Saturday, February 20, 2016

Nostalgiareads: A Series of Unfortunate Events (#1-4)

That's right my fellow readers and nostalgia fans, it's time for another installment of Nostalgiareads, where I re-read all of the books from my childhood to see if the adult nostalgia holds up. Are the books I read in my younger years just as fantastic now, or has the passage of time dulled their allure?

When I first conceived the idea for this blog series, there were two series that I had in mind to feature. In fact, my desire to re-read these series gave me a reason to create Nostalgiareads. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket was one of them. Back in my middle school days, this was my favorite series and at that time, nobody else in my grade was reading them. Aside from Harry Potter, this was the series that I had to obsessively wait for the next book to be released.

About a year ago, I started to get the urge to reread the series, but I never had enough free time. I was either doing schoolwork or I was too busy trying to read all of the new books I was collecting. When I heard the news that Netflix was doing an adaption of the series I came to a sad realization. My memory of the series is pretty sparse despite it being one of my favorites. Much of the plot also seemed to be overshadowed in my mind by that horrible movie adaption starring Jim Carrey. A movie that bad is kind of hard to forget. Anyway, I should stop waffling on and start talking about my experience rereading the first four books in the series. Let's start at the beginning with...

  • The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket

First of all I have to say that re-reading this series was like visiting a long lost friend. Those deckled edges, the iconic illustrations by Brett Helquist, and even the dedication to Beatrice just felt right. Looking back I also realized that this was the first book and even the first middle grade series that I encountered that wasn't concerned with wrapping up the story in a happy little bow. The title let readers know just exactly what they should expect and that would be a series of unfortunate events. 

For those unfamiliar with the series, The Bad Beginning centers on our three main protagonists/siblings: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. Each has their own defining character trait. Violet is known as the inventor, Klaus is the one who loves to read and remembers everything he learns from those books, and Sunny has sharp baby teeth and loves to bite things. One day there is a fire that burns down their mansion, with their parents inside. The three children are now orphans and are sent to live with an assortment of family friends and distant relatives. The first of them being Count Olaf, our villain of the series.

Now on to the reading experience of the first book. All I can say is that it lived up to my nostalgia and even solidified my love for the series. First, I'd completely forgotten how violent this series could be at times. I was a little shocked when I read about Count Olaf's treachery, not to mention the scene when he hits Klaus right across the face. When I was younger I really detested Count Olaf and now as an adult, I see just how twisted he is. When you are in middle school you really don't pick up on the pedophilia tones surrounding Count Olaf. Here's an example which is part of the plotline where Olaf decides to marry Violet to get a hold of the Baudelaire fortune: "Would it be so terrible to be my bride, to live in my house for the rest of your life? You're such a lovely girl, after the marriage I wouldn't dispose of you like your brother and sister" (pg 109). Ugh that passage gave me the biggest case of the willies I've ever had. 

I also remember liking this book because the author/narrator, Lemony Snicket, would take the time to define difficult words for you. Some people probably considered this talking down to the reader, but in reality these books actively increased my vocabulary. I also loved how this first book is a self contained story, but there is just enough of a cliffhanger to draw you into the next book. Speaking of which...

  • The Reptile Room (Series of Unfortunate Events #2) by Lemony Snicket

After the events of the first book, the children are taken to live with their Uncle Monty, who studies snakes, hence the title of the book. At first, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny start to feel like they've finally found a home with their uncle, that is until Count Olaf makes an appearance as Uncle Monty's new assistant. 

When I was younger I always seemed to identify with Violet, the sister who uses her inventions to help her siblings out of danger, but in reality I'm a Klaus. My adult self has come to recognize that fact. I mean when I read about Klaus falling asleep with his glasses on that basically said it all. I'm often found late at night in bed asleep with a book in my hand and my glasses still on. As with the first book, the nostalgia does still hold up. As an adult I love how the narrator, Lemony Snicket, plays an active part in the narration. It's like this book has another dynamic character making witty observations, educating readers, and even hiding some well placed jokes for older readers in the text. I mean this was the book where I first learned what dramatic irony mean't. There were some English majors that I shared classes with in college that could grasp definitions of literary elements like that. Not to mention I had I nice laugh when I came across this line that informs readers the Virginian Wolfsnake should never under any circumstances be let near a typewriter. Yeah, didn't catch that literary jab when I was younger. 

On to the next book in the series.

  • The Wide Window (Series of Unfortunate Events #3) by Lemony Snicket

The Nostalgia re-read continued with the third book in the series. For those wondering, this is the last book that the horrible movie adaption includes, but for me this was one of my favorite books out of the series so far. After the death of Uncle Monty, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live with their Aunt Josephine. What makes her so weird is that she has a fear of basically everything and she is a strict grammarian. She lives in a house perched above Lake Lachrymose and provides a tolerable living situation for the children until Captain Sham (aka Count Olaf) arrives. Got to love the hint in the name, right?

I've always thought that this book in particular shows how intellectuals can be heroes too. Here Klaus saves the day with his past reading and understanding of grammar. That's the only way I could imagine myself saving the day. The Wide Window is also the book where you groan out loud in frustration over how all the adults are stupid. I mean Aunt Josephine is too afraid of the police to call them and Mr. Poe is too busy having polite conversations with Count Olaf to even begin bringing him to justice. The only sensible adult in this whole book is Lemony Snicket who wisely informs us that, “For some stories, it's easy. The moral of 'The Three Bears,' for instance, is 'Never break into someone else's house.' The moral of 'Snow White' is 'Never eat apples.' The moral of World War I is 'Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand.'”  Truer words have never been spoken. 

On to the last book of this particular Nostalgiareads post.
  • The Miserable Mill (Series of Unfortunate Events #4) by Lemony Snicket

The nostalgia trip continues with the fourth book in the series where Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. There they are forced to work for very little food, oh and there is a bit of brainwashing to make the story interesting. The Miserable Mill does have some sentimental value to me because I was given a copy as a gift by my fifth grade teacher. Teachers giving me books as gifts has been a life trend for me in case you were wondering.

Despite that sentiment, this book is actually the least favorite out of the ones I've read so far. I can't really figure out why either. You should have reasons to justify your opinions and I don't. Sorry bout that. The Miserable Mill is also one of the more violent books in the series. I mean you have to assume that right off of the bat because it takes place at a lumber mill. Every series has to have a book that isn't quite as great as the others and this one's it. That doesn't mean that my nostalgia has disappeared from this series. In reality, I'm much more excited to continue reading and rediscover parts of the series that I seemed to have forgotten.

As a whole, I've started to remember why I love The Series of Unfortunate Events so much. I felt nostalgic about it for a reason and it's nice to look at something again with a fresh pair of eyes and a new mentality. Sometimes revisiting the past can be an entertaining experience. I'm not done with this series just yet, so stick around for the next installment of Nostalgiareads to find out what I think about the remaining books!