Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes.

I had been thinking I'd write something about what I'd been reading lately (short answer: not much), but instead I find myself writing about something I read a long time ago.

I was in 10th grade when I picked up Cat's Cradle. I had read a lot as a kid, but it was mostly young children's books, sports books, Stephen King, and a little bit of Robert Heinlein. Vonnegut was one of the first "serious authors" I ever picked up just for fun.

You know how the things you experience at a young age will always stay with you in a way that things you experience as an adult tend to come and go without leaving quite as deep a mark, because you're already in some sense fully-formed? Because of that feeling, I know that no book will ever be as influential in my life as Cat's Cradle has been.

I can't adequately summarize the reasons why that's true, but I know that it has something to do with cynicism, absurdity, and learning (as the bumper stickers tell us) to "question authority". By reading about Bokononism, ice-nine, and all of the wampeters and granfalloons and foma out there, I learned how ugly and ridiculous the world could be--but also how full and rich and complex the world could be if you started looking behind the happy bullshit. I still think about granfalloons every time someone talks about patriotism and loving one's country, and I constantly go back and forth about whether foma are harmful, useful, or both.

I have re-read Cat's Cradle more than any other novel, and I expect to continue re-reading it every few years for the rest of my life. I've read many of Vonnegut's other novels, and they have all mattered to me to some extent (except, strangely, Slaughterhouse-Five, about which I never understood all the fuss), but those first 150 pages that I read will be the ones that stick with me always.

Also, the line "Whoever did write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut," from Back to School kills me every time, even if it's totally ripped off from the Marshall MacLuhan bit in Annie Hall.


Julie said...

Cat's Cradle was my first Vonnegut novel too, but I have a particular sentimental attachment to Breakfast of Champions for many of the same reasons you describe. (I may save the story for my own blog, though.)

And vast numbers of us EEB geeks (that's "ecology, evolution, and behavior" to the rest of you) have the same fondness for Galapagos that God supposedly has for beetles.

Richard Mason said...

I wonder what the epitaph on Vonnegut's tombstone will be.

Some possibilities:

So It goes.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.

I was the victim of a series of accidents... as are we all.

Jenny said...

Hey, Joe! It's Jenny Hanlin. I am trying to get in touch with you to let you know about a UHC reunion. Send me your email address and I will send you some details and a top-secret questionnaire (don't let on to Doc). Ryan says hello.


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