Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The bizarre but gentle world of Daniel Pinkwater

 Daniel Pinkwater was one of my favorite childhood authors, if not my flat out favorite. While I sometimes wonder if the world has forgotten him but he’s not just still kicking but writing so maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd. 

I’ve found his books to be gently bizarre with insights into isolation and figuring out who you are. Which is pretty important when you’re writing books for kids and young adults. He also has the weirdest titles. His books are strange but the titles are even crazier. 

Case in point, I decided to reread The Snarkoit Boys and the Avocado of Death. While the book features a mad scientist who specializes in avocados, a master criminal obsessed with orangutans and the triumphant return of the chicken man from Lizard Music, the story is still more grounded than the title would suggest. Pinkwater’s fantastic elements have a dingy quality, like Star Wars’ used future look.

Mind you, reading the book as an adult is a different experience. For one thing, I now realize the title is a tribute to the b-movies the characters watch :D

There are some elements that wouldn’t do too well these days. An anti-Semite English teacher being played for laughs definitely stands out. (Although I understand that Pinkwater, himself Jewish, revisits the idea in a more serious book, making me wonder if it’s autobiographical) Not to mention the core concept of teenagers sneaking out of the house to go to an all night movie house. That isn’t as cool as it was in the early 80s.

The other thing that struck me is how urban the book is. While that isn’t uncommon now, it seems like we had decades of children’s books that were set in the country-side during the first chunk of the 20th century. I blame Mark Twain, personally. But a big theme of the book is the characters learning about the eccentric parts of their city, which is based on Chicago.

It is obvious is retrospect but just about every book Daniel Pinkwater wrote that I can think of is about self-discovery. He’s very gentle and exceedingly bizarre in how he goes about it so I’m not surprised I did t always get it when I was young.

Revisiting Daniel Pinkwater with his insight into being a social outcast and how to learn to belong, not to mention the quirkiness of people in general, I can’t help but wonder if he’s always been ahead of his time.

As I mentioned at the start, I’m not sure how much Daniel Pinkwater is still read. (Probably a lot more than I know) However, I think he was and still is very relevant.

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