I recently started re-reading my favourite book, as I do every few years. This is my fourth time, the first being when I bought my well-loved hardback copy of the original 1984 print at a used bookstore in Urbana-Champaign while visiting my sister in 2003.
A lot has happened since I last read this book and I was worried I’d changed so much I would no longer recognize what my past selves loved so much about it. This same fear read over my shoulder on my third read too, but it proved to be unfounded, both last time, and again now. I can confidently say that Jitterbug Perfume is still my favourite book.
Since the last time I read this book, I’ve moved to a different country and pushed myself through the square hole of an MFA program where I learned a lot about the craft of writing and how to be irrationally critical. As a result, I (surprise!) found myself being much more critical than I was on my first or even third reads, especially at the beginning of the book. But as I neared the end I continued to re-discover what I loved so much about this book, and also to find new things to love about it. More about that here.
Is it the fantastical element of mortals becoming immortal, gods on the verge of death? Is it the humour, or the bizarre characters and plot? I love the bizarre, enlightening humour of all of Tom Robbins’ books, the way they invigorate me with a curiosity of the world around me and a passion for life, the way they open my mind while making me laugh, and venture into dark territory without ever dragging down that joie de vivre.
But here, in Jitterbug Perfume, all of these elements combine perfectly to create my favourite book four times over (and counting). As I look at the other books on my shelf (the ones that I’ve read and loved a couple times, the ones I’ve studied for class, and the ones I’ve read instead of the ones I was supposed to be reading for class), they all have wonderful elements and ideas that excite me, but none are as full-bodied and satisfying as Jitterbug Perfume, a book which both satiates my desire for fun, for knowledge, for imagination, and for magic, yet still leaves me hungry for more.