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Kurt says...

I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.

—self-interview in
Palm Sunday

And what we will be seeking...for the rest of our lives will be large, stable communties of like-minded people, which is to say relatives. They no longer exist. The lack of them is not only the main cause, but probably the only cause of our shapeless discontent in the midst of such prosperity.

—commencement address, Hobart and William Smith Colleges,
May 26, 1974

What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.


Read A Brief Introduction to Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut Bibliography
  • Player Piano
    It's workers versus managers in Vonnegut's first and most conventional novel. Paul Proteus is an engineer whose life hits the skids when he makes the mistake of listening to his conscience. Some fine touches which hint at Vonnegut's future greatness. Like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, an examination of American capitalism and its trend towards power concentration and human obsolesence.
  • The Sirens of Titan
    Egomaniac Malachi Constant thinks that "someone up there" has chosen him for a special mission in life. In a way, he's right, but not for any very flattering reason. The most science fiction-oriented of V's books, it is also one of his most lyric.
  • Mother Night
    "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful what we pretend to be." Mother Night is the Israeli prison memoir of American radio propagandist Howard Campbell, who awaits trial for collaborating with the Nazis. No one believes his claim to have been spying for the Allies all along. Recently made into a pretty good movie starring Nick Nolte with a disturbing cameo by Vonnegut as "Sad Man on the Street."
  • Cat's Cradle
    A slender novel that's big on ideas, this is the book that gave the world Ice-9 and Bokononism--the end of the world and its salvation, respectively.
  • Welcome to the Monkey House
    A collection of Vonnegut's early "slick" (as in shiny-paged magazine) fiction, the sale of which allowed him to quit his job at GE and begin writing full time. This "hack work" also later compromised his status as a "serious" writer. Nevertheless, the stories are compelling and make people laugh, perfect bedtime stories for grownups.
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
    A weaselly lawyer tries to wrest control away from a charitable foundation's alcoholic and arguably insane president, Eliot Rosewater, who heeds the Sermon on the Mount and tries his crazy best to love the unloveable.
  • Slaughterhouse-5
    As an American POW of the German army, Vonnegut survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden. Twenty years later, he wrote this, his most acclaimed book. Subtitled The Children's Crusade, it shows war to be a deadly game organized by men but fought by children. Vonnegut loves the excellent film adaptation.
  • Breakfast of Champions
    A melancholy look at the American midwest, disaster results when insane Pontiac dealer Dwayne Hoover takes a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout to heart (a la Don Quixote) and acts as though everyone else were a robot.
  • Slapstick
    The story of a neanderathaloid isolated in the ruins of Manhattan starts out fine but ends with both too many loose threads and some too-neat tie-ups. The subtitle Lonesome No More was suggested to Sargent Shriver as a campaign slogan, so it's hardly surprising the book reads like a speech, but the touching autobiographical prologue is a must-read.
  • Jailbird
    The story of an inadvertent Watergate co-conspirator's imprisonment and subsequent release into the wasteland of late-1970s America is prefaced by an amazing fictional encapsulation of labor relations in the US of A.
  • Deadeye Dick
    A pubescent boy takes a potshot out of his gun-collecting father's attic window, inadvertently ending two lives and destroying his own.
  • Galapagos
    What if the human brain were an evolutionary maladaptation of as little long-term use for the species as the ornate antlers of the Irish Elk? Vonnegut couches this question in an entertaining tale of natural selection where humankind as we know it meets its end and everybody is better off for it.

  • Bluebeard
    As an exploration of the creative impulse, Bluebeard succeeds where Slapstick fails. Written as the autobiography of long-time Vonnegut character Rabo Karabekian, the abstract expressionist painter's story parallels Vonnegut's own. At 70, Karabekian is redeemed when he discovers he still has something to offer the world and Vonnegut, late in his career, pulls off his most soulful book.
  • Hocus Pocus
    A Vietnam vet  moves from wartime to classtime to hardtime as he's reminded time and again that life doesn't follow orders. If you've ever felt that classrooms and prison cells have a lot in common, the story's central metaphor --a college turned into a penitentiary-- makes this book too delicious to pass up.
  • Timequake
    Vonnegut sheds the shackles of convention and offers a surprisingly upbeat and optimistic pastiche of fiction, memoir, and metaphysics which pokes and probes the question of free will. Vonnegut and his alter ego Kilgore Trout meet again, but instead of the unhappy circumstances when last we left them at the end of Breakfast of Champions (with Kilgore Trout shouting to his creator, "Make me young, make me young, make me young!"), this time the two authors have curbed their earthly desire to live forever (after having witnessed the deaths of most of their family and friends) and so attain a compassionate equanimity which lets them for the first time view human folly with wry good humor instead of acerbic cynicism--"If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

    Vonnegut claims it will be his last book, but he probably doesn't have a choice in the matter.
Vonnegut calls these collections of letters, essays, speeches, and autobiographical sketches blivits, a word he defines as "two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag."
This is where you can find numerous commencement speeches, book reviews, and meditations on the creative process and the importance of family, not to mention the lyrics to his favorite country song.
The most revealing of the batch is Conversations..., a compilation of 20 years' worth of interviews from various sources.

Read A Brief Introduction to Kurt Vonnegut

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© 1999 robert zverina