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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman Unfortunately, I picked up The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in the middle of reading this collection, and it threw Gaiman's shortcomings and my reactions into sharp relief. Gaiman's clever, no doubt. But this is a mostly almost-horror collection of short story ideas rendered in a not particularly clever way, and I often had the feeling I was reading bits and pieces of autobiography tucked into larger tales. Luckily, a pleasant side effect was a coveted spot on Richard's RaR-TaG's list (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/250580005). In the spirit of mild self-immolation, I plowed my way through in bits and pieces over perhaps two weeks--okay, now it's more like four--never able to take more than a story or two at a time. Here's what I think: Gaiman is successful because he is popular and slightly pushes boundaries in a currently fashionable, ie. noir way. Occasionally he does lovely things with words and had fabulous ideas, and I hear he's a very nice guy. However, for me, his writing is very uneven, and feels like it would benefit from longer incubation, and perhaps closer affinity with whatever genre he prefers. I'm not a horror fan, but so many of his short stories seem to delight in twists, and I'm not just referring to the surprise ending.'A Study in Emerald' is perhaps one of the most enjoyable stories, a riff on Sherlock Holmes solving a crime for the alien royalty, told in traditional Doyle style. 'October in the Chair' has an interesting concept at it's base and ends up being a story within a story, the source of The Graveyard Book. The inner story was enjoyable, but the outer felt unfinished, although I enjoyed the personification of the months. 'The Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves...' was a little bit amusing, but seems a tad overwrought and overthought. It has a facetious angle that benefits from a reader's knowledge of literature. 'The Flints of Memory Lane' is a germ of an idea that would benefit from grafting into a larger tale. I do like the line, "I like things to be story-shaped." Perhaps it should have been merged into 'Closing Time,' another story embedded within a story as patrons at a private club share ghost stories. 'Bitter Grounds' is a traveler looking for another life, and finds one as an anthropologist who studies zombies. It was a kind of 'meh' story, and felt like it was trying hard to be portentous and scary, but wasn't. I like the first paragraph and the phrase, "In every way that counted, I was dead"--a fantastic opening line. 'Other People' is a short-short I'm sure I've read before, perhaps in a mythology book; the idea feels like a chance to explore the concept of pain and hell more than anything else. 'Keepsakes and Treasures' has nothing worth keeping, and is twisted and unpleasant on a number of levels. The plot surrounds the development of a murderer as he finds employment under an obscenely wealthy man, Mr. Alice. It's one of the stories where none of the characters are likeable or redeemable. 'Good Boys Deserve Favors' (title taken from a mnenonic for learning music) is an ode to a bass that I presume the author played as a young boy, and is a little too short to feel quite as mystical as it wants to be. 'The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch' reminds me far too much of The Night Circus, and not in a way that benefits the short story. Unfortunately, it is a dark and twisted circus, and even the dreams have sharp edges. 'Strange Little Girls' would benefit from being read while listening to Tori Amos, but frankly, I'd rather not. I happen to own more than one Tori album, but she can get haunting and mournful quite fast, and I'd rather not spend the rest of the day depressed. 'Harlequin Valentine' was one of the few I rather enjoyed, an unexpected metamorphosis coming to a stalking puppet. 'The Problem of Susan' is better left unread if one wants to have any positive re-reads of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; although I found the Susan story an interesting idea, Gaiman manages to twist it up with a kinky sexual element that benefits no one. 'How Do You Think it Feels?' is a modern adultery tale. Very little seems special to me about it, and the angle of haunting is... meh. Not scary, not really thought provoking, not really interesting. 'Fifteen Painted Cards...from a Tarot' remains me in a painful way of a story idea I once had in college. Thankfully, it never escaped past my best friend; if only the same had happened here. 'Feeders and Eaters' was actually horrific, in a 'Tell-Tale Heart' kind of way. 'Diseasemaker's Croup' was mildly interesting, but not a fitting read for a hypocondriac, and 'Goliath' just missed me entirely. 'Pages from a Journal' was a bit of a yawn. 'How to Talk to Girls' had an interesting kernel of an idea, and a nice turn of phrase or three, especially when the narrator meets a girl who introduces herself as a poem. 'Sunbird' was an interesting twist on the firebird and the Epicurean adventurers, but I thought it dragged on a little too long. Again, I had the oddest feeling I had read the characters' dialogue before. It felt a little Zelazny, spare and self-consciously oblique.For me, by far the most enjoyable was 'Monarch of the Glen,' in which the American Gods's character, Shadow, is visiting Scotland. Two characters from an earlier short make an appearance here, and it is Mr. Alice and Mr. Smith. I enjoyed the way local mythology got weaved in on a number of different levels.Scattered through the book are a number of poems, all of which I am completely not qualified to give an opinion on, and none of which really spoke to me.Mission of browsing a Gaiman body of work accomplished, and self-flagellation accomplished for the week. Hurrah!