In this series of posts, called “Books I Cherish,” I will focus on a certain story, book, or even author who has touched my life in a profound way. As everyone’s experience is different, my views will differ with the “critics” and others views.
The first in this series is Tom Robbins.
I was first introduced to Tom Robbins by a very perceptive English teacher, who saw that I would understand and thoroughly appreciate his style of writing and theories about life, love, sex and magic (not to be confused with the Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ take on it.) There has never been another person who had given me a greater author by that prescience, ever. I wrote an essay about him and she was impressed by how quickly I “got” it. Well, my dorky mind enjoys ridiculously over the top flowery, clever language (which is why I didn’t mind the ridic-speak in Juno), and I ate up 6 of his novels with relish. Enjoyment relish, not literal condiment relish.
For the following stories I will give a brief synopsis (thanks to Wikipedia), the main theme, and my favorite quote or two.
Another Roadside Attraction – The novel follows the adventures of John Paul Ziller and his wife Amanda—lovable seer and promiscuous gypsy mother, unarguably the protagonist—who open “Captain Kendrick’s Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve,” a combination hot dog stand and zoo along a highway in Washington. Other characters in this rather oddball novel include Mon Cul the baboon; Marx Marvelous, an educated man from the east coast; and L. Westminster “Plucky” Purcell, a former college football star and sometime dope dealer who accidentally infiltrates a group of Catholic monks working as assassins for the Vatican. In so doing Plucky discovers a secret of monumental proportions dating to the very beginning of Christianity.
My favorite quotes: “There is no such thing as weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others.“
“The function of the artist, is to provide what life does not.”
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – tells the story of Sissy Hankshaw, a woman born with a mutation (she would not call it a defect) giving her enormously large thumbs. The novel is a transgressive romp, covering topics from homosexuality and free love to drug use and political rebellion to animal rights, Dale Evans, body odor and religions. Sissy makes the most of her thumbs by becoming a hitchhiker. Her travels take her to New York, where she becomes a model for the Countess, a homosexual tycoon of feminine hygiene products, who introduces her to the man whom she will marry, a staid Mohawk named Julian. In her later travels she encounters, among many others, a sexually open cowgirl named Bonanza Jellybean and an itinerant escapee from the Japanese internment camps happily mislabeled “the Chink.” Robbins finally inserts himself into the novel as a character as well.
My favorite quotes: ” Billy the Ked.”
” So you think that you’re a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What’s wrong with that? In the first place, if you’ve any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success.”
Still Life With Woodpecker – Is a novel concerning the love affair between an environmentalist princess named Leigh-Cheri and an outlaw Bernard Mickey Wrangle. As with most of Robbins’ books, it encompasses a broad range of topics, from aliens and redheads to consumerism, the building of bombs, romance, royalty, the moon, and a pack of Camels. A huge pivot the novel swings around is the question of how to make love stay.
My favorite quotes: ” We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”
“Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on the marrow of the volcano. It’s not the tobacco we’re after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”
Jitterbug Perfume – The major themes of the book include the striving for immortality, the meaning behind the sense of smell, individual expression, self-reliance, sex, love, and religion. Beets and the god Pan figure prominently. The novel is a self-described epic, with four distinct storylines, one set in 8th century Bohemia and three others in modern day New Orleans, Seattle, and Paris.
My favorite quotes: “If you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked.”
“My lunar sign is in Virgo. Every month when the moon is full, I’m driven to balance my checkbook and straighten up my apartment. I can’t help myself. Instead of a werewolf I turn into an accountant.”
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas – This book mixes the mundane with the mysterious, in the form of the Sirius mysteries and the mythology surrounding the Dogon Tribe. Unlike his other books, Half Asleep is written entirely in the second person, present tense.
My favorite quotes: “There’s no such thing as security in this life, sweetheart; and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. The person who strives for security will never be free. The person who believes that she’s found security will never reach paradise. What she mistakes for security is purgatory. You know what purgatory is, Gwendolyn? It’s the waiting room, it’s the lobby. Not only does she have the wrong libretto, she’s stuck in the lobby where she can’t see the show.”
“You can love ‘em till your well runs dry, Belford, but you can never love ‘em enough, and you know it. No matter how much others might love you, you can’t love yourself unless you’re in charge of your own actions, and you’ll never take charge as long as you can get away with blaming your shortcomings and misfortunes on your family or society or your race or gender or Satan or whatever…”
I hope these little glimpses into the devilishly clever mind of Tom Robbins at least piques your interest to skim one of his books next time your at the library or bookstore. If you sit down and read one, you will not be disappointed. It kind of opens your eyes to new ways of seeing the world. And though you might not agree with everything everyone does in the books, they have some very fantastic points about life, love, magic, and ways to truly appreciate all those things within yourself.