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Book City: Tom Robbins' daring, poetic, quirky, erotic taste in books

The 81-year-old La Conner-based writer is releasing a new memoir. Here, the prose that has kept him writing.
Author Tom Robbins

Author Tom Robbins Photo: Alexa Robbins

Famously reclusive author Tom Robbins will be at Town Hall on Thursday, June 26 to talk about his new book “Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of An Imaginative Life.” Author of nine novels, Robbins says his new book is not an autobiography, but stories about his life that have been waiting to be told. Born in North Carolina, reared in Virginia, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962. He took time for this Book City interview despite “being oppressed by pre-publication flapdoodle.”

What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?

“Finnegans Wakehas been at my bedside for nightly reading for more than twenty years — and I'm only on Page 166. It's the most realistic novel ever written (from the perspective of how we humans actually think), and therefore virtually unreadable. As a generator of interesting dreams, however, it's as effective as pot.

Do you read mostly fiction or non-fiction?

I do read some non-fiction, specifically books that dumb down theoretical physics (black holes really suck me in) for lay consumption. Mostly though, I read novels, preferring the truth of myth to the lessor truth of facts. (By those standards, I suppose I ought to be reading the Bible.) My taste in fiction is highly eclectic, although I'm not particularly interested in reading yet another coming-of-age novel or grim saga of a dysfunctional family. The one thing I demand of an author is that he or she cares — really cares — about language.

In general, I prefer the daring to the cautious, the poetic to the prosaic, the imaginative to the literal, the upbeat to the dreary, the quirky to the predictable, the comic to the sober, and the erotic to the chaste. 

Have you read a truly great book lately?

I recently read Thomas Pynchon's latest, “Bleeding Edge”, and can't decide if it's a towering masterpiece (a kind of finneganswake.com) or a complete disaster. Maybe it's both at the same time. All the characters speak in wisecracks, which starts to become annoying — except that the wisecracks are really, really good.

Do you buy books, download them, use the public library?

I suppose I should point out that after undergoing five optical surgeries in 2006, I now read almost exclusively by ear. Audio books (which I purchase and later donate to the local library) rank among our greatest inventions since room service and French kissing, though I do miss the pleasure of holding an actual book in my hands.

Why a memoir? Why now?

Would you believe relentless pestering by the women in my life?  Would you believe temporary insanity?  Why, at 81, would I suddenly choose to write a memoir?  At any rate, in “Tibetan Peach Pie I, as in my novels, continued to follow the advice of Juan Ramon Jimenez: "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."

Does your reading inform your writing?

When working on a novel, I tend to avoid fiction that might unduly influence me. (I don't worry about “Finnegans Wake” in that regard: There's no way I could write stream-of-consciousness prose, although stream of whoopee cushion is a possibility.)  

When it comes to work that sets my literary thyroid to pumping, my own ink to flowing (I write with pen on paper), I turn for inspiration most often to the great Spanish poets: Neruda, Garcia Lorca, Jimenez, et al. When I peruse a Neruda poem, for example, or, say, the opening pages of “Seduction of the Minotaur,” by Anaïs Nin, I can't wait to seize my ballpoint and see if I can't compose a passage or two that might approximate such incandescence. Envy should never be underestimated as an effective motivator.

A book that had a major impact on my writing career was “Steppenwolf “by Hermann Hesse. In the aftermath of my life-changing psychedelic experiences, it reinforced my suspicion that modern narrative fiction indeed could transcend bourgeois preoccupations, be simultaneously enlightening and entertaining, playful and deadly serious; could bind spirit to matter, and insinuate for readers the hidden worlds within our world.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 19, 9:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom had a radio show on KRAB, back in the day, for a couple of years.
ONE show survives, but you can listen to it streaming.
Its pretty interesting, and it puts him in a different perspective.
http://www.krab.fm/KRAB-Notes-From-The-Underground-With-Tom-Robbins.html

Ries

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 9:11 a.m. Inappropriate

To my ear he always sounded like Kurt Vonnegut. By this time I dunno which came first.

kieth

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