Tag: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut Portrait

The 50th Anniversary of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is Upon Us

I wish I could tell you the exact circumstances under which I first encountered Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse-Five for the first time, but I can’t. Not exactly. I’m not sure whether it was assigned reading in one of my middle school English classes or if I just stumbled upon it. The latter makes more sense when taking into consideration two facts: a lot of schools had banned books like Slaughterhouse-Five, and I was a pretty awful student back when George W. was in the white house. What I do remember is that when I first began reading the soon to be fifty-year-old novel (March 31th) I was in a white, windowless room, being stared at by a teacher who had clearly drawn the short straw that afternoon. Detention. I would like to think that Mr. Vonnegut would find irony in that scenario; perhaps it would even make him smile.

 

Image Via Thetakeout.com

 

Or Not.

Imagine being an unsuspecting delinquent, opening Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death for the first time: I was blown away by how psychedelic it was. Vonnegut’s prose was irreverent, ridiculous, and, above all, courageous. Vonnegut plunged blindly into the abyss of existential uncertainty and danced in the darkness. One of the most imaginative novels ever written with a minimalist style—Slaughterhouse-Five felt like Vonnegut knew a hell of a lot more about the world and grammar than me and was choosing words that I could understand. Maybe there was nothing to understand? It was pretty damn cool. Vonnegut made literature cool—especially for a kid in detention.

 

 

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In the introduction to Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut explains how he had been trying to write about the firebombing of Dresden during World War II ever since his imprisonment there. This is the reason that Slaughterhouse’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, was also in Dresden during the bombing. Billy’s story is an interesting one—the narrative of his life involves just as much love, humor, and tragedy as anything you could probably imagine. What makes it uber unique is that Billy acquires a certain amount of objectivity similar to the reader’s own. Billy is “unstuck” in time as he has no control over where and when in his life he might be at any given moment. One moment, Billy could be at his daughter’s wedding—the next, fornicating with a movie star. It’s all very non-linear. This ability is supposedly a side-effect of his Tralfamadorian kidnapping; extraterrestrial beings teach Billy to see time in a very Matthew McConaughey-like (Interstellar) way. All moments are permanent, always happening, forever. Billy is most definitely an unreliable narrator throughout, and Slaughterhouse-Five‘s chaos can undoubtedly be interpreted in a variety of ways. All I knew at that time was that I needed more Vonnegut.

 

Image Via Quickmeme.com

 

Vonnegut is famous for incorporating reoccurring elements into his novels, such as characters, names, and themes. (He also likes to write himself into his stories and could be considered a pioneer of “meta,” but that’s beside the point.) One of the things about Slaughterhouse-Five I found most compelling was the incorporation of the Tralamadorians or the planet Tralamadore. So I followed the Tralamdorians. Tralamdore is the name of various fictional planets in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels; the race and history of the planet vary from novel to novel (Slaughterhouse-Five; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Hocus Pocus; and Timequake). My alien chasing eventually led me to one of Vonnegut’s earlier novels, The Sirens of Titan.

 

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While not as popular as Slaughterhouse, The Sirens of Titan is considered by some to be Vonnegut’s best novel. (Maybe just me… no, I read someone else say that before. I’m sure of it.) Douglas Adams has even cited Sirens as being his inspiration for The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Written ten years prior to Slaughterhouse-Five‘s publication, simply to satisfy Vonnegut’s publisher as they awaited Cat’s Cradle, Sirens is considered less “experimental.” Although the story is linear and Vonnegut himself does not make an appearance—its message is anything but typical.

Sirens follows Malachi Constant, a man with an extraordinary amount of luck—men and women of the cloth might even call his luck divine (although Vonnegut would make fun of them for doing so).  At the beginning of the novel, the reader meets Malachi’s father, Noel, who builds the family fortune buying stocks based on words from the book of Genesis. Malachi inherits this fortune and builds upon it, becoming the wealthiest playboy in the world.

One day, Malachi is invited to witness the materialization of a man, Winston Niles Rummford, whose existence has been stretched across space and time (due to a mishap with his dog and something called a chrono-synclastic infundibulum), similar to Billy Pilgrim’s conundrum. Rummford’s ability to read minds and predict the future startles Malachi as Rummford tells him about his future. In addition, he shows Malachi a photograph of the most beautiful women Malachi has ever seen—women who supposedly inhabit the planet of Titan. As Malachi tries to outwit Rummford’s manipulation and pursue the kind of unattainable beauty of the women in the photo, the reader goes on a nihilistic yet humorous journey through space. It is with an engrossing amount of ridiculousness that the novel contemplates free-will, morality, and existence.

Some might find the novel’s humor cold. Others may find its message to be a commentary on the futility of fighting fate or attempting to understand it, given that even the novel’s omniscient character succumbs to the inevitable. I found the novel’s climatic revelation actually quite moving.

 

Mild Spoiler Alert!

 

After years of space travel, mind control, a Martian invasion, and a religion formed in his honor (sort of), Malachi finally finds himself on Titan. There, Vonnegut reveals that the beautiful sirens from Rummford’s photo are inanimate statues on an uninhabited planet. In fact, the only people who reside on Titan are Malachi and his family. As Malachi sits there, alongside a woman he never intended to be with and a son that thinks he’s a bird (didn’t I say ridiculousness?) he realizes that the “purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

Vonnegut wrote both Slaughterhouse and Sirens with a serious outpouring of emotions—but, most importantly, he wrote with immense joy. He loved writing: he did it to discover more about the world and himself. In 2006, a group of students from a high school in New York City was assigned the task of writing to their favorite author. Their letters warranted the following response, which I think epitomizes the heart and soul behind 50+ years of kick-ass storytelling:

Image Via Letters of Note

 

 

Featured Image Via My Student Voices.

Rey

The Books to Read If You’re Buzzing for ‘The Last Jedi’

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is blowing audiences away because it’s Star Wars and it’s amazing. It’s just a great franchise that makes people happy. The quirky droids are like comedians, the jedi are like superheroes, and the spaceships are like boats but in space. Every part of the franchise, point by point, is awesome. It’s good for all ages and all sorts of people. It’s a funny, adventurous space romp that’s, yes, also tender. It’s a family story!

 

Unfortunately, only one Star Wars movie comes out a year and that’s not enough. Every movie should be a Star Wars movie. But that’s not the world we live in. Luckily, we do live in a world with many awesome books. Some of those books are very well suited for Star Wars fans. So once you’re home from the theater, go to the library and pick one of these books up to satiate your Star Wars thirst, complete with Amazon’s descriptions.

 

1. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

 

Sirens of Titan

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The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there’s a catch to the invitation—and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.

 

2. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

 

Way of Kings

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Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

 

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

 

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

 

3. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

Princess of Mars

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Edgar Rice Burrough’s vision of Mars was loosely inspired by astronomical speculation of the time, especially that of Percival Lowell, who saw the red planet as a formerly Earth-like world now becoming less hospitable to life due to its advanced age. Burroughs predicted the invention of homing devices, radar, sonar, autopilot, collision detection, television, teletype, genetic cloning, living organ transplants, antigravity propulsion, and many other concepts that were well ahead of his time. The books in the Barsoom series were an early inspiration to many, including science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, they influenced renowned scientist Carl Sagan in his quest for extraterrestrial life, and were instrumental in the making of James Cameron’s Avatar, and George Lucas’ Star Wars.

 

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

 

A Wrinkle in Time

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It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

 

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

 

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

 

5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

 

Saga

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Written by Eisner Award-winning “Best Writer” BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (Y: The Last Man, The Private Eye) and drawn by Harvey Award-winning “Best Artist” Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), SAGA is the story of Hazel, a child born to star-crossed parents from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Now, Hazel’s fugitive family must risk everything to find a peaceful future in a harsh universe that values destruction over creation. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in a sexy, subversive drama for adults that Entertainment Weekly called, “The kind of comic you get when truly talented superstar creators are given the freedom to produce their dream book.”

 

6. Dune by Frank Herbert

 

Dune

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Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

 

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

 

Feature Image Via Lucasfilm

sylvia

9 New Books That Carry on the Spirit of Their Deceased Authors

Posthumously published books are a bittersweet sort of thing. It’s like time and life carry on whether the author is around or not. It’s just plain sad, but then there’s the brighter side. Before their time was up these author’s gave us one more piece of joy to remember them by. And if that ain’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.

 

The last year or two have had some big posthumous books that caught our attention and have us happy yet missing, pleased yet pondering. Washington Post collected some of the great authors who walked the earth with us readers along with their books. Check out the authors’ final word and a get your latest book recommendation.

 

1.  After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Posthumous Books

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An older man’s life is forever change when his house catches fire on the lonely, isolated island where he lives. There is something to learn and realize from this one.

 

2. The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1: 1940-1956 by Sylvia Plath

Posthumous Books

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These never-before-seen letters lace themselves together with the experiences of Plath like marriage, friends, family, travelling, and more. From youth to adulthood, you will be with Plath on the journey of her life. 
 
 
 
3. Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James 
 
Posthumous Books

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Get into the head or a murderer with emotions, urges, rationalizations, dreams, and thoughts with this book. James leaves nothing out and no stone unturned.

 

4. Don’t Save Anything: Uncollected Essays, Articles, and Profiles by James Salter 

Posthumous Books

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Salter’s style of writing is recognizable anywhere. It has a voice that has inspired us from the beginning and it’s the nonfiction collection that may very well be his best work.

 

5. Chronicles of a Liquid Society by Umberto Eco

Posthumous Books

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Eco’s final work illuminates us on things from pop culture and politics to individualism and finding inspiration. What is there for us to hang onto and look up to in the world? Eco discusses this in a witty and charming way that leaves us dazzled.

 

6. The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

Posthumous Books

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Sacks was the writer who was just as proficient in science as he was written word. From anatomy and psychology to disorders many of us know well today, he broke through them all with rich research. His work is the epitome of knowledge and passion. 

 

7. In Gratitude by Jenny Diski

Posthumous Books

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With months left to live Diski manages to recount her life after being taken in by notable author Doris Lessing and the memories that followed. From teenage years to letting her true voice speak despite terminal illness, Diski left her mark.

 

8. Complete Stories by Kurt Vonnegut

Posthumous Books

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The man, the myth, the legend has five unpublished stories for us as well as a few that not many people have ever seen. His artistry is what we want and it’s exactly what we get.

 

9. Spy of the First Person by Sam Shepard

Posthumous

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The writer, actor, and musician has haunting prose told by a mysterious narrator about life, their surroundings, and immigration. Inclusion is a recurring theme and Shepard is missed even more for it. 

 

Enjoy these new works, by the authors who still change our lives everyday.

 

Feature Image Via Dazed

Kurt Vonnegut

20 Kurt Vonnegut Quotes to Bring You Closer to Humanity

If you know me, you know I’m a little into Kurt Vonnegut. Call it childhood nostalgia or a deep-seated sense of realism or even call it nihilism, but I love the dude. He’s got this sense of wonder while being incredibly grounded in reality and it’s something that’s stuck with me since I was twelve-years-old. So for your benefit, here are twenty of my favorite Vonnegut-isms.

 

1. “No good at life, but very funny sometimes with the commentary.”

 

2. “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”

 

3. “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

 

4. “If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

 

5. “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

 

6. “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’ “

 

7. “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

 

8. “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

 

9. “The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.”

 

10. “One of the few good things about modern times: if you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”

 

11. “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”

 

12. “Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”

 

13. “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

 

14. “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’.”

 

15. “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

 

16. “The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.”

 

17. “It is just an illusion here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”

 

18. “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

 

19. “If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”

 

20. “She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.”

 

Featured image via The AV Club.

First Playboy magazine cover, Marilyn Monroe, Dec. 1953

How Playboy’s Literary Editor Made Me Rethink Playboy

If yesterday you asked me what I thought about Playboy magazine I would gladly tell you that I am completely ignorant toward the subject (hoping you wouldn’t hear my underlying biased tone). But boy am I glad that I don’t genuinely enjoy knowingly being ignorant toward things.

 

Did you know that Playboy published fiction by some of the biggest names in literature?

 

Amy Grace Loyd

Image Via The Rumpus

 

In her editorial for The Guardian, Amy Grace Loyd, literary editor for Playboy magazine for six years, gives us an interesting look into her literary career working for a magazine that is known more for male entertainment than it is for its editorials.

 

Loyd writes about her controversial first assignment- commissioning a series of essays on Nabokov’s Lolita, and about how working for a sexist magazine didn’t distract her from making the literary aspect of the publication credible. She also touches on how she views Playboy magazine’s original ideals reflecting upon readers today. I personally have never picked up a Playboy magazine, and a part of me wouldn’t want to pick one up for my own personal beliefs, but I’m glad I like to keep an open mind because Loyd’s experience certainly helped me ease into the magazine’s existence.

 

Did you know that Playboy magazine published editorials written by Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Margaret Atwood? If you did, you’re cool, but if you didn’t, welcome to the club. What struck me the most about this piece was Loyd’s overall understanding of her position as an editor and a woman within this awkward and controversial crossover between naked women and Esquire-esque articles. Apparently, the naked women were actually a way to lure readers into the editorials, a reality that Loyd needed to understand and explain to others in order to basically continue making a living. She just couldn’t possibly afford to let the commodifying of a woman’s body get in the way of her job. (Pun intended)

 

A part of me wonders if the pressures of earning an income swayed Loyd into this perception of the women in the magazine, but nonetheless, she seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed fighting the battle against social norms and stigmas. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t see much fighting needing to be done in 2017 since we’ve already fallen so deep into the acceptance of social deviances, i.e. Trump. Loyd’s nostalgia for Hugh Hefner’s dedication to a consistent structure of Playboy magazine leaves me to believe that maybe the magazine is actually worth a look-see.

 

Feature Image Via The Australian