Kurt Vonnegut short stories

KVonnegut3Kurt Vonnegut

I have mixed feelings about Kurt Vonnegut. I think he has some extremely important ideas in his writing and I know he’s deeply affected a lot of people, but I don’t actually care for most of his writing. He’s still worth reading and I was thinking about him yesterday while I was reading my daily quoto of Ayn Rand (25 pages per day, five days a week.) Despite making a comparison between two authors without having actually read all that much by either, I think they have many similar points of view and many similar styles. But Vonnegut not only writes much shorter books and even short stories, I think he also has a more nuanced sense of people.

He makes many of the same arguments that Ayn Rand does, about the importance of individuality and personal achievement, about rebelling against totalitarian societies, but he also goes on to talk about the importance of working to make the world a better place, if only because it is the world you live in and there’s no opting out.

Anyway, some of his short stories can be found online.

The story that I was particularly reminded of was “Harrison Bergeron.” This story talks about equality and the importance of realizing what exactly you want to be equal. As a die hard liberal, I think everyone should have equality in opportunity. In contrast, the idiot liberals in Harrison Bergeron (and in Atlas Shrugged) seem to be arguing for equality of results. This is an extremely important distinction. Not everyone should be paid the same amount or receive the same amount of accolades. Not everyone is a winner. But everyone should be a contestant. Everyone should have the opportunity to try.

Another of his stories, one that I actually really enjoy, is “Report on the Barnhouse Effect.” While this story also deals with the individual’s ability to achieve great things and to effect the world as a whole, it’s also about taking personal responsibility for the world as a whole, and even the possibility of (as Tony Stark says) privatizing world peace. Privatizing world peace is not something I would approve of in the real world, but it sure makes a good story and I do like the look at personal responsibility on a global scale.


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By Kurt Vonnegut

Banned Books Week 2012Book cover: Slaughterhouse-FiveWhen I decided to read Slaughterhouse-Five for this year’s Banned Books Week (and the couple weeks following, as well, apparently), I was a little baffled that I hadn’t already read any of Vonnegut’s books because I like science fiction and I’ve had Vonnegut recommended to me multiple times. I even vaguely recalled meaning to read some books but never getting around to it.

Then, I got a couple of chapters in, and remembered that I hadn’t just meant to read his books before, I’ve actually started several of his books in the past, and put them down again. I just cannot get started into Vonnegut’s books, which is so frustrating because I really enjoy both sci-fi and social satire, and he is a king of both. So, I bring you this review in three Acts: Dismissiveness, Grudging Respect, Zealous Appreciation.

Act I: Dismissiveness

I spent roughly the first half of the book trying to put my finger on the problem. It isn’t as though I especially disliked it or thought it was a bad book; I just felt that I didn’t totally get what he was trying to say and that his writing style wasn’t one that speaks to me. When Tom asked if I was enjoying it, I had to admit that I wasn’t, and when he looked a bit disappointed, I followed up by saying that I thought it was a little too philosophical for me, like Vonnegut is communicating a theory about life, instead of sharing a concrete facet of life, and I get impatient with that. Tom nodded, because he has despaired of my disinterest in philosophy before, but I continued to mull over my answer.

And I think it was something even further, that his people weren’t interesting to me as characters. That they seem more like placeholders in his philosophical argument; their actions only serve to augment the message of the book. So, I didn’t have any vested interest in the future of the characters, which is especially true in this non-chronologically-linear novel where the future is all spelled out early on, and even the characters in the book don’t have much interest in it, either.

Acts II and III with spoilers and excerpt after the break…

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