Thursday, September 28, 2006

18. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 043936552X - HarperCollins, 2000

At Prufrock Academy, a private boarding school, the Baudelaire orphans meet: Vice Prinicpal Nero who plays the violin horribly; "rude, violent & filthy" student Carmelita Spats; two of the Quagmire triplets - Isadora & Duncan (at this point their brother Quigley is presumed dead).
Isadora Duncan was a Dancer / Choreographer born on 26 May 1877 in San Francisco, California.
"Duncan was a pioneer of 20th-century American dance. She is often credited with moving dance away from strict formal structures and toward more free-flowing forms of personal expression. She wore Grecian-style gowns, often performed barefoot, and startled audiences by employing such everyday human movements as skipping and running. Duncan is also remembered as an early feminist; among other things, she did not believe in marriage and bore two children out of wedlock by two different men. She was killed in a freak 1927 accident when her scarf became tangled in the rear axle of her automobile." Souce:

17. The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 0439272637 - HarperCollins, 2000

In this fourth volume in the Series of Unfortunate Events, Klaus and Violet change roles. Klaus has been hypnotized by Dr. Georgina Orwell and Violet has to read a book called Advanced Ocular Science to save him. She uses several interesting strategies to help her read this difficult text and a great reading lesson can be built around them. Klaus needs to create an invention to stop a log sawing machine. This experience helps the siblings to appreciate each other's talents and abilities.
Count Olaf is disguised as Shirley, Dr Orwell's receptionist. One of his evil henchmen, the bald man with the long nose, is disguised as Foreman Flacutono (an anagram for Count Olaf).

Monday, September 25, 2006

16. The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 0439272629 - HarperCollins, 2000

This third volume in The Series of Unfortunate Events begins with the Baudelaire children standing on Damocles Dock. Suspended above them, dangling dangerously, is a sword. The Sword of Damocles symbolizes "impending disaster". "This expression alludes to the legend of Damocles, a servile courtier to King Dionysius I of Syracuse. The king, weary of Damocles' obsequious flattery, invited him to a banquet and seated him under a sword hung by a single hair, so as to point out to him the precariousness of his position. The idiom was first recorded in 1747. The same story gave rise to the expression hang by a thread." Source:
This passage about stealing is a fine example of Snicket's "grown-up" humour.
"Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it."pp 136- 137, The Wide Window.
This volume features Aunt Josephine, the Lachrymose Leeches and Captain Sham.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

15. The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 043920648 - HarperCollins, 1999

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Series of Unfortunate Events is that Lemony Snicket includes humour for grown-ups. As with tv programs like the Simpsons, and the Flintstones before them, parents enjoy watching because the "get" the satire, parodies and allusions. Here's an example from page 126 of The Reptile Room. "Ackroid!" Sunny said, which probably meant something like "Roger!"
Children will not understand why this is amusing. Mystery buffs will know it is a reference to a classic whodunit. "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (published in 1926) is a detective novel by Agatha Christie. It features Hercule Poirot as the lead detective. It is one of Christie's most well-known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre." Source:
The Baudelaire orphans are happier than they have been since the death of their parents living with noted herpetologist Montgomery Montgomery,whom they call Uncle Monty. As they prepare for a trip to Peru, Uncle Monty's new assistant Stephano arrives. It doesn't take long before his true identity is discovered.
Book the Second features the Incredibly Deadly Viper, the hook-handed man and Lousy Lane.

14. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 049206472 - HarperCollins, 1999

A Series of Unfortunate Events will reach it's conclusion with the Friday October 13th, 2006 release of Book the Thirteenth simply titled The End. The fate of the Baudelaire Orphans - Violet, Klaus & Sunny will be revealed.
My plan is to re-read the series in order, finishing with Book the Twelfth -The Penultimate Peril on October 12th.
In The Bad Beginning, the Baudelaire children are met on Briny Beach by Mr Poe, banker and family friend, who has the unpleasant task of telling them that their parents have perished in a fire that has destroyed their mansion home and its contents. In accordance with their parents' wills, the children are to be raised by a relative. Mr Poe unwittingly delivers the trio into the clutches of the dastardly Count Olaf who has evil designs on the Baudelaire fortune. By using their skills (Violet is resourceful and invents helpful items, Klaus is a voracious reader & Sunny uses her four sharp teeth to bite things), Olaf is thwarted and Mr Poe finds another relative for them to live with.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

13. Continual Feast by Jan Karon

ISBN 0143036564 - Penguin, 2005

A collection of quotes about faith,wisdom, books and dogs kept by Episcopalian Father Tim Cavanaugh, central character of Jan Charon's Mitford series of novels. Uniquely printed, the book is composed of: hand written notes; what appear to be typed pages taped into the journal; relevant pencil sketches; the occasional personal "memo to self" and sticky note. The content includes scriptural references and quotes from Oswald Chamber's My Utmost For His Highest, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP), Chesterton, C.S.Lewis, and even Dolly Parton.
Patches of Godlight is a companion volume.

Monday, September 18, 2006

12. A Thirties Melodrama: The Dionne Years by Pierre Burton

ISBN 0-14-013952-4 - Penguin Books, 1977

With the recent advent of fertility drugs and better post-natal care, quintuplets and sextuplets are not unknown - but these are fraternal siblings developing from five or six fertilized eggs. When Elzire Dionne gave birth to five baby girls on 28 May 1934 at Corbeil, near Callendar, Ontario it captured the world's attention. The Dionne Quintuplets - Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, & Marie - were identical quints from a single egg that split. The odds of giving birth to identical quintuplets are 54 million to one. No other set of surviving identical quintuplets has ever been recorded.

"The custody of the babies was withdrawn from their parents by the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn in 1935. The girls were made the wards of the province and they were put under the guidance of Dr. Dafoe and three other guardians. Ontario housed them in Quintland, a theme park located just across from the parents' home. The sisters could be viewed for free by visitors and tourists through a one-way mirror. Approximately 6,000 people per day visited the park to observe the cute celebrities at play. In 1934, the quintuplets brought in around $1 million, and they attracted in total about $51 million of tourist revenue to Ontario. The park became Ontario's biggest tourist attraction of the era. " - source: Wikipedia

One would hope that in today's world this sort of exploitation would not occur. I was, however, amazed to see a "freak show" trailer parked at a recent community event (Polish Festival on Roncesvalles in Toronto). A taped barker attempted to lure the curious with tales about the Elephant Man and shrunken heads. I was smugly pleased that there were very few takers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

11. Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks

ISBN 0-14-131234-3 - Puffin Books, 2001 (reprinted) - first published 1932
Freddy the Pig, a voracious reader, models his detective work on that of his literary hero Sherlock Holmes. Success and fame bring a steady stream of clients to Bean's farm and Freddy recruits farmyard friends to help out.
"Freddy the Pig and his fellow animals...were the subject of 26 books by Walter R. Brooks, a New York advertising man and a staff writer for the New Yorker, that appeared between 1927 and Brooks's death in 1958, One of Brooks's many triumphs of tone was that his human characters were surprised, but only mildly surprised, that the animals talked. Mr. Bean, whose farm they lived on, barely said a word, so he appeared the unusual one. "

Friday, September 08, 2006

10. The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart

ISBN 0771086547 - McClelland & Stewart, 1997

Artist Austin Fraser reflects on his life and the people whose lives have impacted it including: George a china painter & collector; Augusta a nurse who returned home from the First World War with shell-shock; and Sara his model and lover.
Austin develops a painting technique that mirrors the way he deals with emotion.
"It was a critic who came up with the term 'erasure' when I first exhibited the series. There is nothing, you understand, like an obscured subject to give the critic something to talk about. Even those who had been either indifferent or hostile to my work in the past wrote long, reflective essays about the hidden subject matter that, under the circumstances, they were forced mostly to imagine. " pp 183-184

Monday, September 04, 2006

9. The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket

ISBN 10:0-06-058658-3 - HarperCollins,2006

Lemony Snicket dedicates each volume of his Series of Unfortunate Events to Beatrice.In The Bad Beginning: To Beatrice -- darling, dearest, dead. In The Ersatz Elevator: To Beatrice -- When we met, my life began. Soon afterward, yours ended. In The Penultimate Peril -- To Beatrice -- No one could extinguish my love, or your house.
As usual with Snicket's writing, things are not what they seem in The Beatrice Letters.
It is a beautifully crafted portfolio that includes a double sided wall poster, by series illustrator Brett Helquist, and a book of letters written to and from Beatrice. It offers many clues and some red herrings towards what the final book of the series - simply titled The End - will reveal about the VFD, Count Olaf and the Baudelaire family.