Sauntering Vaguely Downwards

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The Kids Aren’t All Right: A Conversation With Daniel Handler


September 3, 2014


B&W: Why do you think miserable things are often so funny?

DH: I think what’s funny about them is how overwrought it is. When I say, “And then the worst thing in the world happened, and then something terrible happened after that,” that’s automatically giggly. I mean, it’s the same when you’re talking to children. If you say, “You can’t have another piece of cake because if you do, you’ll turn blue and your arms will fall off,” they’re already laughing. Even though of course if that actually happened it would be horrifying.
It’s the hysteria that is funny, I don’t think it’s the events. I think you could rewrite A Series of Unfortunate Events in a different kind of tone and then it would be horrifying.

(…) B&W: At Columbia, we have this core curriculum that includes a canon of literature that theoretically an educated person should read. If you were to make your own canon, what are some books that would be on it?

DH: Oh gosh. There are books that mean a lot to me, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I think that everyone should read them. The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop is really important to me. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is a novel that I like a lot. The writings of William Maxwell, he’s really important to me. I think Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret are both really beautiful novels by Louise Fitzhugh. But I would be a bad person to make up a canon. I like to think of literature as being so vast that it’s a matter of hooking up people with the right book in the right moment. And if you’ve ever loved a book and then you reread it a few years later and it doesn’t mean anything to you—or vice versa, you didn’t like a book and for some reason you open it again and you find it fascinating—it’s just proof that literature is a breathing creature and so are you.

B&W: I’ve read that you like to give cocktail parties. What’s your favorite drink?

DH: My favorite drink is a Delmonico, which is basically a gin martini but with a little cognac and a little bitters in it. I like that a lot. My favorite basic drink would be a Manhattan or a martini. If I’m having a cocktail party, I’ll make Sidecars. Everybody likes those because they’re sweet, so then everybody gets knackered right away. That’s the best drink to know, a Sidecar. It might not always be the best drink to have.

B&W: What does Lemony Snicket drink, incidentally? A Dark and Stormy?

DH: Well, a Dark and Stormy has a charming name but the drink itself is kind of rum-soaked and tropical, which I don’t think is what Mr. Snicket would like. I think he would probably like a gimlet, because it’s citrus so it kind of matches his name a little bit. It’s also what Marlowe drinks in The Long Goodbye, and The Long Goodbye was a big inspiration for the series.

(…) B&W: And then the last thing that I’m going to ask you: In one of the stories from your book Adverbs, you write “It’s always dawnest before dark.” I thought maybe you’d agree to provide new endings for some platitudes that you might find painfully optimistic.

DH: Okay, I’m ready.

B&W: What doesn’t kill you…

DH: Might kill you later.

B&W: Good things come to those…

DH: You probably don’t know personally.

B&W: And finally, if life gives you lemons…

DH: Mix them with bitters and sugar and a little bourbon.

Read the rest of the interview on tricky translations, dark children’s literature, Judaism, and jellyfish here.

(via dailysnicket)

Filed under Lemony Snicket daniel handler