The church pews were filled on both levels of the 17th century First Parish Church in Cambridge, Mass., with believers waiting in respectful silence, but fidgeting with barely controlled excitement.
Many of them had been up since 4 a.m. waiting for Porter Square Books to open so they could claim a ticket to hear writer and cultural giant Neil Gaiman speak in person Saturday night, even rarer since it marked the final signing on Gaiman’s last US book tour.
Gaiman, who rose to fame on the comics series The Sandman and created cult-following young-adult and adult novels like “Coraline” and “American Gods,” was celebrating the release of his new prose work “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” The decision to cease book touring was not one that Gaiman made lightly, based on the extreme demands placed on fans waiting for up to 16 hours to get into bookstore signings in the past, and just as extreme demands placed on the author travelling between venues with fractions of a night’s rest for long periods of time. He decided it was time to change the paradigm.
This time Gaiman booked larger venues where he could give readings and follow them up with signings in a more controlled and comfortable environment, but he continued to bear the brunt of the strain by pre-signing thousands of books (an estimated 60,000 on this tour) to ease crowd movement. In 26 days, Gaiman made 20 appearances across the US, and resorted to plunging his bruised hands into ice water after signings as the tour pushed onward.
Gaiman gathered his last ounces of energy for one more evening of engaging directly with his readers, but he was determined to make it a memorable experience for them.