The Electric Commentary

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Is Dead

If you go into any college bookstore right now it is exceedingly likely that you will find several thousand used copies of old Kurt Vonnegut books priced between two and six dollars each. This is how I accumulated my Vonnegut collection. It's a mangled, coffee-stained bunch, all with the signature "V" cover, all at or around 200 pages.

Vonnegut wrote about meaning. Most the worlds that he created were destroyed slightly after the action took place, from the Neutron Bomb that destroys Deadeye Dick's town, to the Ice-9 of Cat's Cradle, to the plague of Galapagos, Vonnegut is constantly pounding you with the question, "Do your actions matter once everything goes to shit?"

His characters are generally lonely, and they have generally lost something important. In "Slapstick" societal convention destroys the most valuable intelligence on the planet and makes a lonely man of Wilbur, in Slaughterhouse-Five Billy Pilgrim is disconnected from life itself by war and aliens, and in The Sirens of Titans the richest man in the world gives up everything for a rather unsatisfying payoff. The ubiquitous Kilgore Trout is also a lonely, curmudgeonly fellow in control of nothing.

Vonnegut's style was somewhere between "genius" and "college student with report due in 3 hours on no sleep with no ideas." He would throw in strange literary devices for no apparent reason. Asterisks to mark that a character would shortly expire, the announcement of everyones' penis size, and dog after dog named Kazak would frequent his pages. He was awkward, but direct. There was never any flowery prose to set the scene, no mood, no colors (except on the cover). He was mechanical and matter-of fact, telling you only what he wanted you to know. There is a good reason that he rarely exceeded 200 pages.

Vonnegut had become an old crank over the last 10 years or so, although I'm only 29 years old and I get the distinct impression that he was an old crank well before I was born. His later works like "Timequake" are not worth reading. Kurt actually pumped out a lot of garbage in his day, but several of his books are worth picking up if you haven't had the pleasure. Rest In Peace Kurt Vonnegut. As Bokonon sang:

Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why just go ahead and scold Him. He'll just smile and nod.

My top ten Vonnegut books:

1. Cat's Cradle
2. Galapagos
3. The Sirens Of Titan
4. Slaughterhouse-Five
5. Slapstick
6. Welcome To The Monkey House
7. Deadeye Dick
8. Breakfast Of Champions
9. Hocus Pocus
10. Mother Night

You can get them on Amazon, or head to the college bookstore.


  • Regular used bookstores are also Vonnegut goldmines. Jailbird was the first Vonnegut novel I ever read and I'd say it stacks up pretty well against anything on your top 10 list.

    By Blogger dhodge, at 1:10 PM  

  • I never read that one, I'll have to pick it up. I still have a few bucks left over from lunch.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:33 PM  

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