Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins

Everybody loves Tom Robbins.  Most notably, my sister loves Tom Robbins and keeps telling my mum and me to read Tom Robbins.  So I was at the library, and I was near the Rs, and I grabbed Still Life with Woodpecker in order to experience the joy.  I read it as part of my new plan of reading a book while I am walking to work in the morning.  Initially I had a hard time concentrating on Still Life with Woodpecker as I was very busy with the following process: 1) holding imaginary arguments with my mother about the dangers of combining these two all-round-good activities into one massively; then 2) spotting squirrels and birds and anthills and other walking/biking/skateboarding people in plenty of time to steer around them as proof that I am excellent at reading while walking yet still remaining attentive to my surroundings; before finally 3) coming to a grudging compromise whereby I only read during the stretches of walking that are sidewalks (so no cars) in full view of the busy streets nearby.

Once I got properly started reading Still Life with Woodpecker, I discovered that Tom Robbins is simply not my thing.  I believe he’s one of those writers like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, those writers that everyone says are incredibly hilarious, but then when I read their books I maybe smile twice the entire time.  And these writers annoy me a bit.  Well, not Douglas Adams – I mean I don’t care for his books so much but he’s written some quite funny essays like that one about the airline cookie packet and how another dude has this exact same story but with no punchline.  But their books, yes.  I think this sort of totally random humor – it’s a fish that translates, she’s a princess in Seattle – is simply not my kind of humor.

Though I like Monty Python quite a lot.  Maybe visual gags are more effective?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I find all three of these writers – Pratchett, Adams, and Robbins – far too conscious of being funny, for me to actually think that they are funny.   Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) teetered on the edge of this, but it succeeded in being funnier than Still Life with Woodpecker, so I didn’t mind as much (but I will never buy it even though it was funny, because it just wasn’t funny enough).

In sum, I was too irritated with Tom Robbins trying to be funny to finish this book.  Life is too short to read books that irritate but do not amuse.

Since I constantly argue with imaginary critics (they are all me; I am very critical of myself and my motives), I anticipated the possible argument that I had deprived myself of a positive reading experience by reading it only while walking to work, something I had not tried before and something it might prove I do not enjoy.  It could also be argued that I did not expect to like Tom Robbins and thus may have disliked him only in a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of way.  To still these concerns and ensure that my judgment was unclouded by such considerations, I read Eleanor Rigby on the way to work this morning, and on the way back this afternoon.  I was also not expecting to like Douglas Coupland, but I am rather liking Eleanor Rigby so far (with reservations) (it won’t be my favorite book ever but I am definitely not planning to not finish it).  So there you go.  I have given Tom Robbins a fair try and found him wanting.

  • Michael

    I dont actually find him all that funny, but i do think he and this book are brilliant. It is the crazy ideas that are backed up with tremendously interesting ‘evidence’, whilst all being tongue in cheek and behind it all a prevailing depth and intelligence. But i doubt i ever laughed out loud reading him, not like you would with ‘catch 22’ for example, a book that i’m sure inspired tom robbins at some point.

  • Schatzi

    I loved Tom Robbins from about age eleven till sophomore year of high school, and I read them allllllllll, but now he just leaves me cold. I don’t think any of it’s particularly funny or thought-provoking or whimsical–at least, only in very irritating ways. Kind of like lo-fi indie pop.

    Jitterbug Perfume is the sole exception; it was the first one I read, and I still kind of like it.

    • My sister loooooves him. She goes on and on. I just – blech, I’m with you, it’s not the kind of funny I like.