Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007.

The pen of one of the past century's literary titans was forever stilled on Wednesday when Kurt Vonnegut died at 84. A gifted satirist whose iconoclastic wit and gloomy pessimism often prompted comparisons with Mark Twain, Vonnegut held a privileged place in American literature as an icon of the '60's counterculture and as a favorite author of several generations of high school students. I don't believe I was ever assigned a Kurt Vonnegut novel in an English class - he wasn't that kind of writer, and the Am Lit classes I took in high school tended to focus on 19th-century New Englanders. However, as a brainy adolescent who enjoyed reading for pleasure as well as for class I sometimes turned to Vonnegut. I never shared his worldview, but I always appreciated his sincere grappling with the problems of human existence. In high school, I particularly liked Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night on account of their historical themes; though I haven't reread either novel in the past ten years, I'd like to return to them at some point. In the meantime, I'll enjoy rereading this 2001 Boston Globe profile of Vonnegut, which a fellow Jesuit and loyal reader of this blog called to my attention. The Globe piece captures something of Vonnegut's initimable personality and includes a number of choice anecdotes, my favorite of which involves Vonnegut donating copies of his novels to college libraries with incomplete collections. "I'm Kurt Vonnegut," the author reportedly told one librarian, "and this is a book by Kurt Vonnegut." Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.


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