Working at a bookstore, a few years ago. Lemony Snicket's publicist calls, says he's in town and wants to come sign a few books. I hadn't gotten around to reading A Series of Unfortunate Events yet, though from the titles and cover illustrations they seemed like good things. With two hours before the impromptu signing, I zoomed through the first book and most of the second.

It was time. He was late. I scanned the store, looking for someone who looked like he might have written what I'd just read. Tall, graying, British.

He was none of these things. I recognized him from his publicist, striding ahead of him in a publicist suit and publicist smile. I had the immense pleasure of walking up to a fellow human being and saying, "You must be Lemony." He lifted his bluest eyes to mine, laughed, and said, "Yes, I am."

The pen name of Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket has been writing since 1999. His tales are morbid and delightful, and I enjoy them as much as my niece and nephew do. I admit that I purchase the books for my own collection of literature, telling my friends that they are for the child I will one day have. No one believes me.

His books follow three orphans, the Baudelaire children, from relative to relative as they attempt to find a happy home. Unfortunately their guardian's are usually met with some foul deed at the hands of Count Olaf, another of the children's relatives. Hence the naming of the series, "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Snicket's morbid humour is enticing and draws adults into the books as quickly as it draws children. The back of the books has a disclaimer that reads:

It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and writing the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night's sleep. In that case, you should probably choose some other book.
This warning to look elsewhere for happy stories is his general theme when it comes to the series. Even his website for the books has a splash page that suggests you've come to the wrong site and should turn off your computer rather than read any of its contents. It is with reluctance that Snicket admits people to his site, displaying the characters and games for children to play within.

I first heard of Snicket in 2002 when I purchased a magazine titled, Book. It was the January/February Newcomers Issue. I flipped through it randomly until I rested on the page with Snicket's picture. It was intriguing. All of the other authors were photographed head on, proudly displaying their visage. Snicket, on the other hand, was peeking out from behind a column in the middle of an empty parking lot. His head was cocked to the side and he was looking blandly at the camera, no fake "like me, buy me" smiles here. Then I read the article. At some point the interviewer, Amanda Friedman, asked "Why do you like torturing children? Do you think they like being tortured?" His response had me heading to the book store to find out what was so evil about these children's books.

What is interesting about this question is the consistent assumptions that there's something pervy about people who write for children. One would never ask John Grisham why he likes torturing lawyers. I was recently standing in line at a grocery store, and the child behind me was complaining that his mother wouldn't buy him a candy bar. He and I got to talking, and I told him that one of the greatest things about being an adult was that you could buy as many candy bars as you wanted. I told him that I was thinking of buying a candy bar myself, and that I wouldn't give him any. The child was delighted, not because he was being 'tortured,' but because something unexpected was occurring. Children - like lawyers, or any other category we can devise - like it when something unexpected occurs, and in literature there are more opportunities to experience these things without any consequences to oneself.
He relates to children on their level, which is why they are drawn to these bizarre books with unhappy endings. He reaches adults on a similar level, reminding us of the curious joys of our youth. Although his tendency to define words in the book is mildly annoying, I know it's there for the children who wouldn't know what the phrase or word meant. I only wish there had been authors like Snicket around when I was a kid or if there were, that my parents had sought them out as enthusiastically as my sister-in-law seeks out these books for her kids.

An interesting thing to note is that if you email Mr. Snicket, who's address can be located on his website, you will get a rather funny auto response from Mr. Handler.

Book Magazine, No. 20, The Newcomer Issue, January/February 2002
Lemony Snicket,

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