If there was ever a writer for whom an author-event second banana was superfluous, it's Daniel Handler, who held forth at Cody's recently. He read briefly from Adverbs: A Novel (Ecco, $23.95), a collection of interconnected vignettes about love, spawning steady waves of laughter from a full house with his scattershot observational riffs.
Much better known as Lemony Snicket, author and narrator of the insanely popular set of children's books collectively known as A Series of Unfortunate Events, Handler is a relentlessly amusing teddy bear whom you just want to kidnap so he can regale you through the night with quips and anecdotes. Unfortunately, his visit to Cody's was marred by the device of having him share the podium with colleague and pal Christopher Moore.
Moore, author of the recent release You Suck: A Love Story (Morrow, $21.95), about vampires in modern-day San Francisco, seems a nice enough fellow, but his style bled the life out of Handler's. Though Cody's Web site touts him as a conversationalist extraordinaire, Moore sometimes stumbled or seemed at a loss for words.
Still, though Handler had him outclassed, Moore earned his own few laughs, too. When he asked the packed audience to ponder the notion that Handler has sold 49 million books, Moore added, after the obligatory beat: "Out of the trunk of his car." Handler riposted, "It's actually 53 million."
Handler related how he had spent his day answering the call to jury duty (yes, ultrasuccessful novelists have to show up, too) before reading briefly from Adverbs about you guessed it a guy summoned to jury duty. Reciting his loopy, loose-limbed prose as if it were someone else's, Handler drew his listeners into his character's mind as the fellow cringes at the hellish tedium and listens with bleak resignation to another man's bigoted inanities, then entreats God to deliver him from the courthouse's bowels. He offers the deity anything in return, including this heart-rending sacrifice: "I will drive you to the airport, Lord, early in the morning."
Handler said the book began as "one thousand pages of handwritten stories of people in love it's terrifying not to have a plan." Why the title? "You have to name a file when you save it," he explained, "and you have to save it very early. So I saved the first story under 'Immediately.' Then I realized I could name all the sections of the book after adverbs."
For Handler, writing is all about conceits: "I love taxicabs. They're a metaphor for relationships one of you doesn't speak English."
While sitting in cafes writing the novel in longhand, Handler said, he watched couples in love and couples breaking up. "I would have to look down and pretend I wasn't listening," he confessed. "There's a bizarre poetry in conversations overheard. Coherence never happens in real life."
Handler's next book is about pirates, but he was cagey about the details. Characteristically coy, all he would say about it was, "I recently went to Rand McNally and bought a map of San Francisco Bay."
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