For a special section in our May/June issue, we asked some of our favorite writers about their favorite nonfiction books. Here are Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler‘s answers:
Mother Jones: Which nonfiction book do you foist upon all of your friends and relatives? Why?
Daniel Handler: Lately I’ve been giving people How To Cure A Fanatic by Amos Oz, a thoughtful, optimistic, and witty treatise on solving problems in the Middle East. It’s an inspirational read not only on the current situation but on any situation that might seem to be without hope. Also, it’s short, and I believe if one is foisting books they ought to be easily foistable.
MJ: Which nonfiction book have you reread the most times? What’s so good about it?
DH: Joan Didion’s book on California, Where I Was From, I find endlessly fascinating. But then again I’m a native Californian and thus grew up under the myth that I have no history, so I’m particularly hungry for books that overturn such illusions.
MJ: Is there a nonfiction book that someone recommended to you when you were a kid that has left a lasting impression? Who recommended it, and why was it so special?
DH: My cousin Ben gave me Witness To Our Time, a collection of documentary photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt, for my bar mitzvah, and it introduced me to a vast European and American history in a way that I never would have encountered it. It’s still a book I page through, and I’ve always been grateful to Ben (hi, Ben!) for the gift.
MJ: Are there any books of music writing of which you are particularly fond? What do you think makes for good nonfiction music writing?
DH: There is hardly any good music writing at all. Alex Ross, the classical music critic for The New Yorker, is an exception, and his book The Rest Is Noise is a wonderful book, although an expensive one as anyone who reads it will go out and purchase loads and loads of classical recordings. Recently I read John Darnielle‘s book on Black Sabbath, which is also fascinating, although the case for it being nonfiction is a slim one.