Daniel Handler’s Nonfiction Picks

Courtesy HarperCollins


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.
 

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate