So sue me. I re-read Slaughterhouse Five last week. I re-read it every year. So it goes.
I’m not going to get into my deep and undying love for this book. You already know all about that. What I would like to share is how this book came into my life.
I was working at a coffee shop as a barista the summer after I turned 20. That summer was actually one of the hardest of my entire life. I was dealing with some heavy stuff. So it goes. I loved working at the coffee shop though, because there was a recording studio above it (owned by the same people) and we had live music and musicians in the shop all the time. We also had a lot of artists coming by. One of those artists and I became fast friends. One day, we were talking and he brought up Kurt Vonnegut. I said I had never read anything of his before. The guy couldn’t believe it. It was like I dropped a bomb on his brain. The next day, he came in carrying a book. He handed it to me across the counter and said “Here. You need this more than I do.” It was his very worn, very old, copy of Slaughterhouse Five. Usually, manners would have led to me to resist taking his book. That day, however, my manners were nowhere to be found and I took it. I started reading it that night and stayed up the entire night to finish it. It was a revelation. To be funny and moral and sad and poignant- it seemed impossible to me before I read Slaughterhouse Five. Now, I knew it was not only possible, but that it had already been done.
The next time I saw him, I tried to return his book but he wasn’t having it. He told me it was mine to keep. “The first read isn’t even the best one. It gets better each time you read it.” He said. And you know something, he was right. So now, when I know someone is having a rough go of it, I don’t send flowers. I send Slaughterhouse Five.
For several years, I have boasted about having read everything ever published by Kurt Vonnegut. Last week, I found another collection of short stories that was published posthumously that I had never read. Touche Mr. Vonnegut, you have taught me an important lesson on braggadocio. Well played.
So- my choice for last week was that very collection, While Mortals Sleep. It was everything I expect in a Kurt Vonnegut book and more. In fact, I have to say this is my favorite collection of his short stories. Every time I read one of his stories I can almost feel him smirking at me through the words. No one writes like that anymore. Every story is delivered with a smirk and a moral- if you will (or if you won’t, it really doesn’t make any difference to me). What I mean to say is, these are certainly stories with morals/messages, they just might not be what you expect. They aren’t preachy or chastising, they are just observations meant to inform. Even if it is a little biting.
The introduction to this was written by Dave Eggers- another writer I greatly admire and enjoy. He makes some great observations about Vonnegut and his style of writing and comes to the same conclusion I do, which is, Kurt Vonnegut cared a great deal about the human condition and he didn’t give a damn if his writing was politically correct- he cared that much. God bless him. Vonnegut once described his effort at improving the human condition through writing as “throwing cream pies” (particularly his effort to protest the Vietnam war). Maybe he felt it was ineffectual, but gee if that man didn’t throw more cream pies than any other writer of his time or ours. He kept throwing them, time and again. I certainly hope I can throw a pie or two like Mr. Vonnegut.
Of course, you know I loved this collection of stories. Read it immediately- or I will throw a cream pie in your face.
I hope you don’t think I’m a cheater cheater pumpkin eater (I do love pumpkin….) with my book choice last week. Because, to be honest, I’ve read it before. I’ll pause for general gasps and tears. Also, it’s not strictly non-fiction, even though it was a non-fiction week. Go ahead and gasp again.
Have you pulled yourselves together? Onward and upward. I chose Kurt Vonnegut’s Armageddon In Retrospect. If you’ve read this blog for a while, I’m pretty sure you know of my deep and undying love of Mr. Vonnegut. This collection of speeches and short stories was published posthumously and has an introduction by Mark Vonnegut, Kurt’s son. I have clung to this book since it was published. Mr. Vonnegut never disappointed me in any of his published writings but there is something about this collection that hits the heart of me. Maybe because I know it will be his last. Maybe because when it seems like nothing makes sense and everything is in limbo, I can read this and find reason and humor and logic again. I felt like an intruder reading the letter Vonnegut sent his family after his release from being a POW in Germany- and yet I was so compelled by it. You can already see some of the brilliance that was to come later. More than that, it was so different from any kind of letter I could imagine writing in that situation- and that comforts me. I don’t know why. The rest of the book is mostly short stories revolving around World War II. They are humorous and haunting and poignant and perfect. Perfect.
Sometimes, I just need Kurt V. in my life. Last week was one of those weeks and I wasn’t disappointed in my choice. He never lets me down- and that’s nothing short of a miracle. Of course, I’m going to tell you to read this. I think you should read everything Mr. Kurt Vonnegut wrote. He reminds me to laugh and he reminds me to think for myself and I think he is the bees knees and the cat’s meow. So there.