Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nostalgiareads: A Series of Unfortunate Events (#11-13) Plus The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket

I think it's that time again dear readers. Time to get nostalgic!! I personally welcome you to another wonderful installment of my blog series, Nostalgiareads, where I re-read books from my childhood to determine whether that nostalgia holds up from the perspective of an adult mind.

This particular installment is significant because it marks the end of my journey re-reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, a series near and dear to my heart from my childhood. If you've followed this journey from the beginning, you've come to realize with me that it has been marked with the surprised realization that the series gets better with age. Now it's time to bring everything to a close not quite with the end, but we come pretty near to it.
  • The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events #11) by Lemony Snicket

When we last left Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire they were adrift and recently separated from Quigley Quagmire. Now they've been picked up by Captain Widdershins in his submarine where he is currently searching for the elusive and well sought after sugar bowl. He hopes to accomplish this before the next VFD meeting. While not quite like home, the Baudelaires begin to establish a sense of routine in the submarine, which is of course ruined by Could Olaf's arrival and one of the Baudelaires' potential brush with death. As the title suggests, this book signals a grim turn for the series. The themes get a little more complex and the situations much more adult than the beginning of this whole adventure. 

 Before reading the book, the one memory that stuck out for me was the fact that this was where I learned about wasabi. I really do remember the weirdest things. Reading it again I discovered that this supposed children's book touches on the water cycle, Hobson's Choice, and even Plato's Allegory of the Cave. One of the more thoughtful moments in The Grim Grotto happens when the Baudelaires realize that often our memories of those we have lost are rose colored and idealistic. My paraphrase of course. They starkly realize that with their parents gone, they remember all of their great aspects and tend to overlook the fact that their parents did have some bad qualities. It's moments like these that I wonder what my younger self thought.

Shall we move on? 
  • The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events #12) by Lemony Snicket

Props to Lemony Snicket for being quite literal with the title as this is indeed the second to last peril for the Baudelaires. After escaping the clutches of Count Olaf again and making their way back to Briny Beach, where this whole unfortunate adventure began, they meet Kit Snicket. There the siblings become even more entangled in the politics of the VFD, where the great schism eventually causes both the resulting wicked and good to descend on the Hotel Denouement. There the children agree to pose as concierges in order to learn more about the sugar bowl's whereabouts. 

 As with any Series of Unfortunate Events book, this one had some pretty great quotes. My first favorite definitely has to be, "Destiny is an invisible force like gravity or a fear of paper cuts." My next has to be that moment when Snicket says that a tomboy is "an insulting term inflicted on girls whose behavior some people find unusual." Bravo Snicket!! While the plot of this is just as complex as the previous books, I felt like the themes presented got a bit deeper. There is the literal image of the phrase about justice being blind and of course the book goes a long way to show you that indeed justice is often flawed. Let's not forget how well The Penultimate Peril suggests that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Often people are a mixture of the two. 
  • The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events #13) by Lemony Snicket

As the title suggests, this is the last book in A Series of Unfortunate Events and it also happened to be the book that I remembered the least about. In a shocking turn of events, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny have joined Count Olaf on his ship. After a particularly devastating storm, the four of them wash up on a island full of castaways. There the Baudelaires are surrounded by people who recognize Olaf's treachery and again they begin to make a life for themselves. Turns out that life on the island isn't quite as free, and the Baudelaires begin to learn more about their past and carve out a true future for themselves, particularly when another familiar face washes up on the island. 

So many people hated this book because it seemed to introduce more questions than Snicket actually answered. I, on the other hand, didn't mind that everything wasn't wrapped up with a neat bow. Realistically speaking the Baudelaires can't ever know everything about their parents' lives. Were they heroic members of the VFD or were they murderers? Well that's up to you to determine what defines a hero and a villain. I also thought that this last book gave Count Olaf some complexity that he was seriously lacking and the Baudelaires finally mature enough to realize that they can't keep relying on a guardian to save them from a series of unfortunate events. They have to do that all on their own. Let's not forget readers finally learn Beatrice's identity in this book. The ending was bittersweet and I wouldn't have it any other way.
  • Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography by Lemony Snicket

Bonus books!! I figured if I was going to re-read the entire series, I might as well read the companion books that I never got a chance to read when I was younger. I decided to start with The Unauthorized Autobiography in the hopes that the book would answer all of the questions that I had. Turns out all of the chapter titles are misleading because Snicket doesn't actually address those topics. You do learn quite a bit about Snicket's childhood and by extension the VFD. I don't think this book is necessary to understanding A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it is a nice add-on.
  • The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket

Now this was the companion book that I was most excited for! When you get the book, it includes a full color poster as well as a booklet. In the book are pop out letters and well as the "Beatrice Letters." If you haven't read the final book, first of all what are you doing?! Second of all, spoilers obviously coming up. What you don't immediately realize is that the letters deal with more than one Beatrice. 

One half of the letters are written by Beatrice, Kit Snicket's daughter to Lemony Snicket. You learn that she is trying to find the Baudelaires and there is no mention of how Beatrice was separated from them. The second half of the letters are written by Lemony Snicket to Beatrice, the Baudelaires' mother and the infamous Beatrice from the dedications. These companion letters give you just a hint about the events following the last book, as well as some insights into Snicket as a character. If you really enjoyed the series, I highly recommend that you read this book.

Now I think it's time to wrap-up this edition of Nostagiareads. Let's just say I can't quite call this reading experience nostalgic anymore. For me, it felt like I was reading a completely different series of books at times. The humor, the narration, and even the plot felt unique the second time around. All I can say is that this nostalgic journey proved that sometimes your age and even your experiences can influence your reading. So after all that you want to know: Does the nostalgia hold up after all of these years? The answer is, of course, absolutely. I don't care what age you are. You should give this series a chance and I hope that current fans are just as excited about the new Netflix series as I am. I'm not quite ready yet to leave one of my favorite series behind.