Category: Book Reviews

A Review of Villa Incognito Featured Image

A Review of Villa Incognito

Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito centers on American MIAs that chose to remain missing after the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Add in four generations of alluring women that share a mysterious connection to a famous figure from Japanese folklore and you can only begin to imagine the possibilities. This review of Villa Incognito will cover just enough to hook you in, but not too much to give anything away.

review of villa incognito - front cover

Main Characters – Men

The starring actors in this Robbins play are three American veterans that went missing-in-action during the Vietnam War. They are Dern V. Foley, Mars Albert Stubblefield, and Dickie Lee Goldwire. They are each unique in their own manner, and Stubblefield is largely viewed as the group’s unofficial leader. Robbins uses the idea of American soldiers who decide to remain lost (rather than return to their home country) to challenge the U.S. government’s stance on foreign warfare, the commitment of soldiers, and the manner in which many veterans are treated upon returning home.

There is also another male figure that plays a central role in this play, although this figure is not human. Tanuki is a mysterious figure central to Japanese folklore. Tanuki is a badger-like creature with an addiction to sake and the ability to shape-shift. Tanuki’s affair with a Japanese farm-girl is the act that sets this entire play in motion.

Main Characters – Ladies

The starring female actors in this book are Lisa Ko and the Goldwire sisters, Bootsey and Pru. The Goldwire sisters are actually the U.S.-based characters in this drama and have to deal with the officials from the American military and CIA in their search for the missing (but unwilling to be found) men.

Lisa Ko is the lover of both Goldwire and Stubblefield. She is a fiercely independent woman, however, and she enjoys the company of both men without a real willingness to commit to either. She holds a secret key to the unfolding of this story, and it’s a key that even she is discovering as the plot unfurls itself.

The Big Debacle

The missing American MIAs are quite happy with their situation in Vietnam and Laos when the book begins. But things become complicated when one of them (Dern V. Foley disguised as a priest) is arrested with an unimpressive collection of heroin taped to his body. This creates obvious complications for the band. But there are moving parts to this story that are unknown even to them.

Robbins (in his typical fashion) unveils twist after twist to this fascinating story and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Only by digesting the full story will you be able to find out the significance of the chrysanthemum seed embedded in the roof of one of the main character’s mouths, among other mysteries!

Three of My Favorite Quotes

1. “There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others.”

We are all unique. Life is often a long test of our patience. And some of us require more patience than others, while some of us also need to have more patience with ourselves and allow our lives to unfold in good time. Nothing good comes of forcing it.

2. “Hard times and funky living can season the soul, true enough, but joy is the yeast that makes it rise.”

Trials and tribulations harden us to the elements. Struggles make us appreciate the good times. It is in those joyous moments that we feel light and free. It is when we find the happiness that we so often search for and, as this quote suggests, it is when we rise up and embrace the best in ourselves.

3. “A real villain is always preferable to a fake hero.”

As is Robbins’ nature, he makes a statement here about the importance of genuine characters. As Robbins seems to believe, it’s better to be your genuine self (whatever that means) than to change yourself in order to impress or appease others.

Why It’s A MUST-Read

One of the central themes of so many of Robbins’ books that I identify with is the idea that mystery is essential to the enjoyment of life. It is our quest to find answers and learn more that keeps us going. This is why I love so many of Robbins’ books. They’re always full of mystery and keep you guessing up to the very end.

For me, Robbins’ books can take anywhere from 60 to 100 pages to really hook you in. But I must implore you to stick with it through this point. Once you’re hooked, it’ll be nearly impossible to put it down. You’ll be longing to know the mystery behind the chrysanthemum seed, the connection between Tanuki and the main characters, and what is perhaps the world’s most extreme high-wire act.

I love Robbins’ books because they also do more than just provide a mystery to solve. He always does an amazing job weaving in impactful statements about politics, religion, love, and so many of the big themes that we’re all searching for answers to. Robbins will introduce perspectives that will make you think more critically than ever, all while enjoying a laugh-out-loud story.

Your Turn!

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest Villa Incognito for yourself! While I hope you’ve enjoyed the quotes I pulled from it and highlighted here, this is by no means a complete review. If you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

review of villa incognito - front cover

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Quotes from The Tao of Pooh Featured Image

5 Quotes from the Tao of Pooh

This book came to me at a time when I was running around (seemingly) like crazy for my job in Austin, Texas. I have long been enamored with learning more about Eastern philosophy, and the idea of having it framed by one of my favorite childhood stories was too much to resist. So, today, I’m going to share and discuss five quotes from The Tao of Pooh.

quotes from the tao of pooh - front cover

Quote #1

“Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet.”

This quote, for me, brings up two questions: “Do I understand life?” and “Am I utilizing it for what it is?” Life, for me, is an opportunity to experiment, in so far as those experiments don’t do unnecessary and irreparable harm to others. It is also a great blessing to experience the love of others and to give your love to others. Finally, it is a chance to explore your creative passions and leave behind a legacy that inspires future generations to explore theirs as well.

Quote #2

“The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise. “ – Lao Tse, Tao de Ching

This quote is a statement on book knowledge versus knowledge gained from direct experience. There are pros and cons to both. We (the lucky ones) have more access to knowledge than the generations that have come before us, but there will always be a vast amount of knowledge that can only be gained by going out into the world, experimenting and failing, and learning from our experiences.

Quote #3

“A scholar named Wang

Laughed at my poems.

The accents are wrong,

He said,

Too many beats;

The meter is poor,

The wording impulsive.

I laugh at his poems,

As he laughs at mine.

They read like

The words of a blind man

Describing the sun.” -Han-Shan

In building off the previous quote, this poem brings us a real-life example to analyze. The scholar (Wang, in this case) has clearly studied the ins and outs of poetry. He knows how to structure poems, what meter to use for different situations, where to place his accents, how many beats to use, and how to be selective and purposeful with his wording.

But, in the eyes of Han-Shan (who perhaps comes from a less scholarly background), Wang’s studies have not prepared him to write poetry that truly describes the world around him and shares it with others. He lacks the experience to make his words, beat, and meter jump off the page, which may very well be the point of poetry after all.

Quote #4

“Knowledge and Experience do not necessarily speak the same language. But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t?”

Indeed, this is the question, isn’t it? From my experience (cough, no pun intended), I was only able to learn how to apply the knowledge I gained in traditional school settings by going out and attempting to apply it. I made mistakes. I upset bosses and co-workers and myself. It took years of experience to learn how to apply that knowledge to real-life settings.

Maybe I would have gained that same knowledge by simply jumping into the ‘experience’ without a preemptive “knowledge-downloading” phase. Maybe I would have saved myself a few years of learning curve and a few thousand dollars. But we learn by both studying and experiencing, and one of the truths that I do know is that there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk. We are always learning and growing. So there’s no sense in worrying about what might’ve been.

Quote #5

“It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around–walk through the grass, talk to the animals. That sort of thing…“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh. “Maybe, but…” “Not very many listen, though,” he said. “That’s the problem,” he added.”

It seems fairly obvious to me (to plagiarize only slightly) that we all need to get outside and sniff around. We need to run our fingers through the tall grasses, smell the sweet scent of the air, and feel (and maybe even taste) the dirt. We need to commune with the animal species (that belong to the same animal kingdom to which we belong, lest we forget) in our backyards, front yards, bird feeders, and wilderness areas.

But, like Pooh says, we also need to listen. We need to listen when the migrating birds tell us that they can no longer stop in an area they’ve visited for years because it now lacks enough sustenance to make a stop worthwhile. We need to listen when the bears tell us that they’d rather spend their evenings breaking into garages to root through our trash than spending their days foraging for honey and berries.

We need to pay attention to ocean mammals beaching themselves en mass (maybe because they’re sick of all the plastic that’s floating around as they try to nurse their young). There are so many signals that Nature gives us, if we just listen.

Your Turn!

quotes from the tao of pooh - back cover

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest The Tao of Pooh for yourself! While I hope you’ve enjoyed the quotes I pulled from it and highlighted here, this is by no means a complete review. If you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com