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It’s Sunday night, and I’m lying with my eyes closed, thinking in my usual Faulknerian rhythm: “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow I hate Mondays it’s so unfair,” when I hear the familiar pitter-patter of my nine-year-old sister, Rebecca’s feet on the wooden floorboards outside my door.
“Rob, have you really read all the Lemony Snicket books?”
“Yes, I told you. All 13."
“Really?” This was followed by the cute, comical gasp all children make whenever they hear anything even slightly dramatic. “All 13 books?! When did you read them?”
“When I was six? The last ones came out when I was eight, so I had to wait a while. But I was six when I read the first 10 or so.”
“Six?!” I’ve told this to her before, but I think she enjoys hearing me recount it. “Why would you even read them? The show is much better.”
“Because the Netflix series didn’t exist then, and the Jim Carrey movie only covered the first three books. ‘Covered’ is putting it mildly. And, because the book is always better than the movie. Or show.”
“I don’t believe you.” Her face puffed up with the inadvertent awkward smile she makes when confronted with an uncomfortable truth.
The Netflix show “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” has taken my sister by storm. She discovered it one day last year, soon after the first season had come out, and watched each episode. I was writing an essay soon after the spring semester began last year when I got a phone call with her on the other end, raving about how the second season was out and she couldn’t believe what had happened.
I could—I’d known what happened for more than a decade. But it was amusing to hear her tell it, at least until she began bringing up all the ways in which the Netflix show diverged from the books.
“No, that doesn’t happen in the book. She never did that.”
“But they showed—.”
“Olivia is a character in one book only. She doesn’t appear anywhere else. Certainly not,” I glowered at her, “in book seven.”
“This is why the books are dumb and weird! They don’t follow the show.”
“No, they’re not. They’re works of art.”
“Then why don’t you read them? I never see you read any of the books you say are good and that you tell me to read.”
I have a complicated relationship with my childhood. Like the quasi-Millennial I am, I idolize my youth, romanticize it, ascribe meanings to those long-ago years that they never had. Yet each time I come across a remnant from those supposedly halcyon days, I cringe and ignore it. The stories I wrote, the pictures I drew, even most of my former favorite books—I can’t revisit them. For some reason, I compare the innocence and simplicity of my earliest works with the relative complexity and “maturity” of my most recent discoveries, and judge the former. It’s snobbery at its worst, but it’s uncontrollable, forcing me to deny my past while simultaneously romanticizing it.
And while I’d gone back and tried rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, even if I cringed at many of them, I’d never gone back and reread “Unfortunate Events.” Yes, I’d been busy, I’d been away from home and my book collection—there were a million reasons not to go back. This summer I’d come home, but to an internship that took up most of my time and left me with almost no chance to read. And yet, those 13 books kept crossing my mind. Rebecca had kindled a flame, one that made me reminisce about all the series that made up my childhood—“The Hunger Games,” “The 39 Clues,” and of course, “Harry Potter.” (Before you ask, of course I’ve re-read “Harry Potter.” It transcends almost everything else.)
My favorite books as a child were always “Unfortunate Events.” I knew these books were wonderful. What was stopping me from reading them? Was I afraid I’d hate them, and poison my memories of them forever?
My sister left the room. I lay there thinking, not about work but about “Unfortunate Events”—how would the books age? I needed to know.
Channeling my inner Klaus Baudelaire, I went over to my bookshelf and began removing books from the second-topmost shelf, revealing the second layer of books hidden behind it. As I’d acquired more and more books, I’d taken my childhood companions and covered them up with the books from my high school and college reading lists.
Unsealing them from the obscurity which I’d consigned them to, the 13 books stared back at me. I selected one at random—“The Ersatz Elevator”—sat on the floor, and began reading.
It read: “The book you are holding in your two hands right now—assuming that you are, in fact, holding this book, and that you have only two hands—is one of two books in the world that will show you the difference between the word ‘nervous’ and the word ‘anxious.’ The other book, of course, is the dictionary, and if I were you I would read that book instead.”
I sat staring at that page, taking in the dry, droll humor, and reflecting on all I’d probably missed as a child in those books. This was amazing. I kept reading, and smiling at all the subtle English literature jokes (which, as an English concentrator, I loved), and the absurdity of all the situations. This wasn’t immature at all—there were references to Thomas Pynchon!
It seemed like almost no time at all, but I reached the end of the book. I was still on the floor, mind racing. I was brought back to October 13, 2006 (of course, a Friday), when I’d attended a Barnes & Noble on the other side of town to attend a midnight launch party for “The End,” the final installment in the series. I remembered all the car trips I’d taken as a child when I had one of those books in my lap, whiling away the miles with the pages. And I remembered the hours I’d spent learning codes and ciphers, trying to be like the resourceful and clever Baudelaire siblings, and become a secret volunteer.
These memories made me smile. Chuckle. In a summer when I could feel my childhood and past slipping away from me more acutely than ever, the weight of the words I’d read, especially that absurdly specific introduction, was enough to comfort me.
Maybe, finally, I’d learned to reconcile my childhood with the present.
—Robert Miranda ’20, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is an English concentrator in Pforzheimer House.
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