In Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech, published in Horn Book Magazine, for the 2009 Newbery Medal awarded to his novel The Graveyard Book, he reflects on the guilt he used to experience when people thanked him for books he had both enjoyed and found personal satisfaction in writing. He says: “I felt almost dishonorable accepting people’s thanks. I had forgotten what fiction was to me as a boy, forgotten what it was like in the library: fiction was an escape from the intolerable, a doorway into impossibly hospitable worlds where things had rules and could be understood; stories had been a way of learning about life without experiencing it, or perhaps of experiencing it as an eighteenth-century poisoner deals with poisons, taking them in tiny doses, such that the poisoner could cope with ingesting things that would kill someone who was not inured to them. sometimes fiction is a way of coping with the poison of the world in a way that lets us survive it.
And I remembered I would not be the person I am without the authors who made me what I am—the special ones, the wise ones, sometimes just the ones who got there first.
It’s not irrelevant, those moments of connection, those places where fiction saves your life. It’s the most important thing there is.”
Books for me have been just the kind of wonderful escape Gaiman talks about, yet as for Gaiman, they have been so much more. I love the way books allow me to live alternate lives. I love the way some characters come alongside me and illuminate my struggles by the manner in which they have dealt with their own. Books are companions who broaden and enrich this life I have been given. And I so long to write fiction that, like Gaiman’s, will do the same for others.