Listen to this: Kurt Vonnegut has died. He vamoosed at the same age as Kilgore Trout, 84.
He’ gone to meet his sister. She’s been waiting a while. Though I can’t swear to this (it may not be true), I have heard that she told him recently, “Hey, bring your cigarettes. They’re lighting up all over the place here.”
That was the last thing preventing him from joining her.
I loved reading Kurt Vonnegut’s books. I hated reading them too.
I loved them because they were funny. I loved them because they were satirical. And I loved them because, in a strange precognitive insight, Vonnegut wrote them as if the people reading his books were too damned rushed to take time to read real books.
By precognitive insight, I mean Vonnegut’s writing style was made for the Web: short and chunked text.
It’s also a great style for humor. You set up the joke.
You deliver the punchline.
In one of his books, Vonnegut wrote that humor was a compulsion for him. In spite of himself, were he to have to choose between writing a great line of literature and a joke, he would always go for the joke. It was irresistible.
I can understand that. We are who we are. We don’t come with options.
By the way, about a year ago I wrote about my father reading Vonnegut.
I suppose I should tell you why I also hate his books. Here’s why: whenever I would read something by Kurt Vonnegut, for the next month or so everything I wrote was in his style. But not nearly as funny. And not nearly as well-written.
Back when I was writing essays in university, my professors were not amused.
Mind you, I loved Vonnegut despite my habit of mimicking. God knows I read all his books a lot, a lot. I can’t think of another writer whose books I read and reread. They are like little Haley’s comets in my world. Every few years they seem to come back and I read them again.
And I imitate them again, for about a month, each time.
I loved that Vonnegut was a science fiction writer. Or at least, that’s how he began. And his alter-ego character, Kilgore Trout, was a science fiction writer too.
Think of that!
And I loved that Vonnegut’s books of essays were as fun to read as his novels.
I loved that he had a hero: Mark Twain.
I loved that Vonnegut wrote, in one of his books, “Please, a little less love and a little more common decency.”
And I cannot think of a single other writer who made writing seem like a great game to get into despite the horseshit writers put up with, despite the lack of financial reward most live with, and despite the fact that so few people read real books these days.
Listen: Kurt Vonnegut has come unstuck from life. I will miss him. It’s unlikely there will be any more new Vonnegut books … well, newly written ones. I’m pretty sure his works will be around and packaged and repackaged for years and years.
But nothing really new.
Yes, Kurt Vonnegut has died.
So it goes.