A Bookseller's Blog: Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

The pros and cons of loving the one you’re with

Few people are immune to temptation, least of all me.

Actually, that’s not true: I’m usually loyal to my books, regardless of length, subject matter or how much I actually enjoy them. I’ve mucked through some mediocre stories, from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to The Lady Matador’s Hotel, on the principle that every book I start deserves to be read all the way through to the end without exception and with full dedication each and every time, no matter what, period. These past few years especially, I was a Cover-To-Cover man.

Then Audrey showed up.

Here’s what happened: I heard about Nicholson Baker and I thought I’d try some of his stuff. I read The Mezzanine, his first novel and a quirky one at that, and liked it. Long sentences, yes; humorous and touching observations, yes; passionate attention to extensive tangential detail, that too. But the book had personality: it stood out, it made me smile, and it rocked footnotes eight years before David Foster Wallace made them cool. So I picked up his second novel, Room Temperature. No footnotes, but its style is much the same: acute detail, lots of asides, and obsessive documentation. And I would have gone on reading it, regretting the syntax but forcing myself along …

… if it weren’t for Audrey.

Audrey (Big Audrey as she’s known in L.A.) is the protagonist of Daniel Pinkwater’s Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. Audrey is, in her own words, “a nice-looking girl with lovely whiskers.” She comes from another plane of existence (explained in chapter one), is friends with characters from Pinkwater’s other books (mentioned in chapter two), and travels with Marlon Brando to NYC until she can’t stand him any longer and leaves for Poughkeepsie (detailed in chapter three).

Blame it on my love of randomness, call me a guzzler of creativity, group me with the Sesame Street generation – I don’t care. When a great book struts its stuff right in your face, showing off its easy sentences, rich imagination, and its many compelling characters, you don’t think twice: you go for it.

Am I wrong in my thinking? Is it unfair to ditch the partially begun book in favor of a suddenly more appealing one? I can’t be the only person who fantasizes about other novels, even while my bookmark is in the first one. Surely life’s too short for bad books.

But Room Temperature (at least through chapter four) isn’t bad at all. It’s quirky, generally plotless, and its syntax is noticeably plump. But these qualities aren’t reason enough for me to abandon it. It deserves attention, dedication … I will read it … eventually …

Yet even now, I think back to my fling with Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. I can only compare it to A Wrinkle in Time or The Phantom Tollbooth, and like L’Engle’s and Juster’s masterpieces, it brilliantly caters to the fresh minds of younger readers and the experienced minds of older readers. Pinkwater is very smart but also very respectful, he has bountiful creativity and can communicate clearly. Not all adult authors can boast this: the Joyce and Garcia novels that I mentioned earlier are each missing these virtues. Not Pinkwater, baby: his story feels both crafted and spontaneous; his every chapter is a delight.

In the end, I’ll always think highly of Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. It entered my life, it lifted my spirits in a big way: it deserves full praise. Room Temperature is just a small hiccup in an otherwise steady reading schedule. I’ll finish it, and then read Baker’s next book, and so on, and it’ll all work out smoothly. Unless … hmmm, those Pablo Neruda poems sure look nice …

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Alana Dill April 26, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I LOVE PINKWATER. Does Victor from Lizard Music show up? Or maybe Reynold? Or the Chicken Man? What, you haven't read Lizard Music? One of my favorite books EVER.
Alana Dill April 26, 2012 at 11:18 PM
And honestly, don't waste time with books that don't really grab you. When the reader is ready, the book appears. I've tried to slog through Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance at least 5 times and I still haven't figured out what a Chataqua (sp?) is. And while I've read LOTR at least 19 times... some of my best friends can't make it past the first 3 chapters.
Benjamin Kahane April 27, 2012 at 04:03 AM
PINKWATER RULES! I suppose he always has - but now I know it too! This one was my very first of his, but I DO have a copy of Lizard Music waiting at home, and I'm all the more eager to read it! I don't believe there was a Victor or Reynold in the book. And while the Chicken Man was not there, you will meet Chicken Nancy! Remember, there's a lot going on with different planes of existence, and different versions of people ... ; )
Benjamin Kahane April 27, 2012 at 04:05 AM
You're absolutely right - any book requires the right mood, and will not allow anything else. Case in point? I read The Hobbit at a very young age and LOVED it, but barely got TWO chapters into The Fellowship of the Ring. The year before last, I finally give the trilogy another shot. And wouldn't you know - it blew my mind, it was so good! : )
Benjamin Kahane April 27, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Also also! I realize in hindsight that I made no mention of Calef Brown's charming chapter illustrations and his beautiful work on the cover. My forgetfulness is criminal - his drawings shape the characters, and add to the tone of the book in a vital way.
Jennifer McGaffey April 27, 2012 at 07:35 AM
I'm always reading more than one book. Usually one or two relatively light fiction, maybe another as an ebook (which goes much slower, since I tend to read those when I have a few minutes of waiting-for-something time), and one relatively dense, usually non-fiction. The dense books I'll slog through, because I always learn something even if I don't enjoy the reading; the light stuff...I'll abandon one (not permanently! I keep telling myself that...) if the story (writing/characters/situation) is uninteresting or just plain bad. Some I'll force myself through, just so I can then get _rid_ of that book and not have it hanging around waiting for me; some wait months or years until I'm in the right mood to try them again (and then I usually have to start from the beginning). And, of course, some I whiz through and adore. I've recently been sharply limiting my re-reads, because those don't deal with my backlog of books to be read...but they keep popping up as "the right thing to read in this mood". Sigh. I've read something by Pinkwater...or I have something in my TBR pile. Nope, not in my pile (I catalog my books on LibraryThing.com, and I don't have anything by him listed). It must have been a recommendation; I've definitely got good feelings toward his books, without remembering ever having actually read one. So I need to hunt a few down, now...
Corey April 27, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Another great Pinkwater for the younger crowd - Fat Men From Space. He knew about the evils of fast food way before it became popular to watch your consumption!
Benjamin Kahane April 28, 2012 at 12:09 AM
That's it exactly! :D suiting the book to the mood, and vice versa ... it's imperative! And I know I can relate - it's scary, how many unread books I had lying around, waiting for their "someday" to show up. Rereads can be tricky (especially for backloggers like ourselves!), but are almost always worthwhile. I did a Year of Rereading back in 2010, and it was an incredible experience: I relished the books I'd been "meaning" to reread for a while, and I rediscovered a love for books I'd forgotten since my childhood. And YES you need to hunt down a few of them! Or at least one of them: THIS ONE! ^___^
Benjamin Kahane April 28, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Sounds fascinating, plus another wild title - I shall be sure to track it down! ^_^
Mark Irons April 30, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Ben, I'm certain I've heard Pinkwater review kids books on NPR, but I haven't read his stuff. I thought he had even authored some kids books. Am I wrong about that? You mentioned Phantom Tollbooth which was ostensibly for kids . Can you make other Pinkwater comparisons for the less well read? For some reason Tom Robbins (who I've also not read) comes to mind. I was a TV baby of the first order and didn't read any fiction until Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle when I was 14. I now read a lot of non-fiction, but once a year I'll get lost in some 800 page novel like Wally Lamb or Franzen. I know better than to pick up James Joyce.
Corey April 30, 2012 at 11:32 PM
He's written quite a few children's books! Younger (beginning chapters) - Hoboken Chicken Emergency Fat Men from Space The Magic Moscow Ned Feldman, Space Pirate Mush, a Dog from Space Older children (5th grade and up) - Lizard Music The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death Picture books & easy readers - Spaceburger Wempires Young Larry Two Bears and lots more!
Benjamin Kahane May 01, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I sympathize - I've made the mistake of underestimating Joyce, three times in a row. Not my brightest moments! This morning, I can't come up with any other Pinkwater comparisons, so I'll just contrast him against those other authors: his language isn't as exotic as Tom Robbins' (as it was in Fierce Invalids, which I loved) ... his tone isn't as cynical as Kurt Vonnegut's (as it was in Cat's Cradle, which I loved). ... it's just very mellow and straightforward, as if Hemingway wrote about kitties and UFOs. Maybe! And man, I just LOVE getting lost in 800 page novels ... next year, I'll be doing that almost exclusively ...
Benjamin Kahane May 01, 2012 at 03:37 PM
More recently, he "masterminded" a marvelous book called His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, which brilliantly unites the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear with the gorgeous illustration of Calef Brown (who, again, illustrated Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl). The collection has Edward Lear's most famous nonsense limerick, "The Owl and the Pussycat," as well as "The Jumblies," a personal favorite of mine first encountered with Edward Gorey's illustration. ... yes, the man is most certainly prolific. We could call him the Joyce Carol Oates of kids literature!


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