Between the lines: Tom Robbins’ memoir due Tuesday

05/20/2014 12:00 AM

05/19/2014 11:42 AM

The big news for Tom Robbins’ legion of true believers is next Tuesday’s appearance of his long-anticipated autobiography, “Tibetan Peach Pie” (Ecco, $28, 384 pages).

In typical fashion, the iconoclastic, internationally best-selling author writes in its preface, “This is not an autobiography (but) a sustained narrative composed of the absolute true stories I’ve been telling the women in my life over many years, and which at their insistence I’ve finally written down. If it doesn’t read like a normal memoir, I haven’t exactly led what most normal people would consider a normal life.”

Robbins’ novels include “Another Roadside Attraction,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” “Jitterbug Perfume” and “Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates.” In all of them, he walks on the edge.

Robbins appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2000, drawing a crowd of 800 fans to the Scottish Rite Center. After his hilarious presentation, he signed books, posed for photos and chatted with fans until midnight.

For my pre-Bee Book Club story, I interviewed Robbins in San Francisco – though briefly, because he had forgotten about our appointment and had made other commitments – and then later by phone.

Instead of trying to describe Robbins’ writing and personal styles, let’s rerun the opening paragraphs of that story, which pretty much says it – though it’s hard to believe he’s now 77:

“Here comes Tom Robbins, boppin’ across the lobby of the ritzy Fairmont Hotel, lookin’ spiffy in a blue suit, burgundy T-shirt, orange socks and brown shoes, sporting a reddish goatee and those trademark sunglasses. Robbins looks like he’s moving, oh, about two inches off the ground.

“He’s an intriguing contradiction – famous novelist and reluctant celebrity; observer of the scene and participant at the party; romantic at heart and spiritualist by nature; erudite Southern gentleman and randy rogue lion. He’s a lover of the language, dabbler in the psychotropic and a big, big fan of women.

“He’s a world traveler who now lives in La Conner, Wash., via North Carolina and Virginia – plus Timbuktu and Tokyo, Santiago and Singapore. He’s the master of the metaphor, the sultan of the simile, a low-key kinda guy who was included on the Writer’s Digest list of ‘100 Best Writers of the 20th Century.’ He’s never without that impish smirk, that playful posture, always on the verge of the cosmic goof or the universal pun.”

Periodic nostalgia

Periodicals come and go, but one with longtime appeal is Reminisce, the “magazine that brings back the good times.” Anyone planning a vacation flight this summer will want to take a look at the vintage ads for air travel, collected by the “top-selling nostalgia magazine.”

Go to www.reminisce.com/1940s/the-jet-set-vintage-airline-ads to see how things were before travelers had to take off their shoes and raise their hands. The airline ads also appear as a spread in the April/May issue of the magazine. To visit Reminisce, to go www.reminisce.com.

Inside Henry Miller

Novelist-memoirist-artist Henry Miller (1891 to 1980). was a one-of-a-kind literary pioneer, largely misunderstood by the critics of his day, scholars agree now. “Ahead of his time” is the phrase so often applied to him. “Pornographer” is another, though critics could be confusing him with Al Goldstein, editor of Screw magazine.

Now comes a fascinating account of Miller during the years he lived in the artists colony of Big Sur, where he wrote, painted, married, divorced and raised two children. “The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur” by Arthur Hoyle drills down to find “Miller the man” inside “Miller the artist” (Arcade, $28, 416 pages).

I asked Hoyle for his defining moment of the research-writing project.

“The most surprising takeaway was discovering the extent to which Miller was willing to sacrifice his personal life to his art, hoping magically to transform himself in the process,” he said. “He conceived this mission in 1927 while suffering torments in his marriage to his second wife and carried it out over the next 32 years, completing it in 1959 with the publication of ‘Nexus,’ the third novel of ‘The Rosy Crucifixion.’

“He found to his dismay that the hoped-for self-transformation had not occurred, and declared in a letter to his friend, (novelist) Lawrence Durrell, that the entire project was a hoax he had perpetrated on himself and his readers. He tried to cross the boundary separating life from art and failed.”

Hoyle will appear at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Avid Reader, 1600 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 441-4400; www.arthurhoyle.com.

New titles

Try this disparate trio:

• “Everything You Need To Know About the Bible” by the editors and staff of Time Life Books (Time Home Entertainment, $18, 272 pages): The clergy might disagree, but for those who want to consult an illustrated guide to become “an instant expert” on this subject, this oversize paperback does a remarkable job. The stories and full cast of characters are all present, with well-written and informative text that gives context to “the greatest story ever told.”
• “Wine Country Trucks of Napa and Sonoma Counties” by Lisa A. Harris (Wine Country Trucks Publishing, $38, 156 pages): Here’s a fun tour through wine country, stopping at wineries, ranches and creameries to photograph and chat about the old trucks on those properties. Like the restored 1947 Ford half-ton pickup at Turnbull Wine Cellars in Oakville. Way cool.
• “The Lincoln Myth” by Steve Berry (Ballantine, $27, 448 pages): Each year, the New York Times best-selling writer of international thrillers takes his readers on globe-hopping, action-filled adventures in pursuit of the most fantastic objects from history, mixing myth with reality. This time out, agent Cotton Malone uncovers a secret held by Abraham Lincoln that could result in mass mayhem. Berry appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2011.

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