John and Neil

November 20, 2012 // Miscellaneous Book Nerdery

Books are the love of my life, the air that I breathe, but music is my religion. Which is why this past Wednesday, I had to ask myself, “Which is more awesome? The time I saw PiL and the New York Dolls a month apart? Or the time I saw John Connolly and Neil Gaiman a month apart?” This question was posed while sitting in the audience at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, waiting for Neil Gaiman to take the stage. By the end of the evening, I had my answer. Books win every time.

John Connolly is known mainly for his series of crime fiction centered around his character Charlie Parker. He first blipped onto my radar, however, through his novel The Book of Lost Things. Easily one of my favorite books, The Book of Lost Things is a dash of Labyrinth, a hint of Alice in Wonderland and a swirl of fairy tales all mixed together and told with a dark slant that left me scared to be home alone during a thunderstorm. I remember reading the end of the first chapter and gasping out loud, knowing then and there that I was going to love this book. And I did. So much so, that I made several of my friends read it and it was my pick for the book club I was in at work.   

About a year after I first read The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly came out with The Gates, a book, geared toward kids, about a young boy who fights demons that have escaped from Hell through a portal that was accidentally opened by the Large Hadron Collider. There is so much in that sentence that I love that when I found out John Connolly was going to be in Pittsburgh for a book signing, there was no question of going.

Armed with my two best Amys we went and heard John speak and then somehow got it into our heads that we should ask him to join us for a drink. He graciously accepted, and it turned into one of the best nights. (Considering that when we saw PiL months later we all agreed, “That was almost as awesome as having drinks with John Connolly,” my earlier question should have been more easily answered.)

Recently John has co-edited Books to Die For with Declan Burke, which brought him back to Pittsburgh for another book signing, this time at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop in Oakmont. I dragged along a friend whom I recently turned into a  fan, fully certain that John would not remember me. In fact, I debated bringing up the last time he was in town and decided against it, assuming I would only end up embarrassing myself. Not only did he remember me, but he recognized me and invited me out for a drink again that night.

And that right there is the essence of John Connolly. He is incredibly humble, generous, and gracious. His books have given me nightmares, but I’ve never met a person so warm and friendly and just so genuinely nice. His books alone are reason enough to be a fan, but having met him and hung out with him, I’d read the back of a cereal box if he wrote it, just to show my support.

A month after hanging out with John Connolly for the second time, I found myself in a theater full of book nerds, listening to Neil Gaiman as he read first from Stardust (it happened to be the 15-year anniversary of it being published) and then from his not-yet-released novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I like Neil Gaiman, but I don’t know that I’d categorize myself as a fan. I’m certainly not as die-hard as the majority of the audience there that night. Up to this point I’ve only read Coraline, American Gods,  and Good Omens. I liked Coraline, loved Good Omens, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t that impressed with American Gods.

I think Neil Gaiman as a person is charming, witty, and funny, and listening to him speak for an hour was a lovely way to spend an evening. His reading from Stardust convinced me to buy it the next day. And much like The Book of Lost Things, when he finished reading the excerpt of his new book, I gasped out loud.

Seeing Neil live certainly endeared him to me, from his telling of the backstory of Stardust to the fact that he writes his first drafts by hand in pen to the French accent he would occasionally slip into, I left there feeling like I had been turned into a fan.

And lest my earlier comparison of books and music go to waste, I feel the need to mention that Neil is married to Amanda Palmer, former lead singer of The Dresden Dolls, and John Connolly has an Internet radio show called ABC to XTC, in which he plays music from my favorite time in music history. There’s something to that, authors with rock star souls.       

About the author

Elise just can't quit you.


  1. You should read Neverwhere.

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