Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #345: 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket & Lisa Brown

Lemony Snicket is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and then double-dipped in bitter chocolate.

Well, not really: he's just the pseudonym that Daniel Handler uses when writing for audiences not yet old enough to vote. But it's funnier the other way.

Snicket has written one long series of novels for pre-adults -- A Series of Unfortunate Events, in thirteen volumes, which I recommend to all fans of Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson-- and is in the middle of a second, somewhat shorter one. He's also emitted a number of smaller, weirder picture books ostensibly for younger children, like The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming and The Composer Is Dead, proving that the picture-books world is very forgiving of whimsy and oddities when their author is famous and his audience indulgent.

But he has topped even his own previous heights with this year's small picture book, 229 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy, which is also gamely illustrated by Lisa Brown.

These are not myths about the Swinster Pharmacy, or myths concerning it, or even myths told in the Swinster Pharmacy. No, these myths are on that building. Except that nothing in this book fits any reasonable definition of a myth to begin with -- some of them are factual statements, some of them are questions, and a few are Zen koan-like thoughts.

Two children examine that place of business, in twenty-nine numbered entries. (The first is "We are very curious about the Swinster Pharmacy. We travelled all the way from the next town to find out what it sells.") They are engrossed in details that do not seem particularly outre or suspicious, in the way that children often manufacture mysteries to entertain themselves. They want to know the secrets of the Swinster Pharmacy.

That's the whole of the book: it's short and sparse and implies more than it says, like a good poem or a picture book should. Brown's illustrations are homey and familiar in a mid-twentieth century kids-book style, looking like a book someone my age or a bit older would vaguely remember from our youth. And that is perfect for the riddle embedded in a conundrum that is this book.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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