Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins

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Overview

Known for his meaty seriocomic novels, Tom Robbins’s shorter work has appeared in publications ranging from Esquire to Harper’s, from Playboy to the New York Times. Collected here for the first time in paperback, the essays, articles, observations—and even some untypical country-music lyrics—offer a rare overview of the eclectic sensibility of an American original.

Whether rocking with the Doors, depoliticizing Picasso’s Guernica, lamenting the angst-ridden state of contemporary...

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New York, NY 2005 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. New Hardcover Print: 06.23.14 Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 257 p. Audience: General/trade.

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New York, NY 2005 Hard cover First edition. First Printing. New in new dust jacket. Signed in person by Tom Robbins with his characteristic squiggle on the title page, NOT ... signed to anyone. Photos of Tom Robbins at a book signing will be included with the signed book. 1st edition, 1st printing with full number line: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. Hardcover. Book is New & Unread, opened only for signing. No marks, no inscriptions. Not a book club edition, not an ex-library. Dust jacket is fine, not price clipped, in a removable protective clear cover. This is a beautiful autographed First Edition for collectors. Makes a great gift! Read more Show Less

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Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins

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Overview

Known for his meaty seriocomic novels, Tom Robbins’s shorter work has appeared in publications ranging from Esquire to Harper’s, from Playboy to the New York Times. Collected here for the first time in paperback, the essays, articles, observations—and even some untypical country-music lyrics—offer a rare overview of the eclectic sensibility of an American original.

Whether rocking with the Doors, depoliticizing Picasso’s Guernica, lamenting the angst-ridden state of contemporary literature, or drooling over tomato sandwiches and a species of womanhood he calls “the genius waitress,” Tom Robbins’s briefer writings exhibit the five traits that perhaps best characterize his novels: an imaginative wit, a cheerfully brash disregard for convention, a sweetly nasty eroticism, a mystical but keenly observant eye, and an irrepressible love of language. Embedded in this primarily journalistic compilation are brand-new short stories, a sheaf of largely unpublished poems, and an offbeat assessment of our divided nation. Wherever you open Wild Ducks Flying Backward, you’ll encounter the serious playfulness that percolates from the mind of a self-described “romantic Zen hedonist” and “stray dog in the banquet halls of culture.”

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Fans thirsty for books by Tom Robbins will welcome the arrival of this collection of his short stories, travel writings, essays, celebrity profiles, and poetry. This generous sampling exhibits Robbins at his eclectic, freewheeling best. The pieces appeared originally in Esquire, Harper's, The New York Times, Playboy, Life, High Times, and elsewhere. Topics include Thomas Pynchon, Ray Kroc, Picasso, talented waitresses, big-game hunting, and traveling with the Doors. Irrepressible fun.
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. Agent, Phoebe Larmore. (Sept. 6) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A cult novelist turns to nonfiction, some of it published for the first time. There's even an ode to the tomato sandwich. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The whirling dervish lit-hippie of Seattle fires off a shotgun-full of enthusiasms at whatever strikes his fancy-and occasionally hits. Novelist Robbins (Villa Incognito, 2003, etc.) is hardly the kind of writer to exercise restraint, and indeed a restrained Robbins wouldn't be any fun. But even just a little bit of Robbins can be too much, and the proof is in this collection of short fiction, nonfiction, ruminations and poems. The feast of stories included were originally mostly magazine pieces-for Esquire, GQ, Artforum, High Times, etc.-that span almost four decades. Robbins has a lot of likes, and what he likes he really, really likes. Take his spastic review of a Doors concert: "Their style is early cunnilingual, late patricidal...carnivores in a land of musical vegetarians." He can wax enthusiastic on everything from Wonder Bread and mayonnaise (two of the main ingredients of his last dinner, should he ever be on death row) to his rain-soaked hometown of Seattle. Sometimes it all gets drowned in tidal waves of excess. There are still some gems amid the hollering and clowning. On Leonard Cohen: "Nobody can say the word 'naked' as nakedly as Cohen. He makes us see the markings where the pantyhose have been." On Thomas Pynchon: "Pynchon has got both hands on the thunderbolt machine." He even makes a good travel piece out of a search for Nevada's legendary Canyon of the Vaginas. But then there's that awfully unfunny fake feature film treatment and all the poetry. Lord, the poetry. Fun for a time, but marred by the suspicion that Robbins may be trying too hard.
From the Publisher
“A single sentence from Robbins is worth the price of admission.” –Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

“Hilarious.”—New York Times Book Review

“A treat. Robbins is fearless, original, mind-expanding and funny as hell.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553804515
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/30/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 8.49 (w) x 5.71 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins has been called “a vital natural resource” by The Oregonian, “one of the wildest and most entertaining novelists in the world” by the Financial Times of London, and “the most dangerous writer in the world today” by Fernanda Pivano of Italy’s Corriere della Sera. A Southerner by birth, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962.

Biography

So much mythology swirls around Pacific Northwest novelist Tom Robbins that sorting fact from fiction is a daunting challenge. Born Thomas Eugene Robbins in 1936 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, he was raised from age 11 on in a suburb near Richmond, Virginia. He attended Washington and Lee University but did not graduate. Instead, he quit college and spent a year hitchhiking, settling for a while in New York City.

Robbins enlisted in the Air Force in 1957, just one step ahead of the draft, and served three years in Korea. Upon discharge, he moved back to Virginia to attend art school at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University), graduating in 1961. During this time he worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to Robbins, the South's hidebound racism -- perfectly mirrored in the newspaper's policy -- prompted him to move as far away from Richmond as possible "while still remaining in the continental United States." He ended up in Seattle in the early 1960s, enrolled in the University of Washington to pursue his Masters, and went to work for the Seattle Times. If we are to believe the story, it was around this time that he first sampled LSD (not yet an illegal substance). Blown away by the experience, he chucked both grad school and his job at the paper and spent the rest of the decade bouncing between the East and West Coasts -- writing, working as a DJ in alternative radio, and partaking liberally of the countercultural smorgasbord of the day.

Towards the end of the '60s, Robbins began working seriously at his writing, culminating in 1971 with the publication of his first novel, the comic absurdist tale Another Roadside Attraction. A failure in hardcover, it nevertheless sold well as a paperback, prompting publishers to release his next book -- 1976's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues -- in both formats simultaneously. Although he has not been a hit with most mainstream critics, Robbins has achieved rarified cult status with successive generations of 20-somethings who adore his goofy, upbeat satirical fiction. He claims to never read reviews but is pleased to have enjoyed a steady string of bestsellers starting with Still Life with Woodpecker in 1980. In 2005, he produced Wild Ducks Flying Backward, a volume of shorter works, including poems, stories, essays, articles, and reviews.

Rumor has it that Robbins polishes each sentence to perfection before moving on to the next. Whether or not that's true, he does admit to being a slow writer -- and to needing a long period of rest and recuperation (usually involving travel to some exotic place) in between books. All of which explains why his output is surprisingly slender, especially for a writer who inspires such passionate, fanatical devotion!

Good To Know

Here are some fun facts (and perhaps some fun fiction, as well!) about Tom Robbins:

  • An accomplished artist, Robbins is one of only a handful of writers to have cover design built into their book contracts.
  • When Elvis Presley died of an overdose in his bathroom on August 16, 1977, there was rumored to be a copy of Another Roadside Attraction on the floor beside him.
  • While working as a journalist and DJ in Washington state, Robbins attended a 1967 Doors concert in Seattle. He claims that the origins of his unique writing style can be found in that piece.
  • Robbins has enjoyed friendships with a group of widely people, from '60s countercultural icons like Alan Ginsberg and Timothy Leary to mythologist Joseph Campbell (with whom he once traveled to South America.
  • Robbins has appeared in several films, including Made in Heaven, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Breakfast of Champions, and Gus Van Sant's 1993 adaptation of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
  • Read More Show Less
      1. Hometown:
        LaConner, Washington
      1. Date of Birth:
        July 22, 1936
      2. Place of Birth:
        Blowing Rock, North Carolina

    Read an Excerpt

    Wild Ducks Flying Backward


    By Tom Robbins

    Random House

    Tom Robbins
    All right reserved.

    ISBN: 0739321757


    Chapter One

    Canyon of the Vaginas

    When one is on a pilgrimage to the Canyon of the Vaginas, one has to be careful about asking directions.

    I mean, there're some pretty rough ol' dudes in west-central Nevada. One knows the ol' dudes are rough when one observes that they eat with their hats on.

    Nine days I was in the high desert between Winnemucca and Las Vegas, during which time I never witnessed a male Homo sapiens take his noontide nor his evening repast with an exposed bean. In every instance, a grimy bill or brim shaded the fellow's victuals from the vulgar eye of light. I assumed that they breakfasted en chapeau as well, but by the hour that your pilgrim sat down to his flapjacks, the rough ol' dudes had already gone off to try to strike it rich.

    When a man's brain is constantly heated by thoughts of striking it rich, thoughts that don't fade much at mealtime, perhaps he requires some sort of perpetual head cover to cool the cerebral machinery. On the other hand, since they live in relatively close proximity to America's major nuclear test site, a nerve-gas depot, several mysterious airfields, and numerous depositories for our government's nasty toxic secrets, maybe the rough ol' dudes are just trying to prevent their haircuts from ever flickering in the dark. If I lived in west-central Nevada, I might dine in gloves and a Mylex suit.

    Naturally, one has to wonder if the men of Nevada also sleep in their hats. More pointedly, do they sleep with their wives, girlfriends, and thoroughly legal prostitutes in their hats? I intended to interview a Nevada woman or two on the subject, but never quite got around to it. However, something at the Canyon of the Vaginas gave me reason to believe that the answer is affirmative. Of that, more later.

    Getting back on course, beneath those baseball caps that advertise brands of beer or heavy equipment, under those genuine imitation Stetsons, there're some rough ol' hangovers being processed and some rough ol' ideas being entertained. One simply does not approach a miner, a wrangler, a prospector, a gambler, a Stealth pilot, a construction sweat hog, or sandblasted freebooter and interrupt his thoughts about big, fast bucks and those forces--environmental legislation, social change, loaded dice, et cetera--that could stand between him and big, fast bucks; one simply does not march up to such a man, a man who lifts his crusty lid to no one, and ask:

    "Sir, might you possibly direct me to the Canyon of the Vaginas?"

    ***********

    Should readers desire to make their own pilgrimage to the Canyon of the Vaginas--and it is, after all, one of the few holy places left in America--they'll have to find it by themselves. Were one to inquire of its whereabouts at a bar or gas station (in west-central Nevada they're often one and the same, complete with slot machines), the best that one could hope for is that a dude would wink and aim one at the pink gates of Bobbie's Cottontail Ranch, or whatever the nearest brothel might be called.

    In the improbable event that he fails to misinterpret one's inquiry, and/or to take sore offense at it, a dude still isn't likely to further one's cause. For that matter, save for the odd archeologist, neither is anybody else. The population of Nevada arises every morning, straightens its hat, swallows a few aspirin, and trucks off to try to strike it rich without so much as a nervous suspicion that the Canyon of the Vaginas lies within its domain.

    Your pilgrim learned of it from a Salt Lake City artist who has hiked and camped extensively in the high deserts of the Great Basin. The man drew me a fairly specific map, but I, in good conscience, cannot pass along the details. My reluctance to share is rooted neither in selfishness nor elitism, but in the conviction that certain aspects of the canyon are quite fragile and in need of protection.

    Not that genuflecting hordes are likely to descend upon it: the canyon is remote; troubled, according to season, by killer sun, ripping wind, and blinding blizzard; and is reached by a road that nobody making monthly car payments should even think of driving. Still, there are plenty of new-agers with the leisure and energy to track down yet another "power center," and plenty of curiosity seekers with an appetite for the exotic souvenir. Surely I'll be forgiven if I'm ever so slightly discreet.

    Besides, what kind of pilgrimage would it be if it didn't contain some element of hardship and enigma? The quest is essential to the ritual. To orient ourselves at the interface of the visible and invisible worlds--which may be the purpose of all pilgrimages--we must embrace the search as well as its goal. If our journey into the heart (or vagina) of meaning resembles in any appreciable manner our last trip to the shopping mall, we're probably doing something wrong.

    I can disclose this much: to arrive at the Canyon of the Vaginas, your pilgrim had to travel a ways on Highway 50, a blue guitar string of asphalt accurately described by postcards and brochures as the Most Lonesome Road in America. It will impress some readers as poignantly correct that so many vaginas are reached only by a route of almost legendary loneliness. Others won't have that reaction at all.

    ***********

    Physically, my pilgrimage commenced in downtown Seattle. Downtown Seattle has long been my "stomping grounds," as they say, although in the past couple of years it's lost its homey air. A side effect of Reaganomics was skyscraper fever. Developers, taking advantage of lucrative tax breaks, voodoo-pinned our city centers with largely unneeded office towers. In downtown Seattle, for some reason, most of the excess buildings are beige. Seattleites complain of beige à vu: the sensation that they've seen that color before.

    In any case, it was in a Seattle parking lot, flanked by beige edifices, that I exchanged cars with my chiropractor. He took my customized Camaro Z-28 convertible, a quick machine whose splendid virtues do not include comfort on long-distance hauls; I took his big, new Mercedes.

    If, indeed, the reader should decide to motor to Nevada and it proves to exceed an afternoon's jaunt, may I suggest swapping cars with a chiropractor? Chiropractors' cars are not like yours or mine. Theirs tend to be massage parlors on wheels, equipped with the latest breakthroughs in therapeutic seating, lumbar cushions, and vertebrae-aligning headrests. It's like rolling along in a technological spa. The driver can get a spinal adjustment and a speeding ticket simultaneously.

    So relaxed was I in that tea-green Mercedes that I didn't look around when I heard my chiropractor burn a quarter inch of rubber off the Camaro's tires. In a certain way, it was reminiscent of the movie Trading Places. As the good doctor tore off to drag sorority row at the University of Washington, I oozed through the beige maze with a serene, chiropractic smile, braking tenderly in front of Alexa's apartment, and then in front of Jon's.

    For days to come, the three of us, Alexa, Jon, and your pilgrim, would take turns piloting the doctor's clinical dreamboat along tilting tables of rural landscape. Once we'd crossed the tamed Columbia and were traversing the vastness of eastern Oregon, once we were out of the wet zone and into the dry zone, out of the vegetable zone and into the meat zone, out of the fiberglass-shower-stall zone and into the metal-shower-stall zone, we would glide through a seemingly endless variety of ecosystems, most of them virtually relieved of the more obvious signs of human folly, all of them unavoidably gorgeous.

    Some of the hills were shaped like pyramids, others resembled the contents of Brunhilde's bodice. One was so vibrantly purple-black that we suspected we'd discovered the mother lode where eye shadow was mined. There were craters and slumps, stacks and slides, alkali lakes and sand dunes, gorges and passes, fossil beds, dust devils, and enormous ragged buttes that could have been cruise ships for honeymooning trolls. We followed chatty little creeks, spilling their creek guts to anybody who'd listen; we swerved to miss antelope, reduced dead jackrabbits to two dimensions, honked at happy dogs and range steers, photographed gap-toothed windmills and churches in which no collection plate would ever circulate again, inhaled sage until our sinuses gobbled, and cast self-righteous judgment on the bored adolescent gunmen and beered-up Cattle Xing terrorists who'd blown a Milky Way of holes into each and every road sign.

    It delighted me that the Canyon of the Vaginas was out here smack dab in the middle of the Wild American West. How swell that in the Old West of gunfights and land grabs, massacres and gold rushes, bushwhackings and horsewhippings, missions, saloons, boot hills, and forts, there existed a culture that celebrated with artistic eloquence and spiritual fervor the most intimate feature of the feminine anatomy.

    Imagine Custer's cavalry troop thundering innocently over a ridge, only to come face-to-face with (gasp!) the pink, the moist, the yielding, the delicately curly. Imagine a Saturday matinee: Roy Rogers at the Canyon of the Vaginas.

    Mentally, emotionally, my pilgrimage began back in my late twenties or early thirties, whenever it was that it first occurred to me that the female genitals were literally divine. In the Orient, especially in the religious systems of Tibet and India, that notion has prevailed since dimmest antiquity, and as a matter of fact, there are yonic symbols in the caves of Paleolithic Europe (dating back twenty thousand years) that are indistinguishable from those venerated today by the tantric cults of the Himalayas.

    When I read how, among the practitioners of tantra, the vulva is adored as the organ for the generation of world and time, it struck a resonant chord. From that day on, I have been seeking the American tantra, which is to say, I've been seeking American images that promote that inner intensity of feminine sexuality, whose source is the Goddess of Creation.

    Among the examples that have caught my attention are the bubblegum-colored underpants that Bonnie Parker left behind to taunt the cops when she and Clyde Barrow flew the coop. I was convinced, you see, that the American tantra must be as different from the Asian tantra as we Americans--sweet gangsters at heart--are different from pious Asians. In the modern sense, I still think that's true, but until I learned of the Canyon of the Vaginas, I'd neglected to consider the tantric contribution of American Indians.

    Having meditated on and received inspiration from such ostensibly profane icons as Bonnie's panties (she purchased them, by the way, at a small-town Kansas dime store in 1934), it fazed me only a smidgen to discover that what may be the ultimate tantric tribute on our continent is located in west-central Nevada. Even that trace of skepticism vanished when I remembered that the Goddess of Creation also serves as the Goddess of Destruction.


    From the Hardcover edition.


    Excerpted from Wild Ducks Flying Backward by Tom Robbins Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 20, 2005

      Brisk and pleasant.

      Tom Robbins speaks eloquently and with appropriate irreverence on an enormous range of topics (the art of kissing the definition of aesthetics Nevada's Canyon of the Vaginas actress Jennifer Jason Leigh the meaning of life the qualities of good mayonnaise) in addition to a smattering of short fiction and poetry. The latter, particularly his inane poems, is uninspired and smarmy some of his essays are overcooked and overemotive (Robbins has clearly never metaphor he didn't like) for no good reason, yet there are moments of stunning precision and clarity that are as shocking as they are profoundly moving.

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