And Then? And Then? What Else?

Image of And Then? And Then? What Else?
Release Date: 
May 21, 2024
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"Avid fans will delight in recognizing where certain elements in the Snicket list originated."

The title alone gives a sense of the discursive nature of Daniel Handler's latest book, like a meandering conversation with many asides. Bits from Handler's life are woven into chapters featuring the books that have lived inside him and how these stories have shaped his own writing. Offering an extended homage to the power of literature, Handler takes the reader into the story of his own development as both reader and writer.

"As far as I can remember, before I can remember, I loved being read to, and I loved reading, but I also loved just staring at books, thinking about them, the way they worked, how they did it."

The magic of individual books is explored, but the main point is that books matter, that they deepen and broaden us in inexplicable ways.

"We don't read to become better people. . . . The reason we read—the reason you're reading this book—is because some other book enchanted you, earlier on, and before that another, and before that, another."

Handler rejects the notion of writing as a calling. Instead he accepts Rachel Ingall's definition of the profession as more "compulsion" than anything else.

"No one has asked me to do what I am doing, not really. . . . I have a small hope that someone will find it interesting, but there's no sensible argument that the world needs another book, by me or anyone else. But I'm doing it anyway. I can't really stop and I don't really want to."

He traces this need to how the books he's read himself fed his imagination, provoking questions and responses he wrestled with for decades.

"All my books are like this, corralled together from things I've been mulling over for years . . . Little bits from all over the place, mostly literature—scurry into my mind and I scurry after them."

These books, he argues, are his own literary canon, the kind that really matters.

"All these things have become canonized in my head. They live there exerting deep influence on my work and on my life. The idea of a literary canon—the important books one should apparently read—is hotly debated, of course, which often feels necessary and/or fun. Voices gain cultural prominence or lose it and I like listening, occasionally participating, in this conversation in one way or another."

What follows are myriad examples of how particular books have found their way into his own writing, starting with Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, which readers will recognize as the name Handler (or rather, Lemony Snicket) uses for his protagonists in A Series of Unfortunate Events. This intertwining of books and the effects they spur in their readers, traces the development of Handler as a writer himself. Avid fans will delight in recognizing where certain elements in the Snicket list originated. Others will be intrigued by the way books nourish other books in completely unpredictable ways.

Interspersed with thoughts on books are snippets of Handler's childhood, his teenage and college years. Mostly, though, the focus is squarely on Handler the author; not just how he got started, but how he continues to work, to see his own activity of scribbling in cafes. It all feels like a long conversation, stuffed with asides about music and daily life.

Handler is an old-fashioned writer, working from piles of index cards, handwritten notes, heaps of messy paper. In some ways this book feels like the jottings of those cards strung together through his train of thought as he jumps from idea to idea, from book to book. Handler takes the reader into the chaotic rabbit hole of his mind. For some, the journey will feel chaotic, for others it will be insightful.