It’s not often I give myself an impossible writing assignment but I’m doing so now because I’m intrigued by the challenge.
Book reviews often have aim to provide a concise summary and make the reader want to read the book.
Not this time.
I’m only halfway through Tom Robbins’ non-autobiography called Tibetan Peach Pie, and, so far, I can’t think of a single good reason to recommend it or, indeed, to finish it. It’s like reading postcards from the past, from a relative you didn’t like in the first place. It took Robbins 244 pages to recall something I wanted to read about.
For those of you under 40, which according to Yukon demographics is most of you, here is a very brief biography on Robbins and why it should interest you:
The man, 82, a self-defined “hillbilly from North Carolina” who now lives in the Puget Sound region, was huge in the hip-square-everywhere era of “Gonzo Journalism” as defined by Hunter S. Thompson and typified by Tom Wolfe, P.J. O’Rourke, and many other great writers not named “Robbins”.
His monster best sellers are familiar if not memorable: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction, Still Life With Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Wild Ducks Flying Backwards, and B Is for Beer, to mention the best known.
Though he’s made millions, I don’t recall ever finishing one of his books because his writing style is too jumbled and jumpy — possibly caused by heavy usage of psychedelic drugs — and flows like scrambled eggs or, perhaps, a burnt omelet.
He is no more of a spokesman for the Gonzo crowd than Mr. Bean, though mentions himself in the same sentence with Thompson, the King of Gonzo, in this self-absorbed screed; this is like mentioning The Three Stooges in the same sentence as Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Therefore, no surprise here, Tibetan Peach Pie reads like a dog’s breakfast looks, and Robbins makes the same mistake as most me-biographers by starting at the beginning, which means we have to hear about his first diaper change, his first erection, his first “love” (Natalie Wood), his first teacher with Grand Tetons, and the first time he knew he was destined for literary greatness (age five), before we get to anything more interesting than a lifelong fascination with his own wordy, navel-novels.
Fortunately, as a young man I learned to speed-read, which means quick-scanning all the pages and only slowing down to read the parts that jump out at you. This technique is tough on the fingers, easy on the brain, and the complete opposite of the way I like to read, which is in slow motion, when you have a book in your hands that is so well written that you don’t want it to end. This one is the antithesis.
This is not to say Tom Robbins is not a good writer. He’s a magnificent wordsmith, has often been called a genius, and has the money in the bank to prove he’s at the end of a successful career if, indeed, this piece of pie is his last hurrah.
But I am at a complete loss to explain why, because, to me his writings are the literary equivalent of being forced to listen to someone who has been drinking too much coffee or eating too many peyote buttons.
My literary hero, Samuel Leghorne Clemens, known as Mark Twain, (which means “three feet of water under the boat”) had the same problem with British novelist Jane Austen, and said on September 13, 1898:
“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
He also said:
“Jane Austen? Why, I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.
Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that her readers allowed her to die a natural death.”
While I can’t match Sam’s disdain, I can suggest if you are unable to find Tibetan Peach Pie in any of our fine local restaurants, you will likely find it in the “new books” section of the Whitehorse Public Library, because I can’t imagine anyone keeping it out for very long.
I couldn’t get it back on the shelf fast enough.