Today’s topic is one i’ve wanted to write about for some time now, and yet i’ve also avoided writing about him. Tom Robbins is, by far, my favorite author, and his books set me on the path that led to where I am today. I don’t mean that in a general, gee i’m a devoted fan of the guy way, I really would not be living in New Zealand if it weren’t for Tom Robbins. Well, his books anyway. I’ll explain that as I go along.
His books are magic. Never have I encountered another author who writes the way he does. He breaks many of the rules of what great writing should be. He uses many adverbs and adjectives, he’s given to run on sentences and flights of fancy that would produce pure drivel coming from a lesser writer, and he gets away with it. The only other author that comes close to his style is one that I suspect he was influenced by, and that’s Kurt Vonnegut. Which is not to say that their works are similar at all, merely that they both have a unique style that flies in the face of the usual conventions of writing.
Since his first novel appeared in 1971, he has written just eight in total. In addition he wrote a collection of non-fiction essays, reviews, and short stories called Wild Ducks Flying Backwards. He has a new book coming out next month titled B Is For Beer, which is apparently a riff on beer, or beer as a platform for more of Tom’s flights of fancy. We’ll know soon enough. I suspect it’s not another novel, which will be disappointing for many of his fans. Wild Ducks Flying Backwards was not well received by many for that very reason.
At any rate, getting back to that first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, it was that very same book, in that very same year that set me on the path that got me to where I am now. I was managing a used bookstore in San Francisco, and one day a box of books came in for trade. Among the paperbacks on offer was a dog-eared copy of Another Roadside Attraction. I wondered why such a new book was so well thumbed, so on my break I sat down and started reading it. I was hooked.
Here was a new author with a unique voice that spoke to me on many levels. As it turned out, I was to become one of millions of devoted fans. His second novel didn’t come out until 1976, and I bought it and devoured it the minute it hit the bookshops. Then my life got complicated and I lost track of Tom until 1980. I was riding in the back of a pickup truck with a co-worker who was reading a book, and every couple of minutes he would start giggling. I asked him what he was reading, and he said it was this really wild book by a great author he’d just discovered. The book was Still Life With Woodpecker, and when I looked at the cover and saw it was Tom’s latest I rushed out the next day and bought it. It remains to this day my favorite book of all time.
When his next one came out in 1984, Jitterbug Perfume, I waited in line for more than two hours to get an autographed copy, as I had heard he was going to be in town. I’m afraid I was completely tongue-tied and unable to utter a coherent sentence when it was my turn to have my book signed. There followed four more novels over the years, and the aforementioned Wild Ducks Flying Backward. Each is a gem in it’s own right.
As to how his works got me to where I am, I joined an online literary discussion group in 1994, such groups were called newsgroups back then, that was supposed to be about Tom’s works, but quickly devolved into a free for all, no holds barred bit of pandemonium which has survived over the years in one form or another. I currently have a discussion group called the Woodpecker-Gang, a tribute to my favorite novel. It was on the original group in 1995 that a woman joined who scared the hell out of me. She was the only person in the group who could handle me, so to speak, and after a couple of years of back and forth we began writing to each other off list. Six months later we fell in love. She lived in New Zealand, and asked to me come meet her to make sure what we had was real. It was, and here I am 11 years later. We’ve been married for 9.
So that’s how Tom Robbins got me to New Zealand. As it turned out Still Life With Woodpecker was her favorite also. There’s more to the story. There exists a copy of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, his seventh novel, which Tom personally inscribed for us after he heard the story of how we came together, but it never made it to us. That’s another story altogether. His next novel, Villa Incognito has a character whose description fits me perfectly, and his surname is the same as mine. My name is unusual, there are only 900 some odd people in the world who have it, so it’s highly likely that I was the inspiration for the character, though it’s never been confirmed.
Anyway, Tom Robbins is an amazing author. I guess that’s what I really set out to say here. If you haven’t encountered his works yet, you really should give them a go. He has a devoted following all over the world, so it’s likely that someone you know has read one of his works. If so, ask them about it. I’ll bet they’ll highly recommend him, as do I.
I’ll close with my favorite quote, which has long been an inspiration in my life.
“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”