Event: Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) & Maira Kalman

What larks, Pip!

Starting off 2012 with a bang. It's only January and I've chalked up one author reading. Daniel Handler and his illustrator Maira Kalman spoke at the Barnes & Noble in Skokie, IL this past Wednesday evening, the two of them playing off each other like a comedy act. Reader, I have seen nothing like it and the two of them had me laughing so hard I was in tears.




The two of them together were like watching a Monty Python skit, American style, complete with a PowerPoint presentation featuring a woman on a fainting couch, a picture of a lost umbrella, a napkin with four grease stains – from onion rings, of course – and more.

They've collaborated for a number of works and obviously have a wonderful working relationship. He lives in San Francisco and she in New York but they met in Bologna, Italy at a children's literature festival. The two hit it off immediately and thank goodness for that. They've created so much together but you'll have to look that up yourselves, sorry.




This was the first author reading my daughter's attended, because it's the first author she actually recognized and whose books she's read. I don't think she read all the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books but she read quite a lot (as did I) and saw the film with a few friends, as one of her birthday parties. One at which I came close to having a nervous breakdown – quite literally. I was already emotionally stressed from the recent devastating loss of a close friend and then had these girls running around like idiots, nearly reducing me to tears. It's a wonder I wanted to see Daniel Handler after that but years pass and yadda yadda.

She was incredibly intimidated approaching an author for the actual signing, hiding behind me as long as she could before I made her put her own book on the table. She was afraid he'd talk to her, you see, and expect her to answer. I tried convincing her authors are, for the most part, normal human beings who eat food, smell badly if they don't shower and have to breathe now and then to stay alive but she'd have none of that.


And your point is?

As it turned out all he said was, "Is this your book?" signed it, and she thanked him. He was already on to the next in line before she'd even stepped away.





Daniel and Maira were promoting their latest collaboration, Why We Broke Up. It's ostensibly a YA novel, though the two said they don't distinguish YA from adult. The audience was made up mostly of adults, so I kind of see their point. But then there were a few teens clasping copies of Lemony Snicket, as well as some with other books Kalman has illustrated.

What I found utterly fascinating was how they produced the book when they live on opposite coasts. Yes, I'm aware there's this thing called the internet, but their description of the process enthralled me. Sometimes she'd send him a picture she'd drawn and he'd write around that. Other times it would be the reverse, he'd write something and ask for a specific drawing.





Part of the reading involved taking a "How Romantic Are You?" quiz, another first in my author event experiences. The higher the number (1 – 25) the more romantic you are.




And I scored 18! Me, 18! I would protest but this was obviously a scientific test.

Meanwhile, my daughter scored something in the range of 8 or 9. I've lived long enough to become jaded and sour and she's just 18. For some things I have no explanation.





Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman you are lovely. Thank you for the most silly author event I've yet attended, the red plastic combs we received as a bonus gift and for getting my daughter past her fear of actual writers. Thanks also for educating me as to my true romantic nature, of which I've been ignorant. And please remind me to advise my daughter's husband (when she's 35 and I allow her to marry) of her distinct lack of same.

Finally, here's a priceless bit of Daniel Handler humor for your viewing pleasure:


Auto + Audio = Blissful Silence!

Books mentioned in this post:

Lemony Snicket – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book 1)

C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

Hank the Cow Dog

Avi – The Good Dog

David Foster Wallace – Consider the Lobster

Didn’t get an awful lot of reading done on vacation, though why that should be surprising I don’t know.  I never do, but still I insist on bringing a crap ton of books along on every trip.  I can’t go anywhere without them, even knowing reading time is nearly non-existent on vacations. It’s a comfort just knowing they’re there.  Then again, keep in mind I’m the person who has the post 9/11 preparedness bag filled with books like War and Peace and Our Mutual Friend.  Not bloody likely I’d have time to read with the world blowing up around me, but damned if I’ll be without quality reading.  If I’m going down I’m going down with literary guns blazing, drat it!

[2013 Note: For some reason I neglected to mention my husband’s disdain for the thought anyone would bring books, of all things, if the threat of Armageddon were pending. Books? Who would have time to READ?!

I would, that’s who. And a large percentage of the studio audience. Who wouldn’t want to bring books along? What is life without books?

Don’t need to mention this but my husband is very much not a reader. In face, I believe he may be the Anti-Reader.  And this makes for an interesting relationship, you may be sure.]

Despite the lack of much print book reading, audio books worked out beautifully this trip.  My children were riveted and QUIET, all was right with the world.  We listened to the first book in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series:

My daughter and I have actually read this one before and we’ve seen the movie (filed in my memory under “bad experiences involving demon-like acts perpetrated by badly behaving children, during children’s birthday parties (SEE:  hormone-induced insanity), but the audio book was still a treat.  Tim Roth was the reader and did an absolutely brilliant job of it, too.  Such a delightfully dark tale, though listening to the book it seems all the more grim that old Count Olaf is drooling over the 14 year old Violet Baudelaire.

In a word:  ICK.

Aside from that I love, love, love that sort of dark humor.  Childhood is very lord of the flies, no matter how some try to sugarcoat it. A whole lot of it’s misery, especially if you’re the kid who doesn’t fit in. And guess who had that distinction?


Next up was the first in the classic mystery series “The Chronicles of Narnia.” We listened to The Magician’s Nephew (which was WONDERFUL) and started on The Lion. the Witch and the Wardrobe, but disc two in that particular set turned out to be CRACKED.  Agonizing to have the children perched on the threshold of Narnia and not find out what happens. I was as upset as they were not to be able to progress, especially considering we still had half of Nebraska and all the width of Iowa to suffer through. If I could have I’d have found someplace to buy another copy of the damned thing. It was just that upsetting.

We also listened to several dog-themed books, including two in the Hank the Cow Dog series (preserve me), Avi’s The Good Dog and another with a title that escapes me, about the life of a stray dog.  The latter, ironically, was actually quite good despite my inability to retain any information about it. I’m sure it was the fault of the stunning beauty that is endless Nebraska highway monopolizing my attention.


For myself, I had a listen to an abridged edition of David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, a book of essays on topics ranging from lobster festivals (with a side trip past “is it cruel to boil lobsters?”) to porn conventions.  Good enough listening, and I enjoy books read by the actual authors.  It just seems right, doesn’t it?  A real writer shouldn’t hire someone else to read his books, unless, of course, said author is inconveniently dead or otherwise unavailable. Or has a grating voice.

Some complain Foster Wallace is long-winded and self-important, but I was entertained.  Does he try a bit too hard to sound intelligent?  Maybe, but it’s also possible he just IS intelligent. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

And I’m not just saying this because he’s actually quite cute, in a long-haired, slightly frumpy/hippy sort of way:

Certainly not like me to be shallow!

Stop the snickering.

[2013: Sadly, as we all know, he’d commit suicide two years later.]

Rather pleased I still managed to keep things somewhat literary, even on the road. I read part of the latest issue of Oxford American, too, which is a very worthy publication.  Okay, okay, I also had an Oprah magazine. It went very well with my time spent in laundromats, plus now I have a very firm idea what sort of swimsuit works best with my body type (answer: none).

Can’t get that in The New Yorker, now can we?

Also kept a travel journal but I haven’t had time to even glance through that. It only has the basics, as an outline, so I’ll have to embellish all the nitty-gritty, not-fit-for-family-consumption musings later.

[2013: SURPRISE! I never went back to embellish the trip. As if  you couldn’t have guessed. Life, the universe and everything, that’s why.]