The Last Guru
October 8, 2014 7:25 AM   Subscribe

The plots of all of these books were basically the same: Smart, mildly misfit, possibly fat boy with lamebrain parents teams up with an unattached older male relative, meets a nutty fraudster-type, eats lots of great-sounding junk food, goes on an adventure. Locations recur, too: Chicago, Hoboken, Rochester and the invented Hogboro and Baconburg. The name MacTavish turns up a lot, as does the name Ken, as do fat people and chickens. How Pinkwater Became My Own Personal Guru
posted by latkes (28 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Not the epic Pinkwater biopic we've all been waiting for, but worth a read for the anecdote about Pinkwater's terrible car ride with Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb and Terry Gilliam.
posted by latkes at 7:27 AM on October 8, 2014

It's an OK article. Pinkwater deserves more than an OK article -- there is something really interesting going on in his books.
posted by beefetish at 7:48 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Pinkwater Podcast is a delight. Hearing Pinkwater read his own (mostly out of print) books - including The Last Guru and The Snarkout Boys - has made it impossible for me to read anything he writes without hearing his voice. Which is awesome.

Also, here is Ira Glass on Pinkwater's Ducks (also sadly out of print):

"I do a national radio show and I keep a copy of Ducks in my office thinking, that, someday, if some story drops out right before we go on the air, I can always read Ducks! to the audience. Plot: boy buys stuffed duck from a candy store. Turns out to be a real duck. That talks. The duck tells the boy to make a wish. Then tells him what to wish for. Namely, a big chariot with lots of cool looking stones and a really neat paint job. He wishes for it. The sky opens. Two big ducks bring him the chariot. The story continues through other twists and turns. At one point, the Duck takes the boy to a place where there's fleecy clouds and ducks everywhere. The boy asks where they are. "Heaven." says the duck. "Doesn't look like heaven to me," says the kid. "For one thing, everyone here looks like a duck except me." The duck looks him over. "You look like a duck to me." The parents in the story are always telling the kid "Don't ducks usually lie?" At one point, the kid says something to the duck and the duck asks, "where you ever hear that?" And the kid says he heard it from his parents and the duck says "Parents usually lie." Remember, this is a kids book. What other kids book includes THAT sentence? I mean, a real kids book, wiht pictures, a picture book. I found a copy in a used book store. No one comes to my home without eventually reading it, or having me read it to them. This book is a national treasure. But a hidden one. Find your copy. Do whatever it takes. You won't be sorry."
posted by Mchelly at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

Pinkwater books are available digitally, now! I have the Snarkout boys on my Kindle app.

Pinkwater definitely gave me a love of absurd adventure that I've longed for the rest of my life. It has definitely led me to interesting places.
posted by Brainy at 8:00 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in a band called the Snarkouts. This is a slightly embarrassing fact. But I admit that here only because I love Daniel Pinkwater so much still. Those books were guiding lights for me even through my 20s and I can't wait to read them with my own kids. Also, despite what this articles says used copies of his books are widely available on Amazon and everyone should get em.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:01 AM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pinkwater saved my life. I read him at a very difficult time. 'Nuff said.
posted by No Robots at 8:11 AM on October 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Any recommendations about where to start? It looks like the podcast is a good call, but which book?
posted by crazy with stars at 8:21 AM on October 8, 2014

Oh, man, I grew up on Pinkwater. Tooth-Gnasher Superflash, a brilliantly watercolored illustrated kids book about a family that test-drives the best car ever was one of the first books my parents ever read me. Fat Men From Outer Space, Lizard Music, the Snarkout Boys, Alan Mendelson, even Young Adult Novel (which I should re-read... I suspect it will have aged very well) - they're all like warm milk for my soul.

I had no clue he had a podcast, I've gotta check that out.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:27 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I had one of his books as a kid, something like Five Stories?, and read it over and over and over. The Snarkout Boys story, in particular, I found incredibly captivating and really made me feel like there was excitement and mystery waiting out there in the world (instead of just algebra tests and bus bullies).
posted by threeants at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

threeants: you're talking about Five Novels, which is a great collection of some of his most popular previously published work. He also later published Four Books, which consisted of sequels to four of the novels from Five Novels. I always thought that was a neat conceit for a collection.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:36 AM on October 8, 2014

I would recommend against bingeing through his stuff all at once. It's all fabulous, but it's so much of a piece that you might get tired after a while.

That said, I don't think he's written a bad book. For younger readers, Blue Moose is a favorite, or Fat Men from Space. Lizard Music is compelling and confounding. The Hoboken Chicken Emergency is hilarious. The Neddiad and The Iggessy are newish, and just as good.

Read it all, just pace yourself.
posted by rikschell at 8:38 AM on October 8, 2014

I not too long ago read a book that was explicitly meant to be in the tradition of Pinkwater, and I found it so absurdly misanthropic that it seemed to border on psychopathy. It ended with the boy protagonist finally winning the ability to remove himself from humanity entirely and live out the rest of his now-manifested immortality in that most desirable of conditions: Utter and perfect solitude.

So that didn't give me a great feeling about Pinkwater, but maybe this book gave a bad accounting of its source material.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2014

Pinkwater can have a misanthropic streak (especially in his high school based books), but the message is always that there's amazing stuff just around the corner, and there's always an opportunity to break out of the doldrums of daily life. It sounds like whoever wrote that one completely and totally missed the point.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:46 AM on October 8, 2014

Any recommendations about where to start? It looks like the podcast is a good call, but which book?

Borgel was my introduction to Pinkwater, and I think it's a good one.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:56 AM on October 8, 2014

My favorite from childhood is Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario. I'm pretty sure it was formative in some good ways for my developing brain.
posted by Drastic at 8:58 AM on October 8, 2014

Lizard Music is my favorite book from when I was a boy. A kid who stays up all night tuning in weird and distant stations on his television while his parents are away? Oh that is so me.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:21 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I loved his book of short biographical essays, Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights. It talks about him growing up and his evolution from a frustrated artist to a writer of kid's books. And it's loaded with funny animal stories.

The illustration for Chapter 17
of The Neddiad was enough to make me buy it on the spot. Was not disappointed.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 9:29 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sokka - I just reread a boatload of Pinkwater, and I would say that book you read with immortal solitude kid is basically the opposite of what goes in in his books. He's kind of surprisingly not misanthropic.
posted by beefetish at 10:04 AM on October 8, 2014

I always loved Lizard Music too. The summary quoted in the FPP perfectly describes it too.
posted by zachlipton at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2014

I just counted and can say with certainty I've read 42 of his books. There were a number on his bibliography I couldn't remember one way or another (Warewolf club #3?) but even taking into account that a bunch of these are short picture books, I've read more of his work than any other author. He's probably the fundamental influence on my life, and the reason I love walking through old neighborhoods, talking to strangers, eating new foods, root beer, chickens, fucking with authority figures, and fat positivity. He probably influenced me in my fairly-shortly-lived meditation practice and he got me to keep trying avocados even though I thought they were gross as a kid. He helped me believe that there are secret underground parallel worlds and universes, visible and invisible, that can be accessed through spiritual exploration or simply through a bus ride to a different neighborhood, and I think that right there is key to my whole world-view and sanity. I feel I owe him.

One of the great pleasures of parenting has been introducing my daughter to him, and we've been re-listening to his reading of Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars on the website over the last couple weeks, which is a delight.
posted by latkes at 10:46 AM on October 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yay, Pinkwater thread!

The first Pinkwater book I read was The Worms of Kukemlima. It has many of elements Pinkwater fans love and expect (kooky geriatric uncles, funny names, borderline-fraudsters and (possible) aliens. I read it when I was about nine, and re-read it this summer. It was good memory candy, and a fun read.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars is probably my favorite. It's a really good example of that adventure-is-just-around-the-corner, extraordinary-things-can-happen-anywhere Pinkwater awesomeness. It's also got lots of food, hangouts with weird names (The Bermuda Triangle Chili Parlor) and eccentric old people (I'm pretty sure the protagonist's grandparents were called "Grandfather and the Old One". They were raw-food enthusiasts and shared an apartment with . . . uncle Boris maybe?).

(My handle, incidentally, is from The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death.)
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:30 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

He helped me believe that there are secret underground parallel worlds and universes, visible and invisible, that can be accessed through spiritual exploration or simply through a bus ride to a different neighborhood, and I think that right there is key to my whole world-view and sanity. I feel I owe him.

Me too -- not least, I now gather, for the amazing originality and unearthly strangeness of your posts and comments, a number of which I have spent hour upon hour and then again hours thinking about.
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

My boys enjoyed Blue Moose recently.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 12:50 PM on October 8, 2014

I love Pinkwater so much. My first was "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death" and it is still my favorite. I was lucky enough to just see it on a shelf in the Hood River library during the loneliest winter of my existence. It made everything better.

My favorite character in that book (and there are many) is Winston Bongo's father. My father was the same about avocados (and tomatoes) and would make my brothers and I gather around to look at one. "Look at that, just look at that, what a beautiful avocado! Have you ever seen something so wonderful?"

I would recommend starting with "The Hoboken Chicken Emergency" but it doesn't really matter, I don't think.

I am so bummed that after 25 years of fandom that I completely spaced trying to go on a Pinkwater-centric tour of Chicago on my only visit there. I guess I'll have to go back.
posted by Duffington at 2:15 PM on October 8, 2014

I could go on and on but really, the best thing you could do is just read more Pinkwater. I've found pretty much whatever time I've spent on profitable... and the full-book audio archives of the books read aloud in the Podcast is an amazing gift. Plus if you ask a question at The Forum he'll usually answer! He seems pretty sick of hot dog questions at this point however.

The growing library of $2.99 DRM-free Kindle books are uniformly worth thrice the price and include his two books of essays mostly derived from his NPR pieces (Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights and Fish Whistle) and his novel for adults, The Afterlife Diet - all of which are well worth a read.
posted by nanojath at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2014

Lizard Music!
posted by Peach at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2014

Gotta post here for those who loved Young Adult Novel's teaser sequel, "Dada ducks go to collitch." Username source twinsies, Flipping!

Basically, Pinkwater forever.
posted by holyrood at 8:24 PM on October 8, 2014

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars was one of those things that my now-spouse and I first bonded over early in our friendship.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:38 AM on October 9, 2014

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