I vividly remember my first Tom Robbins book. It was Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and I first spotted it in my father's reading pile. "What on earth," I thought to myself, "was my dad doing with a book that looked so very interesting?"
I did what any good daughter would do: I "borrowed" it.
I remember telling others later that the first 100 pages are tough to get through, but if you can, you will be graciously rewarded with a reading experience like no other: a world of fantasy, erotica, humor, language, poetry, and radical views that at first appear outlandish, but often turn out to be pretty accurate. I was hooked.
I read every one of his books as they came out. They gave me permission to be weird. They enabled me to be my most creative, uncompromising self and still feel a bit normal. They made me laugh out loud. They helped me to navigate and explore the land of mystical spirituality. I remember bits and pieces of his writings like old friends--Can o' Beans, the idea of the Middle East suffering from labor pains--and the sheer, unadulterated sexiness of his language. He has been one of my greatest writing influences.
So when Tom came to New York City about 10 years ago to speak at a conference, I had to go, and I dragged my daughter Maya along with me. I have a bit of a sketchy memory about what the sequence of events was; maybe I wrote to him first? But it turned out his wife (or assistant?) was a huge fan of my gardening book and Organic Style magazine. So at the signing after his talk, he seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. There, he told me that a picture of me from the back of my gardening book (one that my brother had shot a long time ago) personified a new character he was working on... He then proceeded to look at me in a way that made time stop, eternity unfold; he looked into my deepest self and took a Polaroid of my essence. It was a moment I will never forget. Truly, I've never been examined and absorbed in such a complete and utterly total way before or since.
Time went by, as it tends to do. Just the other week I got an email from Maya that Tom Robbins has a new book out (true stories, NOT an autobiography or memoir) and he was doing a reading and signing in Brooklyn. Did I want to go, she asked. Well, coincidence or not, I was already scheduled to be in the city that day and had no other plans. I'd just received my hardcover copy of Tibetan Peach Pie in the mail that morning, so I hadn't had a chance to read it, but I carried it with me throughout the day of the reading, knowing that by the end of the it, it would be signed.
The reading was magical. He's 80-freaking-2! We waited over an hour afterward to get our books signed. I introduced myself, suggesting he probably didn't remember me. "How could I forget?" he said. "It was the Omega Conference in New York." Which I hadn't even been able to remember!
"Yes," I said. "We had a moment."
"Yes we did," he said with a tiny quirky smile, and then added, "Thanks for all you do for the vegetables." Which made me laugh and also feel good in a way I don't often let myself feel good (yeah, I have to work on that one).
The new book, Tibetan Peach Pie, is a truly wonderful read. It's an amazing look into a life and a radically changing time period that he was both at the forefront and slightly to the side of. In fact, his brief but vivid description of the evolution of the book publishing business (from an author's perspective) as changed by technology and the devaluation of content, is simply stunning in its beautiful brutality. He's seen it all, yet still isn't bitter.
I also realized we had a lot in common, that little "Tommy Rotten" and I! Both of us were prone to eating dangerous substances as children. And both of us stole baloney sandwiches from grown-up people's lunch boxes. I like to think that we both had an insatiable appetite for life, a fearless curiosity, and a complete disregard for rules of right and wrong. Isn't life wonderful? The other thing I think we have in common is even though we've both aged, we haven't lost the magical creativity of childhood--and we aren't afraid to give it a truly adult twist. I love that by his doing it, I feel free to do it too.
Try his new book. You might like it! But if you've never read a Tom Robbin's book before, give it 100 pages to get into the rhythm, the frequency, and the world where he lives. You won't regret it.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com