The Best Tom Robbins Books

I like to read a lot of different types of books, but I have undoubtedly been harboring a bit of a man-crush on Robbins since I was first introduced to his writing. So that’s why I’ve decided to compile a brief review on the best Tom Robbins books I’ve read!

If you’re not familiar with Tom Robbins, you should honestly get familiar, and quick! He has an unquestionable place among my favorite authors, among such names as Edward Abbey, Hunter S. Thompson, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Since I first got my hands on his writing I’ve read at least five of his selections.

I was living in a 28-foot RV with my brother and our Husky Zeke when I first came across his work. We had spent the Christmas holiday parked on a family friend’s ranch property in Ramona, California and we were preparing to hit to road for a family reunion in Palm Springs. As a parting gift, our family friend gave me his copy of Jitterbug Perfume.

As a disclaimer, each of Robbins’ books has taken a bit to really grab my attention. But it’s always somewhere around that 60-100 page mark where the hook is set and I can’t put the book down. So, in the age of instant gratification, I ask you to be patient with whichever Tom Robbins book you pick up next. It’ll be worth it.

The Sweet Smell of Jitterbug Perfume

best tom robbins books - jitterbug perfume

Jitterbug Perfume is a story that intertwines the lives of several strangers living throughout the world. The tale begins with an ancient Bohemian King who is set to be put to death by his people because he has eclipsed the “acceptable” age to remain a king.

This has been the way of his people for centuries. Every time a king shows the first signs of aging, i.e. gray hair, injury, or inability to perform, he is brushed aside to make way for the next ruler.

This king, however, doesn’t want to accept the fate that has befallen his predecessors. He schemes, along with the help of his closest handmaiden, to fake his death and become a common peasant in the next village over, where he is completely unknown.

But as he continues to age, his obsession with escaping death only intensifies and he goes on a quest in search of a path to immortality.

What ensues is a colorful, insightful tale with themes of life and death, the power of scent in recalling our most powerful memories, and the secret healing powers of a common root vegetable: the beet.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Jitterbug Perfume:

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.”


Journey Through a Still Life with Woodpecker

best tom robbins books - still life with woodpecker

Still Life with Woodpecker is a love story at its core. You’ll become familiar with Robbins’ affinity for redheads, he himself being one, and his obsession with something he calls “pyramid power.” The story follows its heroine, Leigh-Cheri, a fiery redhead princess in exile with an environmentalist agenda.

Leigh-Cheri’s life changes forever when she attends an environmental conference in Hawaii, where she meets self-proclaimed outlaw Bernard Mickey Wrangle. The two fall instantly in love as they dish on global issues such as climate change, the importance of the pyramid in Egyptian mythology, and the all-important question of how to make love stay.

Robbins relates these massive themes through a delicate but humorous tale of forbidden love between a princess and an outlaw, and their journey to save, or sometimes simply exist in, the world.

Here is one of my favorites quotes from Still Life with Woodpecker:

“In the world according to the positivist, the inspiring thing about scrambled eggs is that any way you turn they’re sunny side up. In the world according to the existentialist, the hopeless thing about scrambled eggs is that any way you turn them they’re scrambled. In the world according to the outlaw, it was Wheaties-with-beer for breakfast, and who cared which crossed the road first, the chicken or the egg.”


The Skinny on Skinny Legs and All

best tom robbins books - skinny legs and all

Skinny Legs and All follows a newlywed couple, Ellen Cherry Charles and Randolph “Boomer” Petway. The story begins with “Boomer” driving his Airstream, which has been customized in the image of a turkey, to Seattle to express his love for Ellen Cherry and win her hand in marriage. The two had dated previously, but Ellen Cherry had moved away to Seattle to pursue his painting career.

Boomer’s roaming turkey is enough to convince Ellen Cherry to marry him and with her career going nowhere in Seattle, the two decide to make the cross-country move to New York City. Along the way, they stop for a “picnic” in a seemingly random cave in the desert. When spooked by unseen movement in the cave, the two human characters depart hastily, leaving behind a spoon, a dirty sock, and a can of soup.

What ensues is an intimate look into the unseen lives of inanimate objects that challenges the reader to accept that there is “more than meets the eye” when it comes to many of your most common household items. In a comic and perspective-shifting tale, Robbins dives into the history of organized religion, the pitfalls of religious dogma, and the power of the genius waitress.

Here is one of my favorites quotes from Skinny Legs and All:

“Inanimate objects, destined to spend their existence in outwardly passive and obedient behavior, understood perhaps more sharply than humans that true freedom was an internal condition not subject to the vagaries of politics. Freedom could not be owned. Therefore, it could not be appropriated. Or controlled. It could, however, be relinquished.”


Find Freedom with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

best tom robbins books - fierce invalids

Departing from his common use of a female heroine, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates follows the random misadventures of Switters, a colorful, opinionated, and self-proclaimed CIA “angel”. When assigned a mission in South America, Switters’ grandmother persuades him to bring her pet parrot along in hopes of releasing him into the wild.

His journey into the South American jungle brings him face-to-face with a modern-day medicine man, but due to unfortunate circumstances, Switters leaves this encounter paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to touch the ground, Switters returns home and must confront some serious changes to his lifestyle.

What follows is a period of self-discovery, his disavowment from the CIA, and a freelance mission that lands him in the middle of a nunnery in the middle of the African desert. As usual, Robbins’ story weaves in large themes, such as the importance of fun, the power of psychedelics, and the idea that a seemingly minor encounter can create a ripple effect that changes many lives in the process.

Here is one of my favorites quotes from Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates:

“And so he came to recognize that there were two kinds of people: those who were curious about the world and those whose shallow attentions were pretty much limited to those things that pertained to their own personal well-being. He concluded further that Curiosity might have to be added to that list of traits–Humor, Imagination, Eroticism, Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics–that, according to his grandmother, separated full-fledged humans from the less evolved.”


Robbins is a Master of Comic, Purposeful Storytelling

While I can’t tell you just what you’ll get from reading Tom Robbins or whether his humor will make you laugh out loud the way it repeatedly does for me, I can tell you that each of Robbins’ books contains deeper themes about life, love, and the nature of humanity.

They are themes that we all have in common and no matter your viewpoint, they are themes that raise questions and invite us to think. And that, my friends, is the purpose of any great novel!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed my synopses of these selections from Tom Robbins. I highly recommend his storytelling to almost anyone. In fact, I can’t really think of someone to whom I wouldn’t recommend him! If you have comments or questions about anything I’ve presented here, or you’d like to share your own experience with Tom Robbins, I’d love to hear from you!

Please don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the comments section below or to contact me privately!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

12 thoughts on “The Best Tom Robbins Books”

  1. some of the best of tom robin books is what we have here. i am really excited about this article.The fact that i have learnt something really tangible from this post is very satisfying. The build of your website is nice and the simplicity of the color selection makes it so beautiful. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  2. I love how you call this time the “age of instant gratification”, because it is true. Nowadays people want immediate action in a book, while I am still old-fashioned in that way and I prefer a story to build up. Tom Robbins is a great author, I have heard of him and I’ve only heard good things 🙂 I have not read anything by him yet … but thart may change. 

    Jitterbug Perfume looks like a very interesting read. I like the story of that one. I honestly like the synopsis of all three books you show here. Extremely interesting, and unusual. I like unusual 😉 I am an avid reader and I think that I would enjoy one of these books. I’m not sure which one yet. Are they available on Kindle Unlimited?

    Reply
    • Hi Christine! 

      Thanks for the acknowledgment of the ‘instant gratification’ point. I hope what we are collectively experiencing right now will have some amazing lasting effects on society and what we prioritize. But as far as Tom Robbins’ work goes, I wish as many folks as possible could get their hands on his books while they have more free time to read! 

      I am personally biased towards starting with Jitterbug Perfume because it’s how I discovered Robbins. As you probably know, books always come to us at the moment we need their lessons, so I have no doubt that you’ll be happy with whichever one you choose!

      I just did a quick search and you should be able to find all of these books on Kindle Unlimited.

      So happy reading! 

      Reply
  3. I enjoyed your article on the Tom Robbins books and am thoroughly intrigued. His outlook on life is phenomenal and the stories and the twists should make for great reading. I’ll get myself one of these books for my next holiday trip, such books make for great company when I’m traveling!

    Reply
  4. After reading these synopses, Its easy to understand why you got hooked with Tom Robbins’ work. As you said, he has a sense of humor that surprisingly keeps you rooted in the things that truly matter to us as humans.

    His works clearly shows how deeply he values principles such as love and humanity.

    I’m particularly intrigued by his work on jitterbug perfume. I like how he relates the concept of customs & traditions, life, death and immortality.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Hi Lyke! 

      Jitterbug Perfume was the first of his books that I read. And I must say that it was the best introduction to Robbins’ work that I could’ve asked for. Once you’ve read Jitterbug Perfume, I’d love it if you’d pop back in here and leave any additional thoughts that come up after finishing it! 

      Reply
  5. Yes! I love Tom Robbins. Even though it looks weird but I like the way he tells. And indeed he is a master of comics.
    Aside from the four books that you listed, let me add this book: Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.
    I confess I bought this book as much for the evocative title as anything else. Frog Pajamas !!!!!!!!!!!! But when you come right down to it, who is a better writer in the old-hippie mode than Tom Robbins? I can’t think of anyone. His books are instant classics – delicious combos of observations, monologue, narrative, and fictional ingenuity. This book is no exception.
    Just make sure, you have read the 4 books above before going to Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.
    You will not regret it!

    Reply
    • Hi Kylie! 

      I found Robbins so refreshing because of his ability to make me laugh out loud while reading (a rare thing in written media). But he also provokes serious thought and reflection through his themes. I confess that I haven’t read Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas yet, but I have it on audio book, maybe for my next road trip! 

      Reply
  6. Hello! As someone who likes to read and try new authors and genres, I really enjoyed and appreciated this post! I especially like how you gave a quick but detailed summary of each book. They were all compelling and really intrigued me. It is clear that Robbins touches on a variety of topics and themes and, as you mentioned, these themes urge us to think and reflect. I too agree with you that novels that provoke reflection are the most impactful. Thank you for your beautifully written article!! 

    Reply
    • Hey Rashaad! Thanks for your comment. I’m curious, which of the books mentioned in this article appealed to you most? In other words, which one do you think you’d be most likely to read first? 

      Reply

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