I'm always a bit behind the times when it comes to amazingly popular series, an unfortunate habit that has the fortunate side effect of meaning I don't have to wait as long for installments but also has the unfortunate further side effect of encouraging my penchant for not staying up to date on the latest popular author news.
If that made any sense whatsoever.
So when all my friends were reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, I was reading other things, blissfully *not* standing in line chewing my nails waiting for the latest greatest novel, a word which here means "a book filled with words 'which here mean.'"
Then a close friend found out I wasn't reading the series and insisted I start pronto. In fact, she didn't just insist, she forced. When bringing the books by didn't work, she brought by the audiobooks. She went meet the author and brought me an autographed copy of Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography. She so impressed upon me how much she loved the books that I now own new copies of each hardcover in the series, something that might sound a little more impressive if I explained that the majority of my personal library is comprised of library discards (the nicer books on our shelves were almost entirely brought in by my husband).
Loving the series, however, did not make me love how it ended. And perhaps I am still harboring some residual bitterness over the lack of meaningful resolution in the otherwise well crafted series.
Whatever the reason, I could find next to nothing enjoyable in the two readily available "Christmas" picture books Lemony Snicket published more recently. Of course like all his other books, these tiny little hardcovers loudly proclaim that they will be anything but delightful. It's really only funny when it's not true though. I'm probably being overly harsh here, but I finished these books with the unsettling feeling that Daniel Handler was proclaiming smugly, "look what you can do when you're a wildly acclaimed published author."
Our local library had about a dozen copies of The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming on its shelf. The story follows a young latke as it searches for understanding and appreciation in a world fixated on Christmas. The book itself is aesthetically charming, thanks to the illustrations by Lisa Brown, and the story moderately entertaining, but at least for me the offhanded cynicism undermines any real sense of appeal. Although perhaps I might have felt differently had I read it on an empty stomach rather than right after an awesome Valentine's picnic. It does, after all, involve potatoes fried crispy and brown. Yum!
The Lump of Coal features an entirely different artistic atmosphere set by the illustrator far more commonly associated with Snicket, Brett Helquist, who here shows us the most expressive lump of coal ever to aspire to culinary grandeur. Again, the story feels kind of like a pointless ramble, but unlike A Series of Unfortunate Events and more similarly to The Latke That Wouldn't Stop Screaming, the ramble isn't all that entertaining. A lump of coal sets out on a journey to find a miracle. Again, I'm probably being overly harsh, but it feels as if perhaps his point is that touching stories don't have any particular meaning.... maybe that is what lends it the aura of emptiness. But I freely admit that I could be just projecting.
Tune in next time for pictures of my attempts at frying up my own potato pancakes (but alas no attempts at charcoal drawing or Korean barbecue).