I first read Kurt Vonnegut a couple years into college, probably 2003. We had already invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and I was becoming cynical about American politics. A friend suggested I read Vonnegut’s World War II novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, but I came across a free copy of Cat’s Cradle first. A few pages into Cat’s Cradle I knew that I would read everything I could written by this dark but hilarious figure. I only have a couple novels left.
Kurt Vonnegut taught me about humor. So many of his books show us the terrible side of humanity, the side that firebombs a city just to try out a new weapon, but they are always funny. He shows us that the best way to talk about the things that no one wants to talk about is through humor. Often I’ve read a line in a Vonnegut novel that made me laugh aloud but immediately filled me with guilt for laughing. It’s that sort of uncomfortable, challenging experience that makes him worth reading. He’s an author who tells us the truth, even when we aren’t ready for it.
A few quotes:
“Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything.”
“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’.”
“1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.”