It’s a great time to be Neil Gaiman. His latest book, Norse Mythology, debuted on the New York Times’ bestseller list. American Gods, based on the novel of the same title, debuts on TV next month. And a filmed adaptation of Good Omens is finally in development at Amazon, with the author at the helm. So what better time, then, to celebrate some of his work? Neil Gaiman is a God among book geeks, considered by many, myself included, to be their favorite author. Any entity with so passionate a fan base is bound to be extremely sensitive about a ranking concerning said entity. So it is with great trepidation that I approach this task and ask you all to remember that, while I am doing my best to be objective here, at the end of the day, these are my opinions. I am as entitled to them as you are to yours. Let’s not fight, let’s just love Neil Gaiman and every word that comes out of his brain.
Categorizing Gaiman’s work is tough because his oeuvre is so expansive and varied. I had to limit this somehow and the easiest way was to eliminate his children’s picture books , which I HIGHLY recommend. They are all charming and fun, gorgeously illustrated, and provide excellent alternatives when gift-giving that most parents haven’t seen before and will be glad of the breath of fresh air. I always give Blueberry Girl or Instructions at any baby shower that requests a book instead of a card. I’d say even if there are no children in your life, if you love Neil Gaiman, you’ll enjoy looking at these and possibly donating a copy or two to your local library. In the same vein, his short fiction is out. I am also excluding Norse Mythology by the logic that a retelling is a different animal than long form fiction. (Also I haven’t read it yet…sorry). On the other hand, I have decided to include some of his longer juvenile fiction and YA work to round out the list because YA writing is as legit as any work of “adult” fiction. Fight me. Sandman is also in here; although it is a graphic novel, there is enough writing there to qualify it as long form fiction. Also, this series is a gateway drug for many comic fans becoming Gaiman fans; it’s too important not to include. As the man himself wrote, “Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” So, here we go.
10. Fortunately the Milk – FtM is definitely a juvenile book, but in a much longer form than a picture book. This grand tale, suitable for middle grades readers, tells of wild adventures a Dad gets caught up in, all while out on a mundane errand like buying more milk to go with breakfast. The set up is relatable enough to children to be believable and the fantastic and funny mishaps Dad encounters will crack them up and keep them reading. It’s an excellent way to introduce young readers to the work of a parent’s favorite author.
9. Stardust – Stardust is a love story, Gaiman style. Its most masterful achievements are the fantasy world of Faerie and the rich, non-traditional characters. It provides a lovely twist that flips a traditional fairy tale narrative on its ear. It’s more lighthearted than most of his other works, which isn’t to say it isn’t good, but it is a bit out of his lane. Additionally, many readers find the lead character Tristan grating, thus knocking it this far down on the list. But on a list of works of this quality, good things fall to the bottom. Still very much worth the read.
8 – Coraline – This is Gaiman’s take on a parable, warning of the dangers of wishes. It is at the same time for kids and not for kids. It’s a young adult story, I suppose, but appeals to older adults as well. Gaiman’s guilty many times over of writing unique, realistic children and putting them in strange and creepy circumstances. He walks the fine line between condescension and understanding, making the characters relatable while still reminding us, often painfully, of our own youth. This story ranks here only because it is a good, but not the best, example of his ability to do so; it’s a rating of the story against other of his stories, not on its own merits, which are excellent.
7 – Ocean at the End of the Lane – Like most of Gaiman’s work, this is a beautiful, dark work of genius. It’s a captivating story of long-forgotten memories unearthed by a visit to a mysterious place from the narrator’s childhood. It’s a book to read to remind you what it’s like to be a child, encouraging you to revisit unexplained, mystical experiences of youth from an adult perspective. As one Goodreads reviewer aptly put it, “In short, it is a Neil Gaiman novel.” It’s not his best or best-known work, but it’s definitely representative of him. It makes a good recommendation for readers who don’t know, but are interested in, his work and for those who know some of his work, but are unfamiliar with this fairly-recent release.
6 – Anansi Boys – This not-quite sequel to American Gods tells the story of Fat Charlie and Spider, children of a deceased God and brothers who never knew each other in their father’s lifetime. Gaiman’s talent for taking a small part of a larger story and blowing it up into its own narrative is part of what makes him such a master. This novel is an excellent example of his ability to create rich worlds and fully fleshed out characters. It also shows off his knack for incorporating mythical elements from oral storytelling traditions of cultures other than his own. It’s a fun, fast read, not quite up to the caliber of some of his greater works, but that’s hardly a criticism.
5 – Neverwhere – This is a great work of modern urban fantasy with possibly Gaiman’s most relatable protagonist, an office worker thrust into a fantastical world beneath the streets of London. It’s a story most of us would imagine (or have imagined) ourselves in, written as only Gaiman can and a world we want to spend far more time in, even after the story is over. As a standalone story, it’s a good entry point into the author’s work, but reader beware, it will leave you wanting more.
4 – The Graveyard Book – Yes, this children’s book is placed awfully high up on the list, but it has won some of the most prestigious awards in literature (notably the Hugo award and the Newbery medal) and quite deservedly so. For one thing, Nobody Owens is a phenomenal protagonist and for another, this is just such a remarkable, fun, exciting story as only Gaiman can tell it. It has the potential to become scary at just about every turn, but thanks to the author’s humor and talent, it never really does. This is truly one to be enjoyed by readers of ALL ages and for that reason, it deserves high placement in the NG canon.
3 – Good Omens – It gives me serious pain not to rank this number one. Not only is it my favorite of Gaiman’s books by far, it is my favorite book, period. But this is a list of his best books, not my favorites, not to mention it’s a co-write with beloved, recently-departed fantasy author Terry Pratchett. Still, if you’ve missed out reading this one, and I find even many diehard fans have, do yourself a favor and correct that IMMEDIATELY. This book is as insightful as it is hilarious. It is a foundational book for me, in terms of my sense of literary appreciation, my humor, and my religious belief system. It’s a tale of the apocalypse gone awry. You can bet your ass I got some serious side-eye when I introduced it in my 10th grade English class as my favorite book, which is kind of the best praise I feel I can give for it and if you understand what I mean, then this book is for you.
2 –Sandman series – If you haven’t already wanted to hang me up by my toenails because you disagree with my opinions, you’re probably about to. This series is…not for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. It’s great. It’s a masterpiece in the field of the graphic novel. But that’s a medium I’ve never been a huge fan of and I suppose that’s why I never connected with it. The fact that I believe it should be ranked this highly in spite of that missing connection speaks to its outstanding quality. If you love Gaiman, you probably love this series and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. But I can’t give it the top spot because it’s not what he does best.
1 – American Gods – This is what he does best. This is storytelling at its finest. This is Gaiman, pulling from legends of old, seasoning them with his dry British wit, crafting a fascinating tale, setting it in a universe that sits just kitty-corner to our own, and drawing his audience in, such that they don’t want to leave, even after the last page is turned. It’s no wonder that fans have been clamoring for an on-screen adaptation for years, one they’ll finally lay eyes on next month, and heaven help the show’s creators (see what I did there?) if they fandom doesn’t approve. If you’ve been living under a rock and have therefore never read any Neil Gaiman and you’re wondering what his best, most representative work is? Look no further.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to disappear to an undisclosed location and stay off social media for a month to avoid the wrath from holders of differing opinions. I know not everyone will agree with me, but if we’re all talking about, celebrating, and reading books by our favorite author, that’s really the most important thing, right?