Under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler’s children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events have sold over 48 million copies, received enormous critical praise and captivated audiences worldwide.
With all of this to brag about, it would be easy
for Handler’s head to balloon with every passing minute, but at his reading in the Student Union on Tuesday of this week, he was incredibly gracious and humble.
Anticipation for Handler’s reading has been simmering all around the school for weeks, from classroom discussions to bathroom gossip.
No one in the audience was disappointed. He pulled out a board game-esque spinner of adverb options and let a member of the audience spin to pick the story he would read.
The spinner landed on Obviously, the story of a teenage boy pining for his coworker at a movie theatre and every long, heartbreaking sentence captured what it is to want something you will never have.
Handler became that character as he read from the book. Audience members were totally engrossed, even gasping when the protagonist finds his obsession’s boyfriend cheating on her.
At the end of the reading he smiled and joked though an outrageous line of people waiting for a book signing.
Handler won’t even take credit for his story ideas. He carries a notebook wherever he goes-the cover had ripped off that afternoon-and eavesdrops on conversations in coffee shops (where most of the ideas for the stories in Adverbs came from) and waits for what he calls “magical moments” in which he finds something that someone will want to read. According to Handler, all authors do this and each finds different moments.
“People accidentally say beautiful things all the time,” Handler said. “You find moments and you kidnap them.”
He describes his writing process as “bumbling along until I run into something,” and he thinks “every story is a failure” in his new book of short stories for adults, Adverbs (HarperCollins).
He is certainly best known for his children’s books, but getting into this genre was an accident. After having his first adult novel, The Basic Eight, rejected by publishing houses 37 times, an editor recommended that he try out writing for children.
The basic idea for A Series of Unfortunate Events was already in Handler’s mind, but he “couldn’t believe that anyone would be interested in this almost-gothic novel in which things just keep getting worse and worse for three little kids.” It does sound morbid, but that’s probably why the series has been so irresistible for so many readers.
In Handler’s mind, anyone who tries to put restrictions on children’s literature is wrong. He says there is no topic that you can’t discuss in a kid’s book; if you think it should be written, there is a way for a child to read it.
Handler refused to criticize the major movie adaptation of A Series, more interested in what the audience at the reading thought about how it turned out.
He said, “You shouldn’t speak badly of a movie that buys you a house.”