A fortunate family tie to Snicket’s work

Photo by Sara Schmitt

I remember being vaguely afraid of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” in elementary school.

I was intrigued, I think, enough to read the back of “The Bad Beginning” before abiding by its admonishments to put the book down and read something else. I was already hopelessly in love with “Harry Potter” by that point and had determined that I was going to blast through all of the books I could get my hands on in that series before turning my attention to something else. “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” as I understood it, never even pretended to be happy or good, and that made me uncomfortable.

I also remember being vaguely afraid of my great-grandmother as a child. She was well into older age by the time I started forming any memories of her, and could be persnickety and sharp in a way that alarmed children. Her opinions, though admittedly informed and enlightening, were firmly defined and not subject to any particular censure.

As luck would have it, she also had a distaste for “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” though for a far better reason than mine: she had taught Daniel Handler in school, long before his Lemony Snicket days, and had thoroughly disliked his writing style even then. I believe she told me at one point that she felt he was “gimmicky and ridiculous,” but beyond that my young self was never really able to parse out what her precise issues with him were.

It was that familial connection that drove me to try the Snicket books. And even when I could word-vomit things I loved about them, my great-grandmother would not rescind or admit that they had any appeal. It was a shame, too, because I had by that point inextricably associated her and Snicket’s work in my head. Even her house, a Victorian three-story in San Francisco with rooms full of books and old tchotchkes, began to feel like a Baudelaire home.

She passed in 2013, well before the Netflix adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” was even announced, but the moment I saw the (excellent) teaser trailer, I found myself thinking of her. I feel fairly confident that her spirit is out there somewhere, shaking her head and wondering how that student with the gimmicky writing, who irritated her so many years ago, is still ensnaring an audience. I only wish we could discuss its merits as we did many years ago.