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In 2013, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman gave an impassioned lecture for The Reading Agency on the future of reading and libraries. In it, he extolled on the importance of fiction for teaching empathy:
“Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
And more than that, the simple act of reading fiction can be a harbinger for real-world change:
“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”
Gaiman concluded the speech with a quote from Einstein, on the essential act of reading to children:
Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. ‘If you want your children to be intelligent,’ he said, ‘read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.
Find a transcript of the entire lecture here, and read on for a list of Neil Gaiman’s favorite works of magical, fantastical fiction. For further insight into his writing process, check out his MasterClass on the art of storytelling.
“The best science fiction novel of the last century. A four volume book about memory and truth.” -NG
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
“My favourite fairy tale/detective novel/history/fantasy.” -NG
Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones
“She was the best writer of magical children’s fiction of our generation. I don’t know if this is the best of her novels, but it’s my favourite.” -NG
London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew
“Like a big mad Dickens novel that just keeps going. Real life interviews with the Victorian working poor.” -NG
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
“Like Jane Austen’s huge lost fantasy novel about the return of magic to England.” -NG
Horns by Joe Hill
“An immensely powerful writer. This, his second novel, is about a man who wakes up after a bad night with horns pushing out of his forehead.” -NG
Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell
“The best autobiography in comics form ever done, perhaps because that wasn’t what he was trying to do.” -NG
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny