Lemony Snicket Rallies Authors to Support the Tattered Cover

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Lemony Snicket, a.k.a Daniel Handler.

"Support shameless purchasing of questionable books!" says Lemony Snicket, in the upcoming newsletter from A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books. The San Francisco bookstore is helping Snicket organize "Be Seen Buying Books," a benefit for the Tattered Cover, the Denver bookstore embroiled in a legal battle to keep customers' sales records private.

Lemony Snicket, a.k.a. Daniel Handler, is the intriguing author of books loved by children and grown-ups--and now he's a public advocate for the First Amendment.

Handler has enlisted several authors, including Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Picador) and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Vintage), to appear at the event. Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) said, "We are extremely grateful to these authors. They are not only helping us raise money--they are building support for the continuing fight to protect customer privacy in bookstores."

Wendy Sheanin, events and promotions coordinator at A Clean Well-Lighted Place, told BTW that the January 11 benefit is Handler's "brainchild," and he is in charge of the program. She said that Handler has contacted photographers, who will be on hand to take Polaroid photographs of attendees with the authors. Proceeds from "Be Seen Buying Books" will go to the Tattered Cover Legal Defense Fund. For more information about the event, interested parties should call (415) 441-6670.

BTW recently interviewed Daniel Handler.

BTW: What prompted you to organize a fund-raiser for the Tattered Cover Bookstore? Why is the bookstore's case important to you?

DH: I first read about the case in the New York Times and was horrified that somebody was bothering one of my favorite bookstores behind my back. Also, any attack on the First Amendment gives me a spitting-mad case of the heebie-jeebies.

BTW: How did you select and arrange a location for the fundraiser?

DH: I was stopping by A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books to buy the new Alice Munro, and it hit me that the sort of event I had in mind would be best held at another independent bookstore to attain the appropriate we're-all-in-this-together spirit. The good folks there understood immediately, and, within a few days, we had the whole thing thrown together.

BTW: What will you be reading and what other writers are participating in the event? How did you drum up support for the fund-raiser?

DH: I called up writers I knew, or could otherwise get a hold of, who struck me as likely candidates. The word spread from there, and eventually we had to stop inviting people because there wouldn't be any room for customers. The response was overwhelming. Most writers had been to the Tattered Cover and love it as I do, and their immediate reaction was "What can I do to help?" The rest saw, rightly, that if you're a writer you want to defend the First Amendment the way you'd want to protect your desk: You need it for the work you do.

The confirmed participants include Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, Dorothy Allison, Susie Bright, J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh, Ayelet Waldman, Louise Rafkin, Caroline Paul, Laura Fraser, Sylvia Brownrigg, Gail Tsukiyama, and me. Others are hurriedly trying to clear their schedules, find babysitters, gather courage, etc. In support of the very kind of privacy that we're defending here, I won't name the writers who elected not to participate.

BTW: Do you think authors should publicly support causes in which they believe?

DH: Yep.

BTW: What would you like your readers to think of your involvement with this fund-raiser for the Tattered Cover?

DH: Lately people have been saying "I never realized you were a political writer," but I don't think this issue is merely for Molly Ivins or Noam Chomsky. Perhaps a nice side effect of this event is that readers will think about the importance of a diverse community of writers at a time when many politicians are calling for unwavering unity.

The writers participating in "Be Seen Buying Books" are all over the map--children's illustrators, memoirists, literary novelists, activists--but the Tattered Cover and the trouble it's going through are enough to bring them together to stand up for their divergent crafts rather than allow them to be threatened. On January 11th, even Lemony Snicket will be a political writer.

-Interviewed by Molly Sackler