15 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P

I remember joining an outfit called The Quality Paperback Book Club back in my Berkeley student days. You'd send in 3 bucks or so and get a pile of books, then a monthly offer, and you'd quit, sign up again for the cheap pile, quit, and so on. I accumulated a few interesting books including a 3-for-1 Kurt Vonnegut special with Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. Fortunately I had been exposed to Mr. Vonnegut by a couple of enlightened high school teachers, watching the movie version of Slaughterhouse-Five in an English class and seeing the play Happy Birthday, Wanda June with my drama class. By the time I tackled the novels, I knew that the World According to Kilgore Trout was unlike most places. Absurd and comical, tragic and farcical, banal and brilliant, Vonnegut raged at a world going mad with technology and greed. The obits circling the 'net after his death on April 11th dredged up a quote he is credited with that M.C. and TPP feel compelled to post: "You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed." The effort it takes each day to accept that which is unacceptable takes a heavy toll on us. The suffering inflicted on our fellows by our fellows is ignored, ultimately, at our peril. I think of Vonnegut when I see the bedraggled street people holding their cardboard signs asking for help. He was holding up his own signs, reminding us of our humanist duty to behave decently even in the face of hoplessness, even without a promise of reward. Next to my QPB's on the shelf is a 1972 paperback, a 95-cent Dell with a blue cover and blue page ends, a 13th printing of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It was written in 1965, 42 years ago. I think I will give it a shot, in tribute. Like all tributes, it has come too late. We forget to honor the living, and instead eulogize the dead. So it goes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Moving salute to the unmatchable Kurt Vonnegut -- thanks. Regards from a fellow member of the QPBC. NOC