Kurt Vonnegut Dies at 84- and so it goes.

Steve Young was my 11th grade English teacher. To him, I owe my love of Kurt Vonnegut. The reading list that year was varied- from James Joyce’s “Portrait of the artist as a young man” to William Faulkner’s “The sound and the fury” to Joe Haldeman’s “The forever war” and most importantly Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” which I loved- and is the only book I’ve re-read more than twice.

So- it really sucks to find out that Kurt is gone, less than three weeks before I was to go see him speak in Indianapolis thanks to my great friend Pam (who waited in line for 3 hours for the free tickets). Luckily- I took a day off several years ago- and drove to Cleveland to hear him speak in Severance Hall for a Case Western Reserve University event. That talk will be right up there with my first parachute jump, first time looking up from the bottom of a pool in Scuba gear, taking the controls of a small plane when I was 12, losing my virginity- you get the point.

But if there is one thing I didn’t know about Vonnegut until today- and one thing that makes me more happy than sad- is to read the following from the New York Times:

Kurt Vonnegut Dies at 84: Paper – New York Times
“Cat’s Cradle” was published in 1963 and although it initially sold only about 500 copies it is widely read today in high school English classes, the newspaper said.

The book that I consider a “modern day bible” (and this quote will probably come back to haunt me) was a failure when it was published.

It gives us all hope, that our early failures may just be building the foundation to something great. Yes, Dad, what Steve Young failed to teach me about using apostrophes in the right places- may not matter as much as what Vonnegut taught me about persevering through failure to try to change the world to be a better place.

I think Kurt’s writing did that for all of us.

Hopefully, my parents will still be around to see their son make a difference.

So, Kurt, thanks for sharing your talents and wisdom. You will be missed- and so it goes.

In case you haven’t read any Kurt- I stumbled upon this video. Since Kurt is now laughing at us from the great beyond- I think I’ve found my new favorite person to read for him.

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9 Responses

  1. Drexel Dave April 12, 2007 / 8:33 am
    It took drexel 10 years, and lots of being made fun of, to get some national recognition and critical acclaim.

    I too, am a huge Cat’s Cradle fan. Vonnegut and HST were and are, two of my literary heroes.

    Now it’s our turn!

  2. David Esrati April 12, 2007 / 9:05 am

    For those wondering: HST is probably Hunter S. Thompson- author of “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas”- a book that quite possibly is the only book that can make you think you are high- without actually taking anything.

  3. Melissa April 12, 2007 / 9:47 am
    HST, Molly Ivins, Vonnegut … the good ones have exited this mortal coil. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” was the “it” book for me. I miss his style more than anything …
  4. Quixotic April 12, 2007 / 10:00 am
    I, too, am a huge Vonnegut fan – probably because he put into words like no other what I have always felt: we as humans are generally silly and it is okay to laugh at that. (“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different”).

    And I’ll never forget his lesson in the opening of “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian,” which was we humans need to learn to be good each other without any expectation of reward or punishment in the afterlife. Common decency, you see, was Kurt’s “religion,” and what could make more sense than that?

    I have read Kurt’s novels sporadically over the years, but recently made the effort to read them all in order of publication. I made it through “Breakfast of Champions,” “Slapstick,” “Jailbird,” and “Deadeye Dick” this past weekend. I am now just finishing up “Galapagos.” If you have never read his novels in this manner, I would recommend it. I never really realized until doing so how often his characters reappear – popping in and out of one novel to the next. It gives me a whole new appreciation of the way Kurt thought.

    Thanks, Kurt.

    “I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, “Isaac is up in heaven now.” It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke. (A Man Without A Country, 2005)

  5. Jeff April 12, 2007 / 7:52 pm
    For me the two memorable books by him were Mother Night and Player Piano, though Player Piano didn’t have so much of his black humor..he hadn’t yet truely found that voice yet. Mother Night was a great moral, or ethical, fable. It was made into a movie a few years ago, with a suprisingly good star turn by Nick Nolte (Vonnegut himself makes a cameo appearance).

    I hadn’t read much of Vonneguts later work, just Breakfst of Champions. I was suprised to hear he was still writing and had a collection of essays out just recently, last year or the year before? Reading Vonnegut was from an earlier time in my life.

    Thinking back to what I remember of Player Piano; sort of like the world in Player Piano, Dayton is a place where our civic heros are the engineers and managers.

  6. Scott April 13, 2007 / 1:50 pm
    I discovered Vonnegut in 6th grade, when my older brother brought home “Jailbird.” Genius, I thought (although I believe Vonnegut later graded it as a C ).
    My next read was “Breakfast of Champions,” from which (if I recall correctly) comes my favorite Vonnegut quote: “Love may fail, but courtesy prevails.” That is what I see as Vonnegut’s underlying mantra – we should try our best to treat people with dignity and respect. We are complex, silly animals, and we can’t help but screw up the world…but if we exercise courtesy and humility we can minimize the amount of hurt that we do. The world’s a mess, and out of control – what we can control are our individual interactions. That’s the impact that we can have, that’s how we can change the world. Vonnegut’s “heros” were never the powerful, never those recognized and hailed by the masses – they were small individuals, caught in the maelstrom of life spinning about them, who did what they could to exercise judgement and kindness in their small actions.
  7. Quixotic April 13, 2007 / 7:51 pm
    Scott,

    Actually, your favorite quote comes from the prologue of “Jailbird,” which is my favorite Vonnegut – if only for the story in said prologue for Kurt’s reunion with his father in heaven.

    That quote WAS Kurt’s underlying mantra – and according to him, were not even his words. He received a letter from John Figler, a high school student, who stated he had read everything Kurt had written and was prepared to state the single idea that lie at the core of Kurt’s life work: “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.”

    Kurt’s response? “This seems true to me – and complete. So I am now in the abashed condition, five days after my 56th birthday, of realizing that I needn’t have bothered to write several books. A seven-word telegram would have done the job. Seriously.”

    Classic Vonnegut.

  8. Scott April 15, 2007 / 7:27 pm
    Thanks for the correction – obviously it’s been awhile since I’ve read any of Kurt’s books. I think a lot of us have realized this week that it’s time to go back to the bookshelf and dust off the Vonnegut!

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