Neil Gaiman is the first author we read on our Twitter book club @1book140. That was back in 2010, when reading groups such as ours were still fledgling experiments in meaningful literary community on the Internet. This month, we're returning to Gaiman with The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
When a seven-year-old boy and his father discover that their stolen car has been used for a suicide next to a local pond, the boy cannot fathom that the pond might be an ocean, or that the powerful and mysterious women who live nearby might be, well, more than they seem. Narrated by the boy grown up, Gaiman's novel is suffused with longing for a childhood home, which is viewed through the sepia lenses of middle age.
Reviewers have been enthralled by how the terror and wonder of childhood unfold in Gaiman's writing. In The Guardian A.S. Byatt writes that the novel is propelled by the "the realisation that parents are not necessarily strong or understanding." On NPR Annalee Newitz notes the absence of reasons for adult kindness in the novel: "None of us even really knows whether the people we became as adults are worth the love and protection given to us when we were too young to repay it in kind. And we have to grow old and die without ever knowing the answer."
My favorite writing about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the blog post by Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman's wife, about what it means to be in a relationship with someone else who is also artistically creative. Read it for our discussions.
In 2011, Gaiman and Palmer Kickstarted the mini-tour "An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer," a precursor to Palmer's record-breaking Kickstarter tour of 2012.
In the four years since Neil participated in a Twitter Q&A and blogged about our group, the social web of books has grown dramatically. Twitter has its own books channel (recently re-invigorated), and Tumblr and many other publications now host book conversations online. I'm excited to reopen Gaiman's writing together once more—it's a bit like going home.
Reading Schedule for The Ocean at the End of The Lane
Out of tradition, I'm sharing a weekly discussion schedule, with the added note that this novel is best savored in long reading sessions.
To participate, follow us at @1book140 and tweet to join the conversation so we know that you're reading along. To avoid spoilers, we spread the conversation across several hashtags. Click on each hashtag to see the conversation at that point in the book:
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J. Nathan Matias researches technology for cooperation and civic life at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Civic Media. He also facilitated @1book140, The Atlantic's Twitter book club from 2012 – 2014.