Daniel Handler on 9-11 and Love
Some people can say a whole lot in a small space. Here is Dan Handler, author of ADVERBS, my favorite book of the year.
Yours is the first novel I’ve read that seems to capture the post 9-11 American psyche. I’m not talking about the post-traumatic responses of survivors, but the more subtle shift in the way the general population thinks about trust, safety, relationships, the future. I wonder if you could talk about that, either from a personal point of view or from what you created with your characters.
A Manhattanite friend of mine e-mailed me shortly after 9/11 and said, “I’m safe. I got a ride out of downtown from a co-worker I’ve always disliked and reserve the right to dislike later, but we cried together all the way.” Enormous catastrophes do remind us what is truly important, and force the everyday frustrations and despairs into the background – but they can’t stay in the background forever. The shadow of 9-11 – and subsequent disasters, like Katrina – puts the cognitive dissonance between what should occupy us – staying close to one’s family, say, or finding a good person to love – and what does occupy us – annoying habits, tiny heartbreaks – into even sharper relief. To put it another way, in a turbulent world all that matters is finding people to love. But would it kill them to brush their teeth first?
They say love is in the details, that it’s the little things that make a person special, but then why are the love songs so alike? It’s your smile, it’s your eyes, I love your eyes and your smile. I like to go to the beach with you, but really the beach is so interesting and pretty that you could take anyone to the beach. (ADVERBS, p. 106)
ADVERBS is about many things but in the end, it’s a book about love. Could you give me your definition of love as it pertains to marriage?
Believing that a familiar person in her ugliest shirt muttering something you’ve heard a million times before is more wondrous to behold than an impeccably costumed stranger saying something new.
As it pertains to parenthood?
Finding genuine interest in a conversation consisting largely of the sentence “Big garbage truck take garbage away.”
And as it pertains to reading and writing?
Regarding the shuffle of sentences as more vital than the shuffle outside one’s window.
You love once and then maybe not again. Not on a day like this. The rain, the rain, the rain. You can’t even hear it outside the window but still it’s a sad thing. Rain, the grade school teachers say, makes the trees and flowers grow, but we’re not trees and flowers, and so many grade school teachers are single. (ADVERBS, p. 77)
If you want to catch Dan’s alter ego, click here for the Lemony Snicket interview on LitPark.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedSeptember 13, 2006
Apropos of nothing, my six-year-old daughter read the first Lemony Snicket book this summer, all on her own – well, except for the last chapter, because she said reading 20 pages straight was too much, so I read it to her – even though the book is labeled “10 Years and Up.” This shows how determined she was to read something she knew she would love. Thank you, Mr. Handler-Snicket.
And thank you, Susan, for such a terrific site.
Katrina DenzaSeptember 13, 2006
“Regarding the shuffle of sentences as more vital than the shuffle outside oneâ€™s window.” Oh yes!
Great interview–thank you! I’m looking forward to reading “Adverbs.”
Lance ReynaldSeptember 13, 2006
gonna have to pick this one up; looks fun.
and I LOVE the Snickets books. they just make me very happy.
JimSeptember 13, 2006
Marvelous interview, Susan. I’ll be looking for Adverbs on my next trip to the book store!
Gail SiegelSeptember 13, 2006
I was so grateful to you for writing the Lemony Snicket books. My daughter burned through them from the very start, constantly badgering me about when the next one might be available. I snatched them up, happily. They were such a relief after all of the pap out there. She’s 17 now, and is still eagerly awaiting the finale.
Thanks, too, for teaching millions of kids what penultimate really means.
And just based on your observation about rain and grade school teachers, which cracked em up, I have to read ADVERBS myself.
Myfanwy CollinsSeptember 13, 2006
Love the statement about love as it pertains to marriage. Perfect. Another great interview.
PiaSeptember 13, 2006
Whoa, horse. Can you talk about the “shuffle of sentences” sentence some more? I badly want to understand what you’re saying.
PashaSeptember 13, 2006
“I like to go to the beach with you, but really the beach is so interesting and pretty that you could take anyone to the beach.”
Claire CameronSeptember 13, 2006
I love that accordian photo.
TerrySeptember 13, 2006
How can Adverbs be your favorite book of the year if you haven’t even read We Are the Cat yet?
Honestly, and quickly, and without complaint, lovely, and witty, and hello…
My Alpha son says he looks nothing at all like Lemony Snicket.
I would have to agree.
AurelioSeptember 13, 2006
“…why are the love songs so alike?”
I recall falling in love and suddenly thinking, “Oh, so this is what those silly songs meant.”
It was all true, but the meaning came with the doing.
Thanks for another great post.
Susan HendersonSeptember 13, 2006
Lauren – Isn’t it amazing to see young kids hunger after literature? Your daughter must be so cool to read Lemony Snicket at age six!
Katrina – Thanks, Kat!
Lance – The books make me happy, too, even though there’s that warning that they’ll make you feel miserable.
Jim – Thank you, my Kentucky friend.
Gail – The Hendersons are also awaiting THE END.
Myfanwy – Thank you, Myf!
Pia – I’d like to hear more, too. Dan?
Pasha – Pasha Malla! Yes!
Claire – Me, too.
Terry – I know better than to ever say anything about favorites, don’t I? The reason I haven’t read WE ARE THE CAT yet is because Bach-Boy called first-dibs.
Aurelio – Yes on the doing.
Carolyn Burns BassSeptember 13, 2006
Believing that a familiar person in her [HIS] ugliest shirt muttering something youâ€™ve heard a million times before is more wondrous to behold than an impeccably costumed stranger saying something new.
This was exactly what I was looking for in a husband all those years ago. We’re celebrating our 20 year anniversary today.
I’ll pick up ADVERBS while we’re in town celebrating.
Elizabeth CraneSeptember 13, 2006
I’ll be having to pick up Adverbs based on that tiny but significant passage. I too loved the comment Carolyn picked up on – quite literally, my husband loves my rattiest, most unflattering sleep shirt that ought to have been destroyed long before he even entered the picture. I just got it out for the fall sleeping season and he said “Ohhh, the red shirt…” Anyway, beyond babbling as I will, I also really enjoyed the piece in this weekends Times. I thought you had it right on in terms of what was interesting about the house-on-dirt/antique newspaper situation.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedSeptember 13, 2006
Susan, my daughter *is* cool – far cooler than me! And I read ADVERBS several weeks ago and enjoyed it. Can’t say it’s the best of the year, though, since I haven’t read that CAT book yet…
AurelioSeptember 13, 2006
Yes, and its good thing EVE was out in ’04. 😉
Susan HendersonSeptember 14, 2006
Carolyn – In February, my husband and I will have been together 20 years, too. What I love about marriage is you can complain about, say, his ugly shirt, and he doesn’t leave. When you’re dating, you’re never sure.
Elizabeth – I’m so happy you’re here!
Lauren – My youngest, who is all about cool, really …no wait, I’m going to save the story for Friday. Hint: It involves me getting a phone call from school today.
Aurelio – I’m ready for EVE, THE MOVIE.
GregSeptember 14, 2006
I tried buying Adverbs a few months ago at the Fargo B&N, but there was none to be found.
My girlfriend had checked the book out of the library on a whim, and every two minutes she’d look up at me and say that I would love this book.
I hope to scratch it off my list soon. The passages that I did read (shoved in my face while I was trying to read the paper) were great.
Lori OlivaSeptember 14, 2006
Thank you, Susan for putting ADVERBS on my radar. I love the tone of it already.
teresaSeptember 14, 2006
I find the beach, the suited boy, the accordian and the dogs such an inspiring photograph.—–teresa from Canada
RobinSeptember 14, 2006
I doubt it had anything to do with anything, but I like the (perceived) rebelliousness of the title, ADVERBS, since adverbs are somewhat taboo for writers. It’s like you sent us a secret wink telling us not to take it all too seriously. I like that.
And thanks, Susan. Because of you and the time and work you’ve invested, which has allowed me an opportunity to write a note to Lemony Snicket (Ask him about Beatrice! What about Beatrice?), I am now a hero to my children. You’re the best.
Susan HendersonSeptember 15, 2006
Greg – I was doing the same thing to Mr. Henderson. I brought the book with me to Africa and I kept laughing and then telling him, “You have to read this book!”
Lori – I always choose books based on word of mouth. The most common author recommended to me is Coetzee.
Teresa – It’s an awesome, whimsical photograph. I love it.
Robin – I thought it was a great, rebellious title, too. I love rule breakers.
Daniel HandlerSeptember 15, 2006
I was encouraged by Ms. Henderson to leave a comment here on this blog. My comment is “Thank you for your kind words, total strangers. I hope you enjoy my novel, and if you don’t, I hope you refrain from telling anyone.”
Onward and upward!
PS The best book of the year is Peter Rock’s The Unsettling. Everyone knows that.
Susan HendersonSeptember 16, 2006
I’m glad you stopped by, Dan. I’ll check out Peter Rock when I’m in Penn Books today.
GregSeptember 23, 2006
Daniel – I received your book as a gift this week, and read it in a fury.
I haven’t been this inspired to write after reading a book since coming across Woody Allen’s ‘Without Feathers.’
Can I ask, as someone who likes to do his own thing with his own style, how your editors reacted to this manuscript on first read? I’m sure with your past successes that they were confident in your writing, but did they ever ask “Do you think you might be overdoing it with the repetitions of the money or this song lyric?”
What did they say about your metafiction-y inserts when you stop the story to talk to the reader? Or anything about using the same names for different characters? Maybe these are questions you asked yourself instead of your editors asking you…
Also, could you recommend any literary magazines that are more open to publishing the farcical-sort of stories? I’m having a tough time finding places to print my stories…
Anyhow, wonderful wonderful wonderful wonderful wonderful book. I’ve already lent out my copy.