"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," author Neil Gaiman said in a recent speech, recorded by The Guardian. "Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different."
The writer, who has authored short fiction, comic books, novels, graphic novels and films, spoke to the Reading Agency in London about the future of libraries and reading.
"Fiction has two uses," Gaiman said. "Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key."
Gaiman's book "Neverwhere" was recently banned in New Mexico. One parent told local news, "I cannot read this to you and put it on the news. It's too inappropriate. It's that bad." The mother went on to say that she didn't have time to see what her daughter was reading, and relied on the school district to do it for her.
In his speech, Gaiman said children should be allowed to explore the world of fiction as the pleased, without anyone looking over their shoulder.
"It's snobbery and it's foolishness," Gaiman said. "There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different."
He warned that parents may cause their children to give up on reading entirely if they discourage kids from reading what they enjoy. There is a ladder of literacy that each person must climb. As for libraries, and books themselves, he said that these things should never be thought of as antiquated.
"I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me," Gaiman said, "more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is."
Before his speech, he said that closing libraries was akin to stopping vaccinations. He encouraged people in the U.K. to cling more dearly to their libraries.
"In Florida there were attempts to close several libraries, and people kicked up a fuss and embarrassed them into stopping," Gaiman told The Bookseller.