Friday, March 22, 2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events | One of my First Encounters with Awesome Author/Reader Interaction

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler)

A book can be so much more than just a story written down by an author, waiting to be discovered and explored by an eager reader or any reader at all really. The author is actually allowed to play with her readers, speak to them directly and help make the reading experience all the more personal and fun. Daniel Handler, under the pen name Lemony Snicket taught me this with his books A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was about 13 years old. I am so thankful that he did. 

The Books

A Series of Unfortunate Events tells the story of the three Baudelaire orphans after a fire burns down their home and takes away their parents lives. Violet (14), Kalus (12), and baby Sunny are left with nothing but the huge Baudelaire fortune that they will inherit the moment the eldest of them, Violet, comes of age. Until then they must find a guardian able and/or willing to take charge of them for the time being. Unfortunately one man makes it his mission to prevent just this. Count Olaf, with his one eyebrow and tattoo of an eye on his left ankle, will do anything to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. Dastardly plots, murder, a number of ridiculous disguises, and even enforcing extreme exercise routines are not beneath him in his quest to get what he wants. And he will continue going after Violet, Klaus and Sunny until he gets it.

Lemony Snicket | More than just an author

Taken from Lemony Snicket's official website
"I have sworn to write down these tales of the Baudelaire orphans so the general public will know each terrible thing that has happened to them, but if you decide to read something else instead, you will save yourself from a heapful of horror and woe." - Lemony Snicket

 Daniel Handler transforms his alter ego, Lemony Snicket into a character in his own right in the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events. He doesn't simply become an author telling us a story, he is a biographer, a researcher, making us witnesses to events so tragic and real to him that it makes it even more real for his readers as well.

At the age of 13, I was fascinated that an author would insist that I not read his books. I should choose something happier and more pleasant, he would tell me each time I looked at the back of one of his books wanting to read the summary of that particular chapter of the Baudelaire's lives. He was speaking directly to me, something I had not experienced yet with other books that simply invited me to delve into their worlds and explore at my own pace and at my own discretion.

I loved the author/reader interaction Snicket provided me with. He would not only warn me that more misery was sure to befall the children, he would also give advice, define words and even translate Sunny's baby talk: 

"Aregg?" Sunny asked incredulously. "Incredulously" is a word which here means "not being able to believe it," and "Aregg" is a word which here means "What? I can't believe it." -Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Book the Fifth, The Austere Academy p.23
And as the story progressed throughout the books, Snicket drops hints here and there suggesting that he has more to do with the Baudelaire's world than being just the man who is telling their story. Count Olaf has made his life miserable as well by taking away a loved one of his own. But there is more behind his story than he seems too pained to divulge in one fell sweep. But then again, he is of course telling the Baudelaire's story and not his own.

All in all it is an intriguing situation to find oneself in as a reader. You are not only interested, curious and invested in the outcome of what is to befall Violet, Klaus and Sunny, you are also curious about this author, biographer, and researcher who you end up wanting to know more about.

Confession Time!

 I am ashamed to say that I have never actually finished reading the complete series of 13 books(−_−;).

About six or seven years ago I lent the fourth installment of the series to a friend (I don't remember who) that never returned it. Or maybe I just lost it .... I have no idea. Anyway, whenever a new book would come out in the series I would tend to re-read everything. But I HATE, absolutely HATE skipping parts of a story, not reading from the beginning, and spoilers. I despise spoilers.

So because I had no book 4, I had only manged to read up to book 9 The Carnivorous Carnival. And it is not until recently that I decided to re-read the series and finish what I started over ten years ago. 

Back in Prague I taught Enligh to a particular student who was close to my age and a fellow book lover. Her English was not too bad, all she really needed was practice so I lent her the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events and we would have conversations about it in out lessons and I would explain some vocabulary. It made me want to read the series again. 

So I found and acquired the books I had missing. But it wasn't until about a week ago that I started to get to it. I had watched the movie adaptation of the series on TV with my sister and it was just what I needed to push me to read the books immediately afterwards. 

Admittedly at 25 I don't find the definitions of certain words as entertaining as I once did. I know what they all mean now! Although that isn't really the point but if I am being completely honest I find them a little annoying at times. 

However, the writting style for the most part still makes me smile. And what's most important: I want to know how the story will end! Does it have to be a miserable ending? Will Violet, Klaus and Sunny find a way to escape Count Olaf for good? And what is up with Lemony Snicket? I'll have to wait and find out.

Oh and P.S.

While Daniel Handler has written other novels under his real name, he has reserved his pen name of Lemony Snicket for material having to do with A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, it looks like he recently started a new series called All the Wrong Questions under the same pen name. It looks like I have another couple of books to add to my to-read list...

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