Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars



The time had come for me to re-read Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars. I first read this book when I was nine years old and as an adult, I tend to go back and read it every two or three years. I've always enjoyed the story and it holds up pretty well, even after all these years. It's also sort of been influential. There is a minor character in the novel, The Mad Guru, whose name I adopted as my online presence.

The story is told by Leonard Neeble, a short, portly kid with glasses whose family has just moved to the neighborhood of West Kangaroo Park. He attends Bat Masterson Junior High School where all the kids seem to be tall, tan and don't wear glasses. Leonard doesn't fit in and struggles with school as a result.

One day a new kid starts school there, Alan Mendelsohn, who is also "uncool". Mendelsohn is from the Bronx and the two become friends.

Leonard starts to see a psychiatrist who recommends he takes some time off from school. Alan starts a riot which results in him being suspended. The pair use their time off from school to go into Hogboro to look for comic books. They encounter Samuel Klugarsh, a purveyor of books on the occult. He convinces the boys to purchase a course in mind control. They take the course home and learn how to control the actions of others. The only thing they seem to be able to get anyone to do, though, is to make them take off their hats and rub their bellies (with an occasional dance).

Bored, they return to Klugarsh and trade the course in for one on Hyperstellar Archeology, which involves the study of lost civilizations like Atlantis and Waka-Waka. The course comes with Yojimbo's Japanese-English Dictionary and seems like complete nonsense. It tells how there are chickens as smart as Einstein and that packaged pudding can be turned into a deadly explosive with the addition of an unnamed substance found in most households. The pair make fun of the course until it mentions them by name, saying one day they will read about the lost civilizations.

They meet up with Klugarsh at the Bermuda Triangle Chili Parlor where a member of a biker gang there having chili exposes himself as none other than Clarence Yojimbo, a Venusian man and author of the aforementioned Dictionary. He tells them that Klugarsh has everything mixed up and gives them the true key to reaching "lost civilizations", one of which they travel to and save from a trio of Nafsulian pirates.

I love this story. It's a lot of fun and very clever. The original isn't easy to find. But Pinkwater released a book of five of his novels, including Alan Mendelsohn, which is what I read. I did not read all of the stories in there. I find Pinkwater to be uneven in his writings. The Last Guru, which is in Five Novels, also is good. I couldn't finish Slaves of Spiegel and didn't feel like reading the other two stories in Five Novels. My other favorite Pinkwater title is Lizard Music. Not quite as enjoyable as Alan Mendelsohn but a good one, nonetheless.

Some of you might recognize Pinkwater as he sometimes appears on National Public Radio as a commentator. He still writes children's novels. If you're looking for something off the beaten path for youngsters, check him out.

Training update: Nice easy day today. It was mild and raining, too, my favorite kind of weather. Short quick workout. Went out to the barn, opened up all the doors so I could listen to and feel the rain come down and have the wind blow through. Did a quick leg warmup and then knocked out 30 reps of 225 pound back squats. Nice burn in the quads. Quick cool down and strolled back to the house in the rain. If working out were this easy and enjoyable, everyone would do it.

The moral of the story today is utilize your environment to your advantage. Knowing it was a quick workout, I wanted to get it done in the morning while it was raining. If I had waited until the afternoon, it might have stopped raining. When you're enjoying the pitter patter of rain, it makes the weight less noticeable.

2 comments:

Mark A. said...

Thanks for sharing. Three of my favorite books that I read in my wee days are:

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield

The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier

I've read each of them multiple times and they transport me to a simpler day.

Anonymous said...

In the 5 novels collection, try The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death. Great story, I just re-read with my 9yo. Lizard Music is my fave, but Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars also made an indelible impact on me in my youth. Its been a pleasure re-reading the Pinkwater of my youth with my kids.

-jp