There’s a story Adam likes to tell about me. We were watching The Sing-off, which was this awesome show that, tragically, isn’t on anymore, in which a capella singing groups would compete for a recording contract.
After one particularly amazing performance by one of my favorite groups, contest judge Sara Bareilles made some vapid, inadequate comments in an effort to describe and applaud the incredible art the singers had just created. And I think I threw something at the TV and said, “Don’t cheapen this, you ignorant slut!”
Now, Sara Bareilles is not a slut. She’s actually a talented musician, and I have a couple of her albums on my iPod. I understand her need, in that moment after witnessing the highest level of artistic achievement, to somehow put words to the experience, to explain or quantify it in some way. However, when art reaches a certain level, it’s transcendent—it is beyond description. All that needed to be said by Sara Bareilles after that incredible performance was something like, “Yes. Mmhm.” And the audience would have burst into applause, because, well, they were there. They heard it. They know.
Sometimes books do this to me, too—leave me completely unable to say anything at all that won’t utterly cheapen the glorious perfection of reading them. This is one of those books. I could try to describe the ache that I got in my chest, reading the pitch-perfect narration of Gaiman’s seven-year-old protagonist, who made me remember so viscerally the innocence—and pain and fear—of childhood. I could try to explain how darkly this book reveals the evil in our world, real and imagined, while still managing to salvage grace, friendship, and fragile hope. I could try to pretend that any words I am able to cobble together could ever be anything but locusts and toads in the face of such masterful writing. I could do all these things, and it would be like offering you a sniff of my shoe leather and asking if you can now imagine what filet mignon tastes like.
So, I’m not going to cheapen this. Just read the book. Yes. Mmhm.
[And if you think I’m getting too gooey over Neil Gaiman, just wait until I have time to write something about Cormac McCarthy. Oh my GOSH what a badass.]