – the feeling I always have – after I put this book down. It’s like staring up at the world from the bottom of deep crevasse; up there, the light dances with its shadow and the storms passing make the ground greener, rather than just damp. It’s possible to hear voices, and doors slamming, dogs barking at the music playing too loudly, but deep down, in this narrow reach of earth, everything is muted. Soft-edged. There’s magic, and it’s the kind that’s a little bit dark.

It’s no coincidence, I’m certain, that this is the same feeling I get whenever I enter a cemetery. Each has a quality, an air that’s nearly tangible. No matter how small, walking through those gates, I can feel a change. It’s tinged with the knowledge that even if I felt the urge to shout, it would be tamped down by whatever energy it is I’m experiencing.

That Gaiman wrote a book that so perfectly captured this – well, I suppose it’s to be expected; he’s been one of my favorite authors for twenty years now, after all. His are books that I don’t push on everyone, but instead save for kindred reading spirits. It isn’t fair, really, that I do that, but his writing is…well, it’s a whisper. To me, it embodies the phrase, “walk gently but carry a big stick.” In Gaiman’s books, the wisest characters never forget that.

I have to say that I also love the brutal elegance of this little book. This is a novel I would give to children who don’t like to read (those who do have hopefully already discovered it). It’s what I would call a spiderweb book –¬†delicate, and delightfully intricate, while also being ferociously strong and predatory and frightening. Without a doubt, those are my favorites for young audiences. I don’t think children need mild-mannered books or sanitized reading experiences. I believe they crave an element of danger and darkness because those are the things that are most difficult to face in reality. Reading is a safe space to engage in the consideration of challenging circumstances, and having been a very anxious child myself, I was constantly drawn to books that forced me to face my worst fears. There was something almost magical about it.

Some books seem to spring forth and beg to empower young readers. For me, this will always be one that does just that. It’s hard to think less of one’s self when a book demands respect, when it trusts the intellect of the reader, and when it’s written with so much love for the people lucky enough to turn its pages.


For more about Neil Gaiman, go here.

5 thoughts on “The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

  1. My years are so much longer than yours and I am less the re-reader just because I worry whether I will be able (I won’t) to read all the books I want to read, but this very one I do re-read, or check it out from the library and re-listen. It is magical.

    One year many years ago I wrote a letter (at the time that was the technology) every week in Lent to an author who had meant a lot to me. This post suggests to me that I might like to do that again.

    And I downloaded the free sample of The One and Only Ivan — this year’s Newbery winner — and I am thinking that a) I need the dead-tree version and b) this may be such another book.

    1. Damn that Newbury committee! Now I’m going to get sucked into a new book when I promised myself I would get through the ones already on my list…not that I believe such a thing is even possible. When I start thinking about all the books I’ll never read, I become paralyzed and start rereading books in a panic! Which makes no sense, of course, but is nevertheless true!

      Send me the sample please?

      1. The free sample is offered by Kindle — yeah Kindle! so I can’t forward, but it’s a nice chunk, enough to know if you want to be drawn in. My local library (really yeah local libraries!!!) got enough copies in as soon as it won, that though I only recently put myself on the list and I am already “up. I’ll get it today … just hope the kids don’t see the old lady taking one of “their” books.

  2. I love a good ghost story, and this was so unlike any other I had read. Nobody’s relationship with his female tutor was so strict yet so poignant. My sense of wonder was fully engaged, and that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like as the years wear on.

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