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Daniel Handler: Novelist and Lemony Snicket’s alter ego

Meredith Heuer/Handout

Daniel Handler leads a literary double life. He writes novels under his own name — his most recent is “Why We Broke Up” — and best-selling children’s books under the name of Lemony Snicket. He’s in town this Saturday for the Boston Book Festival.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

HANDLER: I am reading a book by Martha Gellhorn, “Pretty Tales for Tired People.” She was on a vague list in my head of people who were good but whom I hadn’t read. I loved the title so I picked it up.

BOOKS: What did you read before the Gellhorn?

HANDLER: Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell,” which is a great book. I pigged out on her about 15 years ago. The pig-out started in college with “Under the Net,” her first novel, which is terrific. This is my first time reading her in a long time.


BOOKS: Did she read differently to you?

HANDLER: Often when I read authors that I liked when I was young, they turn out to be funnier than I remember. “The Bell” has an adulterous relationship that explodes. They literally roll into this giant bell to consummate it. If I had read that in my 20s I would have thought it was incredibly intense. Now I think it’s funny.

BOOKS: What kind of fiction do you like?

HANDLER: It’s across the board. I read this anthology this summer, “Burning City” edited by Jed Rasula and Tim Conley. It’s a collection of modernist poems published by Action Books, a small press I subscribe to. I find it’s one of the pleasures of having money to burn. For a fee you get eight books in a year. I also subscribe to Archipelago Books, which publishes translations of foreign authors.

BOOKS: Have you gotten any standouts recently?

HANDLER: I read this French novel, “The Waitress Was New” by Dominique Fabre. It’s a small, elegant novel about a waiter in a French café.


BOOKS: Do you have an all-time favorite novel?

HANDLER: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” which I reread a lot. Other nominees would be “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami, “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler, and “Anagrams” by Lorrie Moore.

BOOKS: What about poets?

HANDLER: I always have three books on my nightstand. A novel, a book of poetry, and a long book I’m reading slowly, like an anthology. Right now I have the Gellhorn and a poetry book by Paul Goodman called “Homespun of Oatmeal Gray.” The long book I’m reading is “Emergency Index” edited by Yelena Gluzman and Matvei Yankelevich, an annual anthology of oddball, performance art projects.

BOOKS: Any book you’ve been always meaning to read?

HANDLER: I have never read Proust. I’m writing this column for The Believer magazine, for which I’m reading one book by each Nobel Prize winner. That takes care of lot of authors I’ve meant to read, but it has delayed Proust.

BOOKS: Who in that group were favorites?

HANDLER: “In Paradise” by Paul Heyse, a German writer. It’s a novel about youth and approaching war in Germany.

BOOKS: Anyone influence you as a reader?

HANDLER: One of the first places I got to go by myself was the library. I remember when I was 11 and complaining there wasn’t anything to read, and the librarian led me out of the children’s room into the adult. I’m grateful for that.


BOOKS: What was the first adult book you read?

HANDLER: It was “Fish Preferred” by P.G. Wodehouse. I picked that one for its title too.

BOOKS: Do you still visit the children’s section?

HANDLER: I was in Seattle and had a chunk of time to get some work done. I went to the library’s children’s section because I wanted to look at some books to help me with my book. I was asked to leave because I didn’t have a child with me. I was dressed in a suit. I wasn’t misbehaving. I left a Lemony Snicket business card as I walked out. AMY SUTHERLAND

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