Halloween Scene: Smoke and Mirrors (1997)

One of my personal reasons for analog books as opposed to digital ones is that analog ones can go on a journey with me. Sure you can take your Kindle with you, but are you really going to remember where you left off on that digital book you started reading a couples years ago? Will you even have the same Kindle in four years so you can pick it back up and finish where you left off? For me the answer is no, even though it would be better on the Earth as far as the paper use goes. Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Smoke And Mirrors and I have been on our fair share of journeys. I originally bought this book back in September of 2005 when I was waiting in the Detroit airport for my flight to JFK to go in and interview for Wizard. I had been out of college for about four or five months and was wondering what the hell I was going to do with an English degree aside from heading back to the place I interned at (Wizard). I had been working days at Barry’s Bagel Place as a deli worker and spending my nights playing Halo 3 and drinking Sweet Tart Whiskey at the Chad Chad Toth house. Good times, but I felt kind of like a failure. So, when I got word that Wizard was hiring, I jumped at the chance to interview.

It wasn’t the first time I flew on my own, but it was the first time I flew on my own into JFK and then drove myself in a rental car to Nyack where I stayed in a hotel by myself and went in the next day for a job interview. It was also the first time I made a real effort to read a short story book. At this point I had read two books by Gaiman (Good Omens and Neverwhere) and none of his comics. It was a new edition of the stands as the original came out in 1997 and this one in September 2005 because it had a preview of Anansi Boys (a book sitting in my giant pile of books to read along with his next short story collection Fragile Things and a couple of his kids story books).

My interview process went really well and I felt pretty good about it. I also happened to be there for staff writer Rich Ho’s last day and I got to go out for his last day lunch and then met everyone down in Nyack for his last day. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t incredibly nervous the night before. Aside from meeting Rickey and the gang down at Olive’s the night before, I also picked up a small bottle of Jack and a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper to take the edge off. I felt like a total weirdo reading Neil Gaiman and drinking Jack and DP in a shoddy motel room, but it also kind of made me feel like a legit writer. Like, I bet Hemingway did the same thing. He loved DP, right?

Anyway, I got the job and was there for about 4 or 5 years. And, oddly enough, it took me about that long to finally finish this book. I was reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon for a few days when I realized it was October and decided to try and finish a horror-ish book for Halloween Scene. I can’t honestly say I remember the short stories I read four years ago or even a year ago, but I read from “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” to “Snow, Glass, Apple” in the last month or so and I really enjoyed them. I’ll be honest, I didn’t necessarily get the poems (they’re not really my thing), but I did force myself to read through them.

It’s fascinating reading these short stories and what interested Gaiman and how he turned them into stories. “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” takes assassination and turns it into a business like any other, “Murder Mysteries” takes a look at the very first murder in the city of Angels and “Snow, Glass, Apple” flips the script on the Snow White story, plus it has vampires! If you’ve never read any Gaiman but are interested in what the hype is about, this is a good place to start. Like I mentioned above, I only read Gaiman’s books for a long time. I think I even read American Gods before getting all the way through Sandman (both of which I highly recommend). I can’t remember all of the other comic projects of Gaiman’s I’ve read, but I haven’t been all that into them. Luckily, I started off with his books which have always been of a high quality. I think, next to Elmore Leonard, Roald Dahl, RL Stine, Christopher Pike, Dr. Suess and whoever wrote the Arthur the Aardvark books, he’s one of my most-read authors and I’ve been happy with everything I’ve read (book-wise, I couldn’t get into 1602).

So, this book definitely has sentimental value and will probably never leave my shelf. It’s been from wherever it was made, shipped to Detroit, flew to New York, flew back to Detroit, then drove to Ohio and then drove back from Ohio through Pennsylvania into New York again. It might have even made a few more road trips that I’m not thinking about (I think I took it to Ryan’s wedding in Connecticut last weekend). Anyway, it’s a fun story to tell and, even better, it’s a good book. Wouldn’t it suck if I had all these memories tied up in a book I ended up hating? Whew. Seriously though, Gaiman’s books are amazing and they’re not all “Goth craziness” like people might think thanks to the more vocal Sandman fans (ankhs for everyone!). Check it out!