There is no other way to put it. I was totally and absolutely stunned to read this morning that Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday night. Given his age (84), it is not totally unexpected. Still, there is that feeling that a void has suddenly appeared in my literary soul.
It is somewhat embarrassing that I can’t recall why or how I first came to read Vonnegut, although I believe Cat’s Cradle was the first work of his I read. From then, I was hooked. Although I am among those who believe his last several novels were far from superb, he had a helluva reputation to try to live up to. At the same time, I found that the essays and autobiographical/memoir-type works and collections that tended to appear in place of fiction were also truly enjoyable and confirmed my belief that he was an honest and caring human being. As the New York Times said today, “To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness.” Whether because of him or for other reasons, I agree wholeheartedly with Vonnegut’s view.
Vonnegut long has been one of my favorite authors, if not my favorite. I believe he is the only author whose every novel and other book is in my library. As I told the reporter from the local daily who called me, this morning I took Cat’s Cradle (and Welcome to the Monkey House) from the bookshelves and placed them by the bed. Starting this evening, they are going to be the first steps on my journey to revisit Kurt Vonnegut. I may not be alone. As of this writing, Vonnegut books make up 13 of the top 20 books with the greatest increase in sales at Amazon.
I will not be seeking to recapture past experience. I, instead, want to view the work I read decades ago from the perspective of post-middle age. I speculate I will not only still find great joy in doing so, but that I will also find a good deal of who I am in those pages.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater