Thursday, April 12, 2007

"I've had a hell of a good time"

I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I didn't begin reading any of Kurt Vonnegut's work until my mid-to-late '20s. (Of the several "if I could do it over again" laments of my life, reading better books in high school is near the top of the list.) But I definitely made up for that when I worked at a bookstore. It seems like I bought a new Vonnegut novel almost every month. Although I believe my collection is built largely upon a bunch of 50 cent used books I hoarded at a library sale in northern Michigan a few summers ago.

In my time at the University of Iowa, one of the running jokes in the writing program and English department was that "all roads traveled through Iowa City." But it seemed true. Many writers that came up in chats and workshops often had a tie to the area.

I'm guessing it was kind of boring for anyone who visited me (I apologize, Mis Hooz), but if we drove around town, I'd often try to make things seem interesting with little anecdotes such as, "Raymond Carver decided to become a full-time writer in that laundromat," "Denis Johnson used to get drunk in that bar," or "Flannery O'Connor lived in that little house."

Also, you could always drop a name whenever talking to family, friends, or acquaintances about famous writers that either studied or taught at Iowa. The author I probably mentioned more than any other was Kurt Vonnegut. I distinctly remember Vonnegut being the one name that most captured my father's attention, and as he talked about reading Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five, I ended up discovering something about my dad that I hadn't known previously.

And that's one of the first things that came to mind when I heard that Vonnegut died yesterday at the age of 84. That he passed away because of brain injuries recently suffered (and not the suicide he seemed to think he was destined for, at one point) seems a particularly cruel twist, considering the wit, commentary, and brilliance his brain created.

At MGoBlog, Brian Cook wrote an unexpectedly powerful tribute to Vonnegut yesterday. (And by "unexpected," I just mean that I didn't expect to read such a thing there.) I don't even want to try and match such an effort. What I will do, however, is post a few memorable quotes, with some witticisms that maybe all of us should adhere to.

▪▪ “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.” -- Slaughterhouse Five

▪▪ "I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations." -- Kurt Vonnegut

▪▪ "Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything." -- Cat's Cradle

▪▪ "I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different." -- Kurt Vonnegut