05 October 2010

Book Review: Still Life With Woodpecker

It's glorious outside right now. And by glorious, I mean mid 80s, cloudy, windy, and threatening thunderstorms. And what's that I see? Is that a hint of color on that singular, probably imported, university-owned deciduous tree? I think it is. Oh, and while I was walking to my media arts screening (did I mention I love my major? from 4:00-6:30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I just go watch movies.) I saw a bunch of palm tree leaves(?) crash down onto the sidewalk about 100 feet in front of me. Awesome weather.

All of this means that when I get home in 3 hours I'm going to be doing some serious fall cooking. Regardless of the fact that a stupid STUPID cop gave me a speeding ticket on the freeway where I was going the exact same speed as everyone else and now I have to pay 210$ by the end of the month. Luckily I got my last check from working at Mama Edda's so that will be going towards that. I'm still broke though, so hopefully I can continue to make yummy things. Anyways, that was a serious digression. I was talking about how I'm going to make fall food later. Probably stuffed gourds. We'll see.

But I can't do that NOW. Right now, I'm sitting in the lounge of the McClelland Park building waiting for my class. What I can do, though, is catch up on some of the non-food related stuff this blog is supposed to cover. And since it's all rainy out, how about I tell you about a good book to read?

Still Life With Woodpecker

This book is friggen awesome. It's also incredibly, incredibly ridiculous, but mind-blowing at the same time. To give you kind of an idea, here's the synopsis from the back:

"Still Life With Woodpecker is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes.  It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that include powerful Arabs, exiled royalty and pregnant cheerleaders.  It also deals with the problem of redheads"

Yes, a pack of Camel cigarettes. Not literally like, INSIDE the pack. But kind of at the same time. Basically, the book goes into depth discussing all the things present on the (old) design on a pack of camels. One design of the book cover itself actually mimics the design of the packaging:
By the way, I accept no credit for these photos... I found them online, all I did was splice 'em together in adobe.
Kind of cool, huh? Don't worry, this isn't a novel advocating smoking. Although you might have the urge to go out and buy a pack of camels, just to check out the packaging. Don't bother, it's not the same design anymore.

This crazy story was written by Tom Robbins in 1980. yep, it's a 30 year old unconventional book, but reads like a progressive novel of today. I was shocked to learn that Tom Robbins was born in 1936, because it seems so odd that a 74 year old man could have views that were so... abstract. Because he's a couple generations ahead of me, I had never heard of him until I read Still Life, but wiki tells me that he wrote a book called Even Cowgirls Get the Blues in 1976, which was turned into a movie starring Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves. Have you heard of/seen it? I feel so silly reviewing a book where I've never heard of any of the author's other stuff. I bet my parents do, though. haha.
Here's a pic of Robbins, I assume a few decades ago when he was at the peak of his writing.

Anyways, onto the plot of Still Life With Woodpecker.

Most of the story revolves around a modern day princess named Leigh-Cheri who cares a great deal about the environment and seems to be the only one in her (banished) family of three with a head on her shoulders. The other key player in this story is Bernard, a self-proclaimed outlaw with the somewhat unsettling catchphrase, "yum".
A small part of the story is written in a different font and is from the point of the author (we assume) as he discusses the typewriter- the Remington SL3- that he is using to write this story. It's all very entertaining.

Basically, everything begins with Leigh-Cheri, who has proclaimed herself celibate and confined herself to a life of solitude in her room, emerging and asking permission to attend the Care Fest. The Care Fest is a liberal/environmental convention in Hawaii at which Leigh-Cheri's idol, Ralph Nader, is speaking. Her parents allow it and ask their Spanish-speaking housekeeper, Gulietta, to accompany her. On the plane, Leigh-Cheri meets the outlaw Bernard and is basically seriously creeped out by him. Of course, it turns out that Bernard is on the way to blow up the convention which Leigh-Cheri is attending. However, Bernard gets drunk on tequila beforehand and ends up blowing up a UFO convention instead. Can you tell this book is seriously crazy? And this is only like the first 30 pages or so.

A whole lot of other stuff happens, including Gulietta becoming addicted to Cocaine, a woman who claims she's from another planet telling Leigh-Cheri she's evil because she has red hair, Bernard and Leigh-Cheri drinking tequila and falling in love, Leigh-Cheri confining herself naked in her room with only a pack of camels to entertain her, numerous revelations that result from said box of camels, an engagement to an Arabian man, and a long stretch of time trapped inside of a pyramid, living on wedding cake and champagne.

Wow. It's seriously like impossible to try to explain this book without making it sound totally insane.

Eh. I guess I just like insane literature.

This is the kind of book that makes you really want to read every word and think about them too. Every other line is like "wow, what an incredible use of imagery!" or "that is such an intense play on words!" or "did he REALLY just write that?". In fact, I want to read it again right now and get my notebook and write down all the awesome quotes. I wrote down a couple last time but not NEARLY enough.

This is a relatively quick read for containing so much plot and substance. If you are in the mood for a quirky, abstract, fun and thoughtful book, pick this up at the library and give it a read. You won't be disappointed. And hey, if you are, you got it at the library. It's free. So no complaining.

I don't have my notebook with me so I can't write down the quotes from the first time I read this book. I also don't own the book, because I like borrowing and renting books. It feels better to read a book that's already been read and worn down and dog eared by a bunch of other people. Anyways, I will give you a couple of my favorite quotes from the list provided on wikipedia, to give you a sense of the writing style.

"Funny how we think of romance as always involving two, when the romance of solitude can be ever so much more delicious and intense"

"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature."

 "This baby (the Remington SL3 typewriter) speaks electric Shakespeare at the slightest provocation and will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard."

Ah. good ol' unconventional literature. I dig it.




  1. Hey Girl! I actually did read "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" back in the 70s. It was a great book! I confess I don't remember anything about it except that I really liked it. Can I read your copy of "Still Life?"

  2. Maybe i'll try and find a copy and read it :) f i had one i would of course let you read it, but when i read it i just borrowed it from a friend. They probably have it at the library though <3