With this post I am starting an occasional series, revisiting favorite books that may be slipping under the radar after having gotten lots of attention. And what better than to start a series with a series — say A Series of Unfortunate Events by the still-ellusive Lemony Snicket.
I’d been considering writing about this after watching this series get a sudden new life in my classroom the last few weeks. It began when one of one of my students chomped her way through the thirteen books (one a night) and begged me to show the film. So I did. (There must be Snicket in the air right now because today Betsy Bird featured a video of the end credits for this woefully, in my opinion, under-appreciated gem of a movie adaptation.) And now, post-movie-viewing, many others in the class are reading the series for the first time or rereading it. Some told me they’d tried the books when younger and hadn’t like them and now want to try again. I think showing them the film helped established the witty aspect of the books so that the kids starting the series for the first time completely get how over-the-top they are meant to be. We’ve discussed irony often, I read aloud many a book that has ironic elements, and so they are also able to recognize it more easily when reading on their own, I suspect, than when they were in 2nd or 3rd grade.
If it isn’t clear by now, I’m a huge fan of this series. I think the books are smart, fun, captivating, and not nearly appreciated enough by adults. When the books were coming out I adored the clever promotion Snicket (and presumably HarperCollins) did — the websites full of clues and games. I think the books are worth rereading — like the best works of literature (and I do think these are quality works of literature) they are full of stuff that will mean more and more as you get older and have more book reading to draw upon. For example, there are many references to Moby Dick, but most (if any) of the kids I knew reading these books didn’t know them and it made not a bit of difference to their reading. Yet I and perhaps other older readers did notice them and enjoy them tremendously. So please, these are books to revisit or check out for the first time. There have been other recent books where authors have attempted to play out a retro sort of style, but they just don’t work for me as perfectly as these do. There is just something about the nutty narrator, the stoical Baudelaires, the over-the-top-villain Count Olaf, and the wonderful lanaguage that makes this series unique for me (even as it harkens back to many an early serial and work of liteature).
Snicket and Co did some terrific videos; taking a cue from Betsy, here are two.