Monday, November 25, 2013

The Bad Beginning

1999, possibly first edition, from HarperCollins
Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Brett Helquist
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First: The Bad Beginning
Box set of three books bought used for $14.40
Hardcover in good condition

Nice as it is to revisit the Harry Potter series, I have to admit that this series starts off with a bigger bang.  Both the pseudonymous Snicket and his soon-to-be regular illustrator Helquist have a sly wit like nothing else in children's literature.  My earlier copy of this first book was something I picked up to read in a bookstore while waiting for my then-boyfriend.  He was so late that I made him buy the book for me (for $4.50), since I'd already fallen in love with what I'd read so far.  Snicket offers a mix of modernity and Victoriana, lace and fax machines, that's not steampunk but was as just as fresh yet classic when I first encountered it at the end of the '90s.  (And I wasn't yet a Harry Potter reader, so there were no comparisons for a long time.)  I do think the series declined later, so I was surprised at how well the first book has aged, still making me laugh out loud.  The funniest and cleverest illustration is easily the "eye" one for Chapter Eleven, including Daliesque "melting" eyes instead of watches.

Fourteen years ago, I thought the series would be too satirical for kids, but actually the children I've talked to who've read it (several dozen over the years) really enjoy it, even if they don't get every joke.  Heck, neither did I at first.  (Like the Von Bulow reference in Klaus [sic] and Sunny's names.)  I also like that Snicket goes somewhat against gender stereotypes, by making oldest sibling Violet an inventor.  (Another positive female figure in recent children's literature that Susan J. Douglas would overlook, without Hermione Granger's excuse of being British.)

As the series went on, and I was checking out books from the library more, I owned less than half of this series (six books out of thirteen).  My copy of #2 was very, very worn (bought used) and I didn't have #3, but I had such fun with #1 this time, that I got the box set.  I prefer to buy books used rather than new, so I don't know if I'll complete the set but I'll see if I can fill in some of the other gaps as we go along.

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