Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Penultimate Peril (Lemony Snicket)

Unlike cereals and toys, the best children's books are ones that would never even make it to test marketing. Harry Potter would be too long. The Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books would be too dark, too complicated, and too verbose, which here means "using a lot of words adults think would cause confusion in children's minds." Snicket would argue to his critics that he gives fair warning of the darkness and the sadness (each book starts with the author's plea to not read further--the back cover of The Penultimate Peril reads, "If this is the first book you found while searching for a book to read next, then the first thing you should know is that this next-to-last book is what you should put down first").

Lemony Snicket is really Daniel Handler, author, acordion player, sometimes contributor to the band Magnetic Fields (see The Onion for a great recent interview with Handler). When Lemony Snicket is called to do readings, Handler arrives, explaining that he is Snicket's agent and that Snicket is currently in hiding (this won't sound at all suspicious to the kids as Snicket has explained his own precarious, life-threatening position in the pages of his books in between the precarious life-threatening plots of the Baudelaire orphans as they tried to solve the secrets of their parents' lives and deaths).

There's only one book of the 13 left in the series, and Penultimate Peril reads more like a prelude to the final book than the previous books, which have more stand-alone adventure while adding small puzzle pieces to the overall plot; instead in the 12th book, everything starts to come together and previous villians return. And as always, it's a very funny, engrossing read.

For an example of how these books are so relatable to adults as well, at one point in Penultimate Peril, the Baudelaires are on trial, and they learn that everyone in the court, except the judges, must be blindfolded. "'The verdict of the High Court was to take the expression literally,' said the manager, 'so everyone except the judges must cover their eyes before the trial can begin.' 'Scalia,' Sunny said. She meant something like, 'It doesn't seem like the literal interpretation makes any sense,' but her siblings did not think it was wise to translate." These sorts of remarks are scattered throughout all the books, and they're not placed there specifically for adults. It's Handler's writing style of this series that makes it so successful. He knows how to tell a good story, and I can hardly wait for the final book.

Other good books: I have to thank my good friend Karen for introducing me to the Lemony Snicket books. Karen teaches middle-school language arts, and always finds the best books to read. If you haven't checked out the Lemony Snicket books, you should, and even though they can be read out of order, they do make the most sense if you do read them in order. And, it may seem like old news, but the Harry Potter books are also really, really good. I just read the most recent one a few months ago, and thought it was the best one yet.

Next book up: The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell.


Anonymous said...

I find it physically impossible when I hear/see positive mention of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket to not recommend the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. It's dark and beautiful and a great next-step for juvenile fiction readers.

Maria Duncan said...

I haven't read those, but I've heard those are supposed to be really good. They were always mentioned in the Libraries Unlimited young adult "Booktalk" books I produced in Madison (which, besides Karen, is where I got all my young adult book information).

Anonymous said...

They are fantastic. I'll bring my set with me to the gym, tomorrow.
Oh, wait... ;-)

While I'm at it, I'll also throw in a recommendation for Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. It's got a great vibe for bibliophiles/maniacs, and some lovable characters. And I didn't love Funke's other English books (Thief Lord and Dragon Rider), so don't skip this one if you've had meh experience with the others.

Jenn said...

Hey, I know that friend Karen! Speaking of our friend, I should take the opportunity to thank her publicly for opening the door to books on tape. She gave me Harry Potter for a long drive and I've used them on road trips ever since.