Saturday, November 16, 2013
Bushman Lives! Review
Book talk: Have you ever played a musical instrument? Are you musically talented? Harold Knishke isn't. He is terrible in fact. So terrible that one summer day his flute teacher asks him to quit, and even offers to buy his instrument off him. With money in his pocket and new-found free time Harold hits the streets of Chicago in search of some entertainment. He ends up at the Art Institute where he decides to become an artist. Chicago in the 1960's is an exciting time for aspiring artists and Harold soon blends in with the beatnik crowd where he learns that not everyone is as crazy as they first seem, and some are even crazier.
Rocks my socks: This book is full of a wonderful, dry humor and a strong absurdist sensibility. Harold wanders around Chicago running into one bizarre character after another. They're not entirely realistic but they are highly entertaining and they teach him real lessons in art and acceptance. To get a sense of the playful tone of the novel, read this excerpt from a book that Harold receives entitled Modern Art, An Invention of the Devil?:
"The reader will no doubt be aware that the Impressionists were nothing but a bunch of unwashed wine-swilling Frenchmen who sat around in cafes or pursued dirty women at the end of the nineteenth century...The activities of these parasites and degenerates give rise to Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Pointillism, Constructivism, Orphism, Surrealism, Dada, and also Impossibleism, Supersurrealism, Dynamic Double-Dog Realism, Ishkabibbleism, and Mama, which is like Dada only nicer."
Of course our protagonist Harold soon sees that the author "was a raving lunatic and a nutbar. But that did not mean it was not a useful book." Indeed Harold learns many things from people who fit that description. The idea that everyone has something to teach you is an important theme in the novel, and Pinkwater shows that in the most delightful way. On a more personal note, the Gorilla has long been my favorite animal, so I appreciated the sympathetic view of them in the novel.
Rocks in my socks: There wasn't much of a story arc. It felt like the narrative just meandered along the streets of Chicago with Harold and then, eventually got tired and stopped. Even though this annoyed me a bit it matched the tone of the story well.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of comedy and art 7th grade and up who are willing to suspend disbelief. A lot of the novel doesn't exactly make sense so if that would bother you, then this is not the book you are looking for. But if you're willing to follow Harold's lead and just accept things as they come then you're in for an entertaining and ultimately touching ride.
Daniel Pinkwater has a website with photos, podcasts, and more
Here's a video of Bushman's remains in the Field Museum:
And here's a more recent video from the Licoln Park Zoo with baby gorillas (because baby gorillas!)
Source: school library
Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater: buy it or check it out today!