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13 May 2008

Escaping: Part 1

At his keynote at the CBCA conference, Neil Gaiman talked about escapism and imagination. He said (in response to a previous keynote bagging Rowling for being a crap writer), that there is no such thing as a bad book, because reading is a contract between a reader and a writer, and when it comes to children's books, the reader does a lot of the work.

Gaiman told us about this book he read as a child. One part he remembered particularly clearly. The torches on the hill, the dark, terrifying night. The smell of smoke. The glint of firelight on the river below. The restlessness of men and horses, before the battle. On returning to the book as an adult, Gaiman was shocked to find the actual words that conveyed all of these pictures:

"Gosh, what a dark and scary night it is," said Margaret.

So, Gaiman told us, it doesn't really matter if the writer isn't doing her job. Because young readers will do it for her. And that we shouldn't try to prevent children from reading crap, because you can grow a lot of good stuff in crap.

It's not really an excuse for shoddy writing, though, and Gaiman emphasised how important it is to write good books for children. Think of how many people have only ever consumed cheap, nasty wine/whiskey/sushi, and then assumed that they didn't like it, and never tried it again. It could be the same for kids; if the first book they read is shit, then they might think they don't like reading.

Anyway. This isn't very coherent, so I shall finish by reminding you of Chesterton via Gaiman.

The only kind of people who complain about escape, and escapism, are jailers.


tanaudel said...

That was very coherent, and also succinct:)

I'm glad you caught his description of how he remembered the book, and sorry I didn't see you there!

lili said...

i know. there should have been a listmeet, because there were a few of us there. but it was all such a whirlwind...

james roy said...

Very nicely put, lili.

Aimee said...

Well summarised - you remembered some stuff I forgot/didn't take down. Neil's speech was great. Sorry I didn't bump into you there (especially as I ran into just about everyone else I know...LibraryWorld is small).

chosha said...

Was that a real book? I thought he was just giving a hypothetical.

lili said...

i think it was hypothetical-but-pretending-to-be-real-because-it-makes-a-better-story.