The Lump of Coal – Lemony Snicket, with art by Brett Helquist (2008 Harper Collins Publishers)
This tiny little gem of a book is meant for children, but, as usual, Snicket’s work is far, far more meaningful and hilarious if you’re a few decades removed from youth. This surprisingly cheerful vignette from the prince of doom and gloom concerns a walking, talking charcoal briquet in search of a holiday miracle: his place in the world, whether as an artist or as a participant in a barbeque. There are a few telling remarks about shopping malls (Snicket doesn’t like ‘em) and stepdads (Snicket doesn’t like ‘em, either), plus a really weird reference to Korean poet Yi Sang, which kids and most parents won’t understand. (And is Snicket thinking of a certain pop artist when writing about Jasper, the bratty artistic kid? I wonder). Finishing with flourishing encouragement and well wishes that don’t feel in the slightest bit trite and overdone, The Lump of Coal is certainly far more original and wonderfully strange than most of the holiday fare being offered up to kids nowadays. Don’t be eating a candy cane while reading the first few pages, though – they made me guffaw aloud in a most undignified manner.
For some biographical information about pop artist/neo-Dadaist Jasper Johns, check en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasper_Johns.
To read excerpts from Yi Sang’s poetry and obtain historical and biographical information, consult the preview of the book Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-Seon, and Choi Young-mi (translated by Yu Jung-yul and James Kimbrell) on books.google.ca. Apparently Yi Sang was an architect and employed mathematical principles and structures in some of his work. It’s challenging to read and would require hours of time and effort to properly tackle.