Although this theory has enormous gaps in it, I think that, most of the time, ‘best of’ albums are a good way of getting introduced to an artist, especially if that artist has a large back catalog. Taking an uninformed plunge into an artists repertoire can result in picking that one awful record, and stop you exploring further. A compilation should have a decent cross-section of what said artist has done, offering you a starting point to delve deeper. Nowadays that risk is reduced by the ability to go online and find some samples to educate yourself, but still, you have the risk to sample some duds, and leave it at that.
For much the same reasons, I like anthologies of short stories to get acquainted with authors. For example, I put off picking up any book by Terry Pratchett because I did not know which of his 30+ books to start with. But the thing with a collection of short stories is that it gives you the opportunity to sample the style(s) of a writer without having to dedicate yourself to a novel that might not be one of his best. Sure, this will not work for every collection, but I never claimed my theory was perfect in the first place.
Neil Gaiman has been on my list to check out for quite some time. I can’t recall how he came on the list, who recommended him or where I read something by him that sparked my interest, but there he was. So, when I was shopping around for some new books, I picked up his short story collection Smoke & Mirrors. And that book totally confirmed my theory.
In the book, you get some poetry (weird poetry with no rhyme or discernible rhythm) and stories (magnificently weird stories). Sometimes the poetry worked for me, and sometimes it did not. But almost all of the stories seemed to work. Be it the story about the woman who found the Holy Grail in a second hand shop, the tiny stories about the cards of the major arcana in a vampire tarot deck or the retelling of Snow White from the perspective of her stepmother.
Just after I started reading Smoke & Mirrors, I went to see the movie Stardust, based on Gaiman’s book of the same name. It’s on the list now.
- Book read
- Neil Gaiman — Smoke & Mirrors
- First line
- They do it with mirrors.