Tag Archives: daniel handler

Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler) – Review

Why we broke upWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler 
Art by Maira Kalman
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co, 2011
ISBN: 97803161272557 / 354 pages
Find this book at your local library

Written as a long letter detailing their tumultuous 2 month relationship, Min (short for Minerva) Green explains in excruciating detail why she and the popular co-captain of the basketball team, Ed Slaterton, broke up. The letter begins with Min explaining the box of contents that have been plunked down on Ed’s front porch. In the box are a series of elements and trinkets that Min had collected and stored while they dated. Each chapter starts with a beautiful illustration of one of the items from the box, along with a story of that item, and Min’s hindsight into why they should have broken up earlier.

Daniel Handler has always been one of my authors ever since I first discovered his as Lemony Snicket of the Series of Unfortunate Events. Although I wasn’t a big fan of his adult book, Adverbs, I did devour The Basic Eight with a childlike glee. Pared with Maira Kalman’s amazing artwork, this book is a fantastic read for both teens and adults. Anyone who has ever suffered a terrible first love turned first breakup. This is the second book Kalman and Handler collaborated on. They also worked on a rather morbid children’s book titled 13 Words.

Handler writes with an ease of language that reminded me of when I was in high school, and the high schoolers I come into contact with now. Min is a part of the “arty” kids, although don’t be caught calling her arty. She loves movies, especially noir, classic flicks, and has high hopes of being a film director when she gets older. Her character is like the every-woman. She’s clever, she’s insecure, she has a fantastic group of loyal friends. By all accounts, Min Green and Ed Slaterton belong in two different spheres in their small town. Somehow, they meet at a Bitter Birthday Party, and a relationship soon sparks.

In a sec you’ll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses. It’ll rattle the hinges a bit when it lands, because its so weighty and important, a little jangle along with the thunk, and Joan will look up from whatever she’s cooking.

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I’m leaving you. I found it down in the basement, just grabbed the box when all of our things were too much for my bed stand drawer. Plus I thought my mom would find some of the things because she’s a snoop for my secrets. … Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb, I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me.

For more fun & amusement, follow the Why We Broke Up Project on Tumblr, where Daniel Handler & Maira Kalman post letters and break-up stories people have submitted to them.

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

Find this book at your local library

This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.