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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Daniel Handler Talks Snacks, Litquake, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 9:15 AM

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Since 2002, high school students from 826 Valencia (and recently also from 826 Michigan) comb this nation's innumerable literary journals, podcasts, stage plays, comics, newspapers, and other places where fine writing might have been published or otherwise presented and select some of their favorites for the annual anthology, The Best American Nonrequired Reading. The series has featured introductions by Zadie Smith, Beck, Matt Groening, and Judy Blume (just to name a few), with cover art by the likes of Banksy and Maurice Sendak, and until this year has been edited by Dave Eggers.

Daniel Gumbiner and Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, took the helm for this issue, which was just released this week. In the editor's note, Gumbiner jokes that they did not share the workload fairly: "One was a constant presence and a paragon of organization due to his impressive experience in such matters, while the other was often absent, due to book tours and a grievous injury, and would often crack cheap jokes and offer odd, off-kilter advice. On the other hand, that second person brought delicious snacks that he paid for with his own money." Taking a wild guess (aided in part by a recent interview), I assumed it was Handler who brought the snacks and so sent him my questions. I have yet to receive any snacks, yet here I am: doing the work.

What were some of the challenges in putting together this anthology?

Making sure that although Mr. Gumbiner and the young crew of editors did the lion's share of the work, that Mr. Snicket and I still got the lion's share of credit.

Is it safe to assume that you were the one who brought the snacks?

It is never safe to assume anything about snacks from a stranger, but it is easier to get people to agree with you if their mouths are full of your cookies.

Did the process of making the anthology change you in any way? For instance, were there pieces that made you think, hm, maybe I should try my hand at that kind of writing just to see what happens, or …

The enthusiasm for Nick Sturm's "I Feel Yes" made me want to attempt a quasi-epic poem. My publishers should consider themselves warned.

Do you have any personal favorites that have stuck with you? Does Snicket? Do you and Snicket ever disagree?

It is great to see so many Bay Area writers in the anthology, from Ali Liebegott's self-published poems to "Nirvana," a great story by Adam Johnson who I hear recently won some sort of mainstream award. Mr. Snicket stands with me on these opinions, although in just about every other matter we tend to bicker.

What can people expect at the event on Sunday the 12th?

Free snacks, nuff said.

Do you have a Litquake strategy you employ every year, or do you have any advice for people who have never been?

I try to attend at least one event about which I know nothing, because the best literature is the literature of surprise. Also: do not give Vendela Vida a funny look. That girl will cut you.

Handler will present the new anthology along with Adam Johnson and Andrew Altschul, as well as teen editors Abigail Scott Rosenfeld, Evelyn Pugh, and Sophia Halperin, this Sunday as part of Litquake.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading begins at Z Space, 450 Florida St., 3 p.m. Free. 

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook
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Evan Karp

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