Friday, April 13, 2007

So It Goes, Kurt Vonnegut

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, author of several mind-bending books including, "Breakfast of Champions" and "Slaughterhouse-Five," died Wednesday. He was 84.

I always had a special place in my heart for Mr. Vonnegut-- he was a great writer, an astute observer of human nature and (sympathetically) seemed to be on the brink of madness. But I felt a connection to him because we share the same birthday-- 11.11.

Mr. Vonnegut's books were an acquired taste, to be sure, but once you got into the swing of things, they were a real joy to read, and unlike anything you read before. "Slaughterhouse-Five," published in 1969, became a best seller, but was also banned in many U.S. schools, so you know it has to be good.

I can still remember the weekend I read "Breakfast of Champions" twenty years ago. (And no, it wasn't required reading). I was a senior in high school and an aspiring writer, and I couldn't believe how original, crazy and astute the novel was-- not to mention hysterically funny.

When we lived in Chicago, Mr. Vonnegut, a legendary chain-smoker, went to the University of Chicago in 1997 to give a talk and sign books of his then newly published novel, "Timequake." We got there too late to get a seat for the talk, but we were able to purchase a signed copy of the book. When I turned to the autograph, there were still several ashes from his cigarette on the page. To this day, I still haven't read the book because I don't want to lose the ashes by opening it up again.

In the novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine,” he has his own unique advice for new members of the world:
“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.’ ”

So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut.

p.s. One of the best obituraries I read yesterday (and where I found the advice to babies) was in the New York Times. Read it here.

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