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Wild Ducks Flying Backward Paperback – Aug 29 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Still Life with Woodpecker has regularly published shorter pieces in Esquire, Playboy, the New York Times and elsewhere. The whimsical, quixotic nature of that work comes through in this hit-and-miss affair—one that remains woefully short on fiction, focusing mostly on the author's travel writing, essays, celebrity profiles and poetry. The best travel piece, "The Day the Earth Spit Wart Hogs," finds Robbins traversing a big game park in Tanzania. His commentary on the '60s, the legacy of burger mogul Ray Kroc and the prose of Thomas Pynchon remains trenchant and provocative; other pieces are dated to the point of irrelevance (his foreword to Terrance McKenna's 1992 The Archaic Revival). As a poet, Robbins is obvious and heavy-handed, but occasionally he hits the kind of mystical note that characterizes "Catch 28" and makes his florid imagery work. The fiction is brief and mostly forgettable. But an essay called "In Defiance of Gravity" starts as a riff on an obscure club and winds up being an ode to the combination of unconventionality and humor that define Robbins's career as a writer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Robbins' belief in the power of "defiant humor," exuberant love of language, and playful Zen perspective are key elements in his zestfully comic and cosmic novels, including his most recent, Villa Incognito (2003). It is, therefore, a great pleasure to find this psychedelic son of Mark Twain, this metaphor-slinging, myth-steeped champion of liberation directly addressing his aesthetic and spiritual concerns in this retrospective collection of essays, poetry, and short stories. Robbins' funny and astute short works shimmer with original and piquant descriptions, sensual delight, and a firm grasp of human nature and history. He displays his critical chops in an incandescent review of a 1967 Doors concert, and a richly argued recent essay in praise of "crazy wisdom." He marvels at nature in a vivid account of a journey to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, offers resonant tributes to Joseph Campbell and Terence Mc-Kenna, and states his writer's credo: "We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain"--a mission he fulfills with verve. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
To judge this book by its cover would be a tragic mistake.
In this collection of essays, articles and columns written for various publications over the years, Tom Robbins proves himself wittier than Dorothy Parker, more colorful than Hunter S. Thompson, sharper in perception than Andy Rooney.
Piercing, even. A journalist of the highest order.
It's worth the price of the book just to read Miniskirt Feminism, a reminiscence of the 60's originally published in the New York Times (1995).
Buy the book. Throw away the ugly dust cover. You won't be disappointed.
While it was good to read some Tom again, I can't say I was tremendously impressed by this selection of "short writings." Personally, in terms of cleaning out a hard drive and putting it in novel form, I much prefer Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time I did enjoy some of Tom's poetry, and the homage to the Doors but other than that, the material was seriously dated.
Hopefully there will be a new novel soon. I miss him. And these last two forays (this and Villa Incognito) have left me wanting.
Like his best fiction though, Robbins will give you some laughs while you're reading, and some things to think about when you put the book down.
I was immediately impressed by Robbins' creativity and the diverse subject matter he is willing to address in his writing. His use of language and his descriptive power and imagination are indescribable. In these samplings he comes over as a man with a delightfully wicked sense of humor. He also impresses his readers with his scholarly criticism. He is astute and a mature observer of human nature. He has the gift of being able to peel back the layers to show us man and character in his nakedness.
I got the feeling that what I see is what I get with this author. Working out what I see is at times fun, confusing, awe inspiring, daunting and over whelming. Robbins makes me want to write more and play with words and images like never before.
I particularly enjoyed the travel articles. I laughed out loud reading the "Canyon of the Vaginas" written about a trip to a remote canyon in Nevada full of vagina petroglyphs. Robbins used the essay as a spring board for a discussion on the feminine and sexual power.
There were times when the book lagged and my attention wandered. This was mostly during the extensive section of tributes. His piece on "The Doors" written following his first attendance at one of their concerts, although less developed in writing style, was interesting to me because of the picture he paints of the culture at that time. His tribute to Joseph Campbell was interesting for the same reasons. I enjoyed his tribute to Diane Keaton. Clearly this is a woman he admires and lusts after. The writing was prosaic and sensual. His tribute to Leonard Cohen took me back to my teens, and I relived the feelings of identification and depression at that time. Robbins points out the true genius of Cohen and the depth of his poetry. I want to go back and listen to all those records again, get my guitar out (save us all!) and sing!
We all know that a college town presents its own brand of waiters and waitresses. In his essay "The Genius Waitress," Robbins imagines his way and ours into the thoughts, dreams, perceptions and disappointments of such a character.
A section of the book is comprised of responses to questions asked for various publications. When asked to write about one of his favorite things Robbins wrote about the letter "Z". This essay was amazingly imaginative and the fact that he chose a letter of the alphabet to write about shows his playful and non-conformist mind.
Robbins shares his love for language and writing in a series of essays including one in response to the question; what is the Function of Metaphor?
He continues to provide food for thought for the reader and writer in such essays as:
What Do You Think Writer's Block Is and Have
You Ever Had It?
With What Fictional Character Do You Most
Is the Writer Obligated to Use His/Her Medium
As an Instrument for Social Betterment?
Why Do You Live Where You Live?
What Was Your First Outdoor Adventure?
Do You Express Your Personal Political
opinions in Your Novels?
How Would You Evaluate John Steinbeck?
I found all of these questions thought provoking and useful for discussion in the writing class I teach.
This is a book I know I will come back to over and over again. There is much to interest a wide variety of readers in it. I find myself thinking about some of the essays at random times. I did not expect to find Zen-like studies on writing and life in this book. I was delighted by the author's depth of character, mischievousness, word-playfulness, clever wit, understanding for the human condition and compassion in this collection. This is truly a lateral thinker in the extreme. Finally, Robbins spoke to my heart in his statement "We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain."
Belinda Shoemaker MFA Creative Writing