This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction. Written over a sixty-year period, these letters, the vast majority of them never before published, are funny, moving, and full of the same uncanny wisdom that has endeared his work to readers worldwide.Included in this comprehensive volume: the letter a twenty-two-year-old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from a German POW camp, recounting the ghastly firebombing of Dresden that would be the subject of his masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five;wry dispatches from Vonnegut’s years as a struggling writer slowly finding an audience and then dealing with sudden international fame in middle age; righteously angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; intimate remembrances penned to high school classmates, fellow veterans, friends, and family; and letters of commiseration and encouragement to such contemporaries as Gail Godwin, G�nter Grass, and Bernard Malamud.
Vonnegut’s unmediated observations on science, art, and commerce prove to be just as inventive as any found in his novels—from a crackpot scheme for manufacturing “atomic” bow ties to a tongue-in-cheek proposal that publishers be allowed to trade authors like baseball players. (“Knopf, for example, might give John Updike’s contract to Simon and Schuster, and receive Joan Didion’s contract in return.”) Taken together, these letters add considerable depth to our understanding of this one-of-a-kind literary icon, in both his public and private lives. Each letter brims with the mordant humor and openhearted humanism upon which he built his legend. And virtually every page contains a quotable nugget that will make its way into the permanent Vonnegut lexicon.
• On a job he had as a young man: “Hell is running an elevator throughout eternity in a building with only six floors.”
• To a relative who calls him a “great literary figure”: “I am an American fad—of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop.”
• To his daughter Nanny: “Most letters from a parent contain a parent’s own lost dreams disguised as good advice.”
• To Norman Mailer: “I am cuter than you are.”
Sometimes biting and ironical, sometimes achingly sweet, and always alive with the unique point of view that made him the true cultural heir to Mark Twain, these letters comprise the autobiography Kurt Vonnegut never wrote.
I have loved the words of Kurt Vonnegut forever, I think. Almost as soon as I could read, I think of the first books I grabbed from the library was some strange little book with the title of ‘Breakfast of Champions’. It appealed to me back then because it had these funny little illustrations inside of it, and I needed to know what it was all about.
I am sure of those drawings, done by Kurt, himself of of his arsehole. Shortly thereafter he mentioned his 5 inch penis. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but this is just a couple of things I remember from that book.
Soon thereafter I read through everything that I could possibly find by this enigma of an author. He was out there, well and truly out there. His style was comedic, simple but incredibly blunt and straight forward. It spoke to me like no other writer has. There was a life within his words. As if he had spoken and they had fallen on to the paper to stay that way forever.
I loved those books. And now, with this incredible and fascinating work by Dan Wakefield, I learn that the man Kurt Vonnegut wwas very much like his words. True, blunt, real, honest and straight forward. Inasmuch, I would like to meet Mr Warfield and thank him personally for putting this together, but considering the likelihood of that is minimal, I will put it here.
Thank you, Dan Wakefield for showing me that Kurt Vonnegut was a genius in both print and in life.
5 out of 5
One of my favourite pieces from this book – a joke from Kurt walking down a NY street: “What is the opposite of an upholsterer?” His friend (it may have been Dan actually) answered “I don’t know.” Kurt: “A downpolsterer.” Lover that.