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19 June, 2006

Personal growth

Something that came up at Neil Gaiman's blog over a week ago (I've barely glanced at a blog for 11 days – it's been liberating):

A visitor observed/asked:

The issue is related to the amount of references – to literature, music, mythology and so on – that you insert in your comics and novels. For me it is very intriguing and enjoyable to discover the origin of all these references: sometimes it is easy sometimes not. The 'critics' say that it is difficult understand what you really want to say.

In fact, you don't provide any explanation to these references, neither in footnotes nor in appendices or in any other form. It seems that you don't care whether the readers can or cannot grasp them.
Why this choice?

The reply:
I think that the references to other things in stories are a bonus – they can add texture and resonance and sometimes humour and magic. But I also tend to believe that stories should work as stories for someone coming to them perfectly cold knowing nothing – (well, maybe not completely nothing).

And for that matter, if people come back to the stories later, knowing more than they did the first time, sometimes they'll find that the stories have changed and grown while they were away.

Absolutely.

Though I have turned to novels for distraction during bad episodes in my life, ordinarily I'm not a 'comfort reader', who frequently re-reads a small number of favourites*. I tend to read most books only once, and particularly good ones a second time after a couple of years. True favourites might be read again every five years or so thereafter; I don't think I've read any book more than 5-6 times.

That said, I strongly identify with the idea that books can improve with age and experience – my age, I mean. A term or reference might seem so meaningless as to even evade my awareness first time, but having learned a new word or concept in the intervening period, the same reference could change the emphasis and entertainment value of a book when re-reading.

*: I've, er, read that this is a fundamental distinction in the way male and female readers approach books.

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