Friday, May 9, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

No, I’m not talking about the end of the ’86 Red Sox season, I mean the book series by one Lemony Snicket. While, I admit upfront, I have never read a single of these books, I am well into the 8th of 13 total books as read alternatively by the author or the fabulous Tim Curry (his phlegmy cough as Mr. Poe, is unparalleled).

These books are ostensibly about the dire circumstances in which the three Beaudelaire orphans constantly find themselves. Parents new to the series may at first bristle at the sheer stupidity of the all the adults in the story (that is, but for those characters who are pure evil), but it is really all about the resourcefulness and stamina of the children, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny. Their individual talents and pluck allow them to solve mysteries and rise above the most horrid of situations while the author pokes fun at the hypocritical world of the adults around them.

For example, our most recently listened to book The Vile Village tackles the aphorism it takes a village to raise a child, the horror of mob mentality, and madness of animals rights. Pearls of wisdom, loads of new vocabulary, and gobs of sarcasm drip and drop from every chapter. Because one of the author’s devices is to say things which are in apparent opposition to what he means, these books are not for young children or for those who do not yet understand sarcasm or irony (at least the ideas of sarcasm and irony, not necessarily the meaning of the words, which the author would probably define throughout the book by this concrete method: “by ‘ironic’ here, I mean that after all of his preparation, Klaus did not get to eat his dinner”).

Although the first of these books came out in 1999, I avoided them, wrongfully, thinking that they were along the lines of an older Goosebumps. They are not. They are written (and read) wonderfully, using complex sentence structure and rich vocabulary. They are a delightful and compelling challenge for my 9 year-old daughter who read some of them first and who can’t get enough of listening to them. Her enthusiasm has coaxed the rest of the family to go along for this wonderful ride.


Kim said...

When my daughter was reading the insipid Magic Tree House books, I got the first of this series. I read it and was horrified! I thought it was so scary. Two years later, we tried it on audio and my daughter was laughing up a storm. Some how I completely missed that it was a funny book. She never did want to read them, but was happy listening to them.

LB said...

Well, the movie didn't do much for my desire to read the books, but they really are so very entertaining and good! The dynamics in the recordings as read by the author are often tough to regulate in the car - that is my one complaint.

Isn't Tim Curry phlegmy cough absolutely disgusting?

Stephen Bourque said...

One of my favorite aspects of the author's style is the one you mentioned. He frequently uses a word or phrase that may be unfamiliar to a child, which he proceeds to explain with a sentence of the form, "And by X, here I mean... etc." The explanation generally contains a concrete example, which is often amusing or exaggerated.

I think that is a wonderful thing for children. That is how language is learned - from the ground up, so to speak. For the most part, kids learn new words and phrases from the context in which they are used, not from the dictionary.