The Newsleter of the Association of Library & Information Science Students (ALISS)

The Silverfish is published monthly by the students of the Information School at the University of Washington.

The Logo of the University of Washington Information School

About The Silverfish
Current Issue
Editorial Board
Information for Authors

Book seal.

Living Dangerously: Tom Robbins Visits UW
By Michael Harkovitch
May 18, 2003

When Tom Robbins was five years old, his mother gave him a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves activity book. Instead of doing the activities, however, the young Mr. Robbins wrote stories in the book. Because he was too young to actually write down his own elaborate tales, he would dictate them to his mother. But sometimes she would change the stories.

"I always knew when that was the case," he told the crowd of 800 people who came to Kane Hall Friday evening, May 16, to hear the author speak. "And I would throw a temper tantrum until she changed it back to the way I wanted it. I told this story to one of my editors recently, and he said, 'You haven't changed in 40 years.'"

This was one of several personal anecdotes that the New York Times best selling author shared with the audience during his appearance to promote his eighth novel, Villa Incognito. The event was sponsored by the University Bookstore.

"I wanted to read from my latest book, but as any of you who have read my books are aware, it's hard to find an excerpt to read without having to explain the context of everything else that's going on." His solution: Start at the beginning. A straight-forward solution for a not-so-straight-forward book. The opening sentence, after all, goes: "It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute."

Vintage Tom Robbins for those of us who have been indoctrinated, but a brief visual scan of the capacity audience quickly betrayed the Tom Robbins virgins, much the same way that Rocky Horror Picture Show virgins stand out at their first public screening.

Villa Incognito is as difficult to summarize as Mr. Robbins himself is to classify. The novel, which by the time he spoke at UW had reached number 17 on the New York Times list of best selling hardcover fiction, involves an encounter between some American MIAs who chose to remain missing after the Vietnam War and four generations of strong, alluring women who have shared a mysterious connection to an outlandish figure from Japanese folklore (the aforementioned Tanuki). Oh yeah, this is kind of a love story, and kind of not. Different threads are brilliantly interwoven to create what's been called Tom Robbins' most beautifully crafted novel to date.

A Q&A and book signing followed the reading. During the Q&A, folks asked Mr. Robbins -- now fortified with cookies and bottled water -- questions about his writing techniques and inspirations, as well as more personal questions, such as his attraction to the Seattle area.

"I live here for the weather." His answer was met with laughs. "I'm serious," he said. The audience did not find his outlook on the afterlife as humorous: "I don't buy into that afterlife stuff," he said when asked which afterlife he would choose if it were his choice. "I've always thought of that as more of a control mechanism than anything spiritual, and I prefer to concentrate on living my current life to the fullest."

And that he does. His current life has been littered with various brushes with the law. He recently told Pages magazine that police arrived on the scene of one of his Seattle public art performances in the 1960s after "some upright citizen" called the cops to have him arrested. However, one of the cops turned out to be a guy who had stopped Mr. Robbins for speeding a few weeks earlier. He escaped the speeding ticket by looking the policeman in the eye and saying, "Officer, I drive like I live: dangerously. You of all people should understand that. We're brothers in a fraternity of peril." Recognizing Mr. Robbins at the site of his performance art, the same police officer shook his head and let him go.

Before the reading at last month's appearance, Mr. Robbins conveyed an incarceration story during his younger years in which three pieces of large cutlery -- including a 17" circular blade -- went missing. When the guards couldn't find who had taken the cutlery, each of the inmates were taken into a private chamber and forced to strip naked, bend over, and pull their butt-cheeks apart, "because they wanted to make sure that we weren't hiding two 12" knives and one 17" circular blade in our rectums," he said dryly.

For those of you who missed Tom Robbins' appearance at Kane Hall on May 16, he will be appearing at the Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., in Kirkland, on Tuesday, June 17, 2003, at 7:30 p.m. This appearance, sponsored by the King County Library System, Park Place Books, and the Kirkland Performance Center, is free of charge. Doors open at 7 p.m., and seating is on a first come, first served basis, so show up early! Book sales and signing will follow the event.

Submissions Requested

Are you interested in sharing your knowledge with the rest of the student body? Have you attended any conferences or taken an interesting or worthwhile class outside of the department? Would you care to review nearby bars for us? Send your Silverfish submissions to

Edited by Michael Harkovitch

Silverfish Web Design by John W.N. Buell