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.
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.'"
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
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
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.
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
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
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.