Profile of Daniel Pinkwater, "Pynchon for kids"



Wingman is the only Pinkwater book I have not enjoyed (or been severely modified by, as Cory attested to as well).

I also haven’t read it in 30 years; maybe “it” has changed (you know, the way your parents change when you return from college).

The Polish-speaker seemed to understand what Philip was saying, but he looked like he wasn’t sure exactly what language he was saying it in.

This perfectly describes how Pinkwater’s books seemed to me as a kid. I tried to read Lizard Music, which was featured on the PBS program Cover To Cover, but I was so baffled by it I didn’t finish it until about thirty years later. I checked out The Hoboken Chicken Emergency from the library intending to read it, but never even opened the over.

Then my mother gave me The Magic Moscow for Christmas, and I finally got it. This wasn’t setup+punchline humor, but I understood that Pinkwater’s books were funny. And unlike so many books that had been pushed on me there wasn’t a moral or message. I’ve read many more of Pinkwater’s books since then, but that one will always be my favorite.

I’ve never even started a Pinkwater book, but I have to admit that I was charmed when he called into NPR’s Car Talk when Tom and Ray were bagging on the New Beetle to tell them that, basically, it was a car for people of girth.


I “discovered” D. Manus Pinkwater when I was still in High School, circa 1979 or so, while working as a book-shelver in the local library. I read Wingman when pretending to work in the kids’ section, and later borrowed others as they came out.

Before the Pinkwaters moved upstate, they kept their horses in a little stable next to the train tracks in Huntington, LI. Before I learned this fact from one of his books, I had seen them and their ponies while riding the LIRR train out to Stony Brook. It was kind of surreal when I read the book (Fishwhistle?) and put two and two together.

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One of my favorite Car Talk moments. In that conversation I recognized the same quirky sense of humor I find in Pinkwater’s books.

If you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend the audio book of Pinkwater’s essay collection, Fishwhistle. Most of the stories were originally aired on NPR maybe 25 years ago.

Most are funny, a few are sad and touching (dogs), some insightful and angry.


I listened to a bunch of the stuff from his podcast recently. I enjoyed the collection of commentaries and the Wild Dada Ducks, but not much else.

Pinkwater has been my personal guru ever since I read Lizard Music as a tadpole and saw all the weirdness that was missing from the Hardy Boys books my teachers were trying to get me to read. I devoured everything in the library and, 30-some years later, am still snatching up his books when they appear.

Even after reading pretty much everything he’s written, this profile still had revelations for me. I had no idea he wasn’t named Daniel until a guru recommended it.

The author’s memory of the buttery potatoes at Beanbender’s is one that stuck with me all through my childhood, as well.

I hope Pinkwater gets to wrap up the Dark Tower -esque climax he seems to be building to in these last four books he’s written; it makes me sad that he may not be publishing anymore. Maybe this profile piece will help his exposure.

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I tried Lizard Music after reading about Pinkwater on BoingBoing. I liked it, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Which of his books would you recommend if I want to give it another try?

From the article:

the Scottish rabbi

I’m trying to imagine the accent.

The Last Guru
Alan Mendolsohn, the Boy from Mars
Young Adults
The Muffin Fiend


Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death

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