Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights by Daniel Pinkwater

For four years in the late '80s -- and apparently never again, alas! -- the novelist Daniel Pinkwater, best known for his magnificent books for people shorter and smarter than mere adults, did commentaries for the NPR show "All Things Considered." The first two years of commentaries, mostly miscellaneous, were collected in Fish Whistle.

And then, in 1991, the back half of his NPR work turned into Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights, the closest thing to an autobiography that Pinkwater has yet given us.

I read both of those books back in the early '90s, since I'm a Pinkwater fan from way back and I had the full panoply of the publishing industry behind me at that time to find books I expected to like and the energy to gather as many of them to me as I physically could. (I had a flood in 2011 that destroyed something like ten thousand books, and I'm older, out of publishing and more tired now, so I'm no longer in that mode.) I re-read Fish Whistle last year, semi-randomly, because that's what you do with books you remember loving. So, of course, that meant I got back to Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights this year.

It's a slim book, barely 160 pages. And it's made up of many small parts, each one originally a separate short spoken piece on the radio. So it's a mosaic rather than a narrative, a view of the life of the young Pinkwater from dozens of different perspectives -- as a teenager, as a young man trying to make art, and just a bit of the slightly older man who started writing books for kids (mostly, as he tells it, because his pictures were of interest to an editor of childrens' books, and they needed some text to go with them).

I don't think you need to know Pinkwater to enjoy Chicago/Hoboken -- he's a wonderful storyteller, and has had an interesting, quirky life to draw material from. I still have hope that he'll write something more conventionally like an autobiography -- or just tell enough different stories of his life to fill another book -- but this one exists, and that's a happy thing.

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