Memoir of a Literary Master


Three things are clear about Kurt Vonnegut: he loves the work of Mark Twain; he loves the character of Abraham Lincoln; he absolutely, without a doubt, hates our former President George W. Bush. Now that Bush is out of the picture, can this book stand the test of time?

Satire certainly served him well in railing Bush, but Vonnegut also examines how he stumbled upon humor and how he used that humor in his novels. Those literary elements from one of the greatest free-thinking authors in the twentieth century make this book unique and affirm sustainability.

Vonnegut's A Man Without A Country is one big long rant with a little bit of personal history sprinkled in. Fortunately for the reader, the rant is fairly interesting. Just as musicians always have rhythms flowing through them like a heartbeat, Vonnegut has words itching at his fingertips urging him to write. Best known for his works of satire and science fiction, this book gives Vonnegut an excuse to excel in humor and explain his distaste for quite a lot of things.

I got classified as a science fiction writer simply because I wrote about Schenectady, New York. My first book, Player Piano, was about Schenectady… And when I wrote about the General Electric Company and Schenectady, it seemed a fantasy of the future to critics who had never seen the place. I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.”
-pg 16-17

The writing of novels like Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle are delightfully expounded on. More important still, the way he wrote, making corrections by hand, and hiring a typist. Even the very essence of walking to the post office to mail a manuscript, eye up the pretty postal worker, and chat with the people in line is what makes Vonnegut's description of his craft the best part of this book.

In the midst of his rambling, Vonnegut recalls experiences we all can relate to. He talks about growing up in 'Middle America', his family, his career, and his circle of literary and artistic friends. Though a realist of life's tragedies, he was constantly inspired by all forms of art.

No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.”
-pg 66

This last essay by Vonnegut is a writing how-to and unlikely memoir; a slightly crass grandpa telling it like it is. If you know anything about Vonnegut or have read any of his novels, you will catch familiar social and political themes. If you're not a big Vonnegut fan, it still warrants a glance, especially since it comes in at under 150 pages. This is a quick and thoughtful read worthy of a spot on the bookshelf.

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