“When I read a sentence by him, it seems to me as if he wrote it with all the neurons in his brain firing.”
With such stellar praise, Assistant Professor of English Matthew Sharpe introduced acclaimed author Daniel Handler ’92. Handler, who alternately publishes under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket, spoke last Wednesday in Beckham Hall of the Fayerweather building. In addition to the cinematically-adapted children’s books “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” Handler has published three novels—“The Basic Eight,” “Watch Your Mouth,” and, most recently, “Adverbs.”
The latter is divided into short-story sections, titled by (unsurprisingly) adverbs. The novel weaves these words in and out of their minute worlds in a compelling way, so that the stories ultimately evoke the words themselves. On Oct. 24, Handler read from “Frigidly,” a chapter in “Adverbs” in which the concept of cold ranges from the weather to the deeply repressed emotional responses of the main characters to deaths of their children.
Despite the crises of love and death that drive the plot, Handler’s reading maintained an effortless pitch of hilarity throughout the chapter. The humor of his writing is often the result of stunningly wrought intellectual references ; and, as often, it was just unselfconsciously goofy. The audience rarely stopped laughing—it’s true, Handler is a very funny man.
Interspersed with jokes were startlingly true observations about love. Often these frank and funny statements veered away from the main plot. But contrary to what you may think, the resulting combination was a complete success. These brief departures from the events of the story only increase the narrative’s strength and make its humor more significant.
“[Handler’s] vision and presentation of his work showed a lot of forethought,” noted Rob Boyd ’08.
“But at the same time, he spoke really easily and clearly. He was having fun,” added Marika Tabilio ’09.
Critics are just as excited about “Adverbs,” which is a national bestseller. Dave Eggers, author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and co-founder of McSweeney’s magazine, calls Handler an “American Nabokov.”
Handler himself expressed his admiration for Nabokov, describing him as “a magical author of unending power,” and citing him as one of his greatest influences while at Wesleyan. Handler also attributed his current success to two Wesleyan professors, Joe and Kit Reed of the English department, for what they taught him about literature, film and writing.
“It wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement to say Joe Reed taught me how to think,” Handler said.
When asked about creating vivid characters from such minimal gestures—“Adverbs” is fast-paced and light on description—Handler divulged his source: “Real people, that I meet or eavesdrop on. There are hardly any books you wish were longer. I just cut a lot out.”
Remarkably unpretentious, the author cheerfully endured two hours of book signing after the reading, laughing and joking with students, and personalizing his inscriptions via their conversations. With such humor and sincerity, it makes sense that Handler concluded the chronicles of his time at the University with the words: “And that’s how…I almost didn’t graduate!”