Um, no.

A statement, and then a confession:

I will have nothing to say about the death of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., other than the usual: Ah, that’s bad news. A great loss.

Now, the confession: Because I have never read any of his books.

Yes, yes, I know. Heap derision upon me. I once went out with a guy who was such a fan he made “So it goes” his mantra; it was under his picture in his high-school yearbook. I tried to read “Slaughterhouse Five” once and I dunno, it just didn’t grab me. I should try again. Part of it is genre-phobia — I can count the sci-fi books I’ve read and enjoyed on two hands, maybe one. (I’m also allergic to fantasy. I’ve never gotten past page 50 in “The Hobbit,” never mind the trilogy that followed. Say “one ring to rule them all” and I have no idea what you’re talking about.) The rest is just the sort of educational black hole some people have. Alan used to work with a woman who, in 1990-something, had never heard of Oprah Winfrey. Never. I’m like the film buff who never saw “Taxi Driver.” That’s me and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Yesterday I heard an interview with Sherman Alexie on our way to Columbus. He said “the hero of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five,'” and I thought, in the split-second before he said the rest of the sentence, “Billy Something.”

That’s what I know. I’ll leave the tributes to others. (Lance promises to have something later.) Sorry.

Here we are in the Buckeye State, where it’s warmer than Detroit. Considerably so, although the threat of piles of snow was replaced by a rip-roarin’ hailstorm that blew through last night. BB-size precipitation, however, not the golf ball variety, which can leave your car looking like someone went over it with a ball-peen hammer. I’m grateful it’s merely covered with shmutz from the tree it was parked under.

So, bloggage?

A lead it must have been fun to write:

A drunk airport worker with a half-empty beer in his vehicle and an unopened can in his pocket flipped his deicer rig on a remote airstrip at Metro Airport on Wednesday afternoon, airport officials said.

Without drunks, the newspaper really would be filled with stories of hero Boy Scouts. Here’s to drunks.

And here’s to a day off with family. If you have something to say about Billy Pilgrim’s creator, you know where to do it.

Posted at 10:05 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

35 responses to “Um, no.”

  1. a different Connie said on April 12, 2007 at 10:14 am

    I don’t really like scifi as a genre, either, but Vonnegut’s stuff isn’t the Asimov/Heinlein robot/life on other planets kind. Maybe start with God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

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  2. 4dbirds said on April 12, 2007 at 10:51 am

    I too could never get past the first few pages of ‘The Hobbit’ and the recent ‘Ring’ movies bored me.

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  3. Danny said on April 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

    You are correct. Being an engineer, I have read a lot of sci-fi. One of the things that distinguished KV’s novels was that his SF elements (MacGuffins) weren’t intended to suspend disbelief. They were rude and absurd premises that were more comedic than anything.

    He was really writing about something else. Not Sci-Fi.

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  4. John said on April 12, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Verne vs. Wells, some folks like only one, some folks like both, some folks neither. But they both wrote sci-fi, same to be said about Vonnegut.

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  5. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I could never get into the Hobbit or any fantasy/sci fi books, but I loved Kurt Vonnegut. Sometimes I felt like he was in the next room, typing my life.

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  6. alex said on April 12, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    I’ve never been a fan of fantasy or sci-fi either, but Vonnegut — from what I remember all those many years and brain cells ago — was loosely borrowing those genres as a vehicle for his wickedly funny satire and leftish politics. He was no more a real fantasy/sci fi writer than Jonathon Swift.

    I got to hear him speak once at the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago quite a few years ago and he was very entertaining in person as well.

    In his fiction he had a very dry way of describing things, and his comic timing, as I recall, was superb. Some of his best lines still make me chortle even if I can’t remember anything about the books themselves. One time he was describing a bunch of inconsequential items in a desk drawer, the last of which was (to paraphrase) “a French postcard with a photo of a woman getting fucked by a shetland pony in front of a velvet curtain, the bottom of which was fringed with deedlee balls.”

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  7. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Alex, I remember that passage as well. The deedlee balls detail is so wonderful.

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  8. brian stouder said on April 12, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Say – many around here gleefully skewer Fox News (or as Keith Olbermann calls it – “Fox Noise”) from time to time, and indeed that operation deserves mostly all the scorn it gets.

    Now, regarding the Imus ignominy, last night ol’ Olbermann interviewed his boss (Steve Capus), and tossed one softball after another about the debacle, and Keith went so far as to puff his chest out and say that HE went to his boss privately about the unacceptability of Imus; whereupon ol’ Olby and Steve proceeded to unfurl a Great Heroic Myth of an ‘internal mutiny’ that lead to Imus’ demise!!

    Gosh, I wonder why Keith’s legendary hard-hitting, unerring righteous wrath and moral indignation didn’t compel him to at least politiely ask Mr Capus how it came to be that Imus was ever hired in the first place?? or for that matter, why Imus – who has always been a bit of a loose cannon – was retained, after the turd-in-the-punchbowl Michael Weiner Savage debacle on msnbc’s air?

    I like msnbc better than any of their competitors, but they can stow this Heroic Martyr pose. They wouldn’t have to keep shoveling up all this bull hockey, if they didn’t keep hiring bull hockey masters

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  9. Connie said on April 12, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    While he used many of the conventions of science fiction writing I certainly have never considered his work to be science fiction. See Alex above for details.

    I would never think of Billy Pilgrim if asked to name a Vonnegut character. Kilgore Trout all the way!

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  10. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    And Bill the parakeet.

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  11. John said on April 12, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Venus on the Half Shell…..Kilgore Trout’s finest work!

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  12. Kirk said on April 12, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    and howard campbell, american nazi.

    i like sci-fi and i liked the hobbit the the rings trilogy, but i don’t like all of it. a lot of it is garbage, just as in any other genre. vonnegut was always funny, just extremely enjoyable to read. “slaughterhouse-five” made a powerful antiwar statement at the height of the vietnam war and threw in a few other messages and wry observations along the way. and it really worked as a movie, too.

    thanks for all the good work, kurt

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  13. brian stouder said on April 12, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Looks like Kirk is tryin’ to pull Marcia’s chain.

    As long as we don’t transgress NN.C Rule #1 – all is fair!

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  14. Lance said on April 12, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Never read any of his works to completion, they always struck me as literature for people who think they’re smart, and like to tell themselves that on a regular basis…..

    ……but he was a “Coffee Achiever” in a series of TV ads in the early 80’s!

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  15. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Lance, there are people who read the Da Vinci Code and tell themselves that.

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  16. Lance said on April 12, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    In my experience, there have been far few “DaVinci Code” know it alls than the Vonnegut variety…..maybe I just hang out with the wrong (or right!) crowd.

    I’m still a big fan of the coffee commercials!

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  17. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    You’re with the right crowd I guess, but based on the numbers of folks who have read Vonnegut, I don’t think we are all smartasses. I can put you in touch with my ex husband, though. He and his friends really got into the Da Vinci code, and were so proud of all they had learned from reading it. Things about the solar system and painting composition, really smart stuff.

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  18. Lance said on April 12, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    I sympathize with you Mary.

    My sister told me a few years ago that the was this book I “just had to read”….that it had “answered so many of her questions” I asked her what the title of the book was:

    “The DaVinci Code”.

    End of conversation.

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  19. Kirk said on April 12, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    You and I can take smug comfort in our smartness, LA mary.

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  20. LA mary said on April 12, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    I still like the deedlee balls. Does that make me smug?

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  21. sd said on April 12, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Think you could wait until the man’s in the ground, Lance?

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  22. Kathy T said on April 12, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    I (high school class of ’68) did my generation’s required Vonnegut reading, over and over, many books, some more than once, and do I remember ANYTHING about any of them? Not much. What I do remember was an NPR interview with him some time in the last 1-15 years in which he railed against the semicolon. Also intriguing was the fact that he was my MOTHER’s age, for God’s sake. Vonnegut was cool. My mother was the embodiment of not-cool. How could they be contemporaries? Someone must have been unstuck in time.

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  23. Danny said on April 13, 2007 at 12:06 am

    You know what I recently found intriguing about Vonnegut? Maybe about fifteen years ago I saw him and a panel of other authors on some talkshow (I’m thinking it was Donahue) and they were coming out in support of Salmon Rushdie (sp?) who had had a fatwah ordered for his death by some Iranian muslim cleric or maybe it was the Ayatollah himself. Anyway, this was for his writing of “Satanic Verses.”

    So Vonnegut made this big statement in support of his fellow author and condemned the Ayatollah. I even think he called him cowardly.

    Then, according to wikipedia, he appears on and Australian talkshow in 2005 and waxes all eloquent about how brave suicide bombers are.

    Personally, I think that is an indefensible point of view. And I think it is contrary to his earlier position.

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  24. ashley said on April 13, 2007 at 12:11 am

    I thought he was great in “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield. Not as good as Sam Kinison, but great nonetheless.

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  25. Marcia said on April 13, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Lalala I am not listening to Kirk.

    You know, guys, I’m all about not reading books because the unwashed masses prefer them. But the smugness about not reading The DaVinci Code has, in itself, become a trend to avoid.

    Not that I read it.

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  26. brian stouder said on April 13, 2007 at 8:00 am

    Marcia – I’m about done with Demon Under the Microscope, a book about the search for effective anti-bacterial drugs that wouldn’t kill the patient, and the almost unbelievable success that Bayer researchers achieved versus strep (etc etc)

    Made me think of you because one section details “childbed fever” – which for generations was not understood – and which struck within a day after childbirth, and almost always killed the mother. Outbreaks always centered on the hospitals of the day, and it simply was not understood.

    It was finally realized (at great length) that doctors and medical students, not wearing gloves, and not washing their hands, were the agents that spread that infection.

    A fascinating book – as much about great good luck and keen observation, as tireless work and unflagging dedication

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  27. Kirk said on April 13, 2007 at 8:01 am

    sorry, marcia. i wasn’t pointing any daggers in your direction. i’m not even sure what that means.

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  28. Kirk said on April 13, 2007 at 8:08 am

    as for lavishing praise on suicide bombers, i agree that is indefensible. but i’m not buying it from a source as shaky as wikipedia.

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  29. Marcia said on April 13, 2007 at 8:21 am


    it is well known that i don’t like comments written in lower-case.

    Brian, I’ve not read that particular book, but yes, the link to poor hygiene among docs and childbed fever is well known. It seems so obvious to us now, I mean, you examine a woman who just gave birth, you wash your hands. Duh.

    And Kirk, yeah. I’m wondering if there’s another source for that story besides Wikipedia.

    And I once took a Kurt Vonnegut book to the pool because the cover matched my bathing suit. It was Galapagos; back in the ’80s, when I had big hair and hid my brains under it.

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  30. Kirk said on April 13, 2007 at 8:38 am

    oh, that’s right. you got on me once before about that. trust me, it’s nothing personal.

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  31. Marcia said on April 13, 2007 at 8:39 am

    Oh, I know. Carpal tunnel or something.

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  32. Danny said on April 13, 2007 at 8:51 am

    And I once took a Kurt Vonnegut book to the pool because the cover matched my bathing suit. It was Galapagos; back in the ’80s, when I had big hair and hid my brains under it.

    Oh, that is just too funny. We’re getting ready to leave for the airport and last night I was checking our travel docs and see my wife’s old passport photo … from the eighties … huge spikey hair.

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  33. Marcia said on April 13, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Shut up, Danny. Go get on your boat and lie in the sun while I freeze here.

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  34. Ricardo said on April 13, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I read most of Vonnegut’s novels and enjoyed every one. His biggest influence on me was to think globally. Kurt often pitted Earthlings vs aliens, as we should all pull together – we have bigger enemys to fight.

    This prompted me to get a bumper sticker printed up: “God Bless The Whole World” to counter those “God Bless America” ones. I don’t have it yet.

    I had a boss, another Hoosier, who was the spittin’ image of Kurt down to the same voice. **smiles**

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  35. basset said on April 15, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Never was a big Vonnegut fan myself, the only book of his I can remember reading was about someone named Sonny who had trouble adjusting to life in Indianapolis and scandalized the country club when he grew a beard…

    but I did see a Shell station in Murfreesboro, Tennessee yesterday with “Thank You, Mr. Vonnegut/1922-2007” on the marquee.

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