This morning’s gym book was a Series of Unfortunate Events 12: the Penultimate Peril (Young Adult 353 pages) by Lemony Snicket.
“Dear Reader, If this is the first book you found while searching for a book to read next, then the first thing you should know is that this next-to-last book is what you should put down first. Sadly, this book presents the next-to-last chronicle of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and it is next-to-first in its supply of misery, despair, and unpleasantness. Probably the next-to-last things you would like to read about are a harpoon gun, a rooftop sunbathing salon, two mysterious initials, three unidentified triplets, a notorious villain, and an unsavory curry. Next-to-last things are the first thing to be avoided, and so allow me to recommend that you put this next-to-last book in another chronicle, or a chronicle containing other next-to-last things, so that this next-to-last book does not become the last book you will read. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”
I sometimes wonder about the history of the books I read. I picked up all of this series from used bookstores across multiple states and several of them have had notes in the front or marked pages. I wonder what the previous readers were marking, whether it was their place in the story as they had to put the book down and go to dinner or if something on that particular page spoke to them very strongly because of where they’d been or where they were currently at in their lives. This book has the name “elizabeth” written in careful print inside the front cover. I wonder what motivated Elizabeth to write her name in this book and then part ways with it at some point later. Did her family need the money for something else? Did she finish the whole story and decide she would never read them again? Does she sometimes think about this series at the strangest times and wonder whatever happened to her books from earlier in her life?
Oddly, I think it’s actually the tone and style of these particular books which has motivated my curiosity for the history of these particular books. The narrator often refers to reading and how important books are throughout these stories and the books and libraries go through a variety of experiences, sometimes damaging the books, sometimes destroying the books, and almost always having the books somehow save the day. That’s been one of the key underlying messages of this entire series so far is that research and knowledge can solve just about any concern. The concern or problem may not be solved with a happily ever after, but it will be resolved.
There were several sections of this book that I marked because of the similarity to how I view my own life. The first of these occurred on pages 14-15: “Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors where it is harder to get a splinter.” This was a really important part of this book because I am of the opinion that there are a lot of really great people out there who are living their lives in fear because it’s easier to just live in a world where you’re cut off from everything than risk getting hurt. This is especially true with interpersonal relationships because it’s easier to be online in a situation where you can just ignore someone’s existence because they hurt you instead of working to have adventures and experience life. It’s easier to hide from the world than it is to live in it and that makes me often sad because I wouldn’t trade any of the time I’ve spent with the people I care about for anything. Sure, there were days when we got lost or when we said hurtful things to each other, but there were also the times where I laughed so much that I fell off the couch or where we spent hours rock climbing or talking about life. To me, life and love is worth the risk. But there are few who are courageous in that manner in today’s modern world and perhaps that’s one of the key motives behind this series.
My thoughts from the previous paragraph then move towards how people react to instances of interpersonal miscommunications in their lives. This is from page 195: “There are some who say that you should forgive everyone, even the people who have disappointed you immeasurably. There are others who say you should not forgive anyone, and should stomp off in a huff no matter how many times they apologize. Of these two philosophies, the second one is of course much more fun, but it can also grow exhausting to storm off in a huff every time someone has disappointed you, as everyone disappoints everyone eventually, and one can’t stomp off in a huff every minute of the day.” I think this struck me so powerfully because of how many times I have attempted to apologize for the mistakes I have made throughout my time, especially in the last several years when things fell apart. I sometimes have memories of other times in my life where I would wish to now apologize to someone for the way I acted or the words I used. I realize this is foolish and something that would not mend or repair the potential damage I may have done to those people, but perhaps it might mean forgiveness for me for things I regret. Perhaps it would prove that I am actually learning and growing and becoming a better person. But the point made here, in this book, is that at some point in our lives, anyone and everyone will disappoint you and you will be a disappointment to others. The best option is to forgive them as you can and do the best you can to learn how to make better choices in your own life so that you hurt people less.
In fact, this book also discusses what you can do in these types of situation on page 190: “We can ask for justice, and we can ask for a handkerchief, and we can ask for cupcakes, and we can ask for all the soldiers in the world to lay down their weapons and join us in a rousing chorus of ‘Cry Me a River,’ if that happens to be our favorite song. But we can also ask for something we are much more likely to get, and that is to find a person or two, somewhere in our travels, who will tell us that we are noble enough, whether it is true or not. We can ask for someone who will say, ‘You are noble enough,’ and remind us of our good qualities when we have forgotten them, or cast them into doubt.” All of this is exactly true. We are all human and we will all make mistakes or disappoint someone at some point in our lives. When you are disappointed and hurt, maybe try and look at the positive actions someone you care about was attempting. Look at the world through their eyes and see if there is some way you can be supportive. Forgive them, spend time with them, and tell them they are noble enough. Hopefully, they will be those same people who will then tell you that you are noble enough when you disappoint or hurt them. Because we are each of us human.
A good portion of the last several books in this series focused on what it really means to be a villain and this book continues with that trend. On page 29: “Since their first encounter with Count Olaf, the villain’s wickedness and deception had run rampant all over the Baudelaires’ lives, and it had been very difficult for the children to keep from becoming villains themselves. In fact, when they considered all of their recent actions, they weren’t entirely sure they hadn’t performed a few acts of villainy, even if they’d had very good reasons for doing so.” The Hotel Denouement was a fascinating setting for this portion of the series because Violet, Klaus, and Sunny spent the entire novel attempting to figure out how they could tell those with noble intentions from those with villainous intentions. With the exception of Kit Snicket at the very beginning of this novel, no one is ever honest or upfront with their intentions and things that could have positive intent could have negative consequences and things with negative intent could have positive consequences. The Baudelaires had no way of telling who was working towards villainous intent and who was working towards noble intent and therefore they just did the best they could with what little and limited knowledge and skills were available to them.
By the end of the book, they have participated sometimes unknowingly in acts which caused harm to others or to noble causes. They are doing the best they can in a world which seems more and more to have the odds stacked against them.
I think this book out of a Series of Unfortunate Events is my favorite. Things are an even balance between happy times and confusing times where things go wrong. The Baudelaires are in a really sticky place but they still work to save as many people as they can, even if those people won’t necessarily listen to them. There’s a lot of good passages in here that really resonated with my own world views and how I perceive life and interpersonal relationships. I’m glad that I own this book and will continue with the rest of the books in the series. And I think I would probably rate this as a very low four or a high three on my rating scale.
Works cited: Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Penultimate Peril. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.