It's easy to forget that Tom Robbins is kinda old. Like many of my friends, I devoured his work in high school—barely noticing at the time that the best of his giddy, recklessly experimental novels were older than I was. Though he's been churning out books every few years for more than a quarter century, he's irrevocably linked to the life-gulping countercultural movement of the '60s and '70s, a Merry Prankster who never actually rode the bus. Purple prose, quasi-mystical pontifications, talking tin cans, and unsuccessful forays into the second person are all part and parcel for an author whose writing is by turns exhilarating and exhausting. And now he's written a kids' book for grownups—or a grownup book for kids—and while it's hardly his masterpiece, it's also impossible to fault the 76-year-old Robbins for wanting to kick back over a cold one and knock out a book that's just as frothy as the beverage it celebrates.
B Is for Beer follows a little girl named Gracie on a mission to understand what beer is and why people drink it. It's clear from paragraph one what we're in for: "Have you ever wondered why your daddy likes beer so much? Have you wondered, before you fall asleep at night, why he sometimes acts kind of 'funny' after he's been drinking beer?" Between a jolly drunken uncle and a magical "beer fairy," Gracie gets a simple primer on beer production and consumption that some readers might find informative. (Robbins being Robbins, the Veil Shrouding Life's Great Mystery is also invoked.) It's all very cutesy, but there are gems among the goggled-eyed prose. Like this one: "You know what golf is, don't you? It's basketball for people who can't jump and chess for people who can't think." Snap.
Robbins obviously had fun writing this book and it's hard not to have fun reading it. Consider your $18 ticket price the cost of admission for seeing a Northwest literary legend, and give your complimentary copy of B Is for Beer pride of place in your bathroom, where its combination of factoids, philosophical one-offs, and tongue-in-cheek punch lines will be best appreciated.