A Word from Vonnegut

On the anniversary of one of the truly great authors’ birth–that being Kurt Vonnegut, in 1922–I leave you humble blog-goers a few words of wisdom from the man himself. Here’s hoping you’re having either a Happy Veteran’s Day, or a productive day (though since you’re on the blogosphere at present, let’s just say a fun day reading, shall we?). Cheers!

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'”

~Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve...

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Classics Book Review: Cat’s Cradle

cats

In a temporary break from the cover art extravaganza of the week, I’m taking a few moments out for a book review, to shift my literary mind back into neutral. And who better to sate that appetite than the eternally wonderful Kurt Vonnegut?

While I think any of Vonnegut’s works would be hard-pressed to surpass Slaughterhouse-Five’s mastery in my mind—a bias I maintain, likely at least in part because it was my first exposure to the insight and wonder that was Vonnegut’s mind—Cat’s Cradle continues his tradition of blending wry, at times absurdist humor with sharp, flexible insight into the real world. Easy and interesting to indulge in, it is populated with personality and serves, at its core, to be the very best of social commentary. It’s philosophic, satirical, and plods along exceptionally written lines of truth, lies, and that ever so upbeat topic—mankind’s own self-destruction!

Er, upbeat. Yes. Well. Anyway…The story centers around the first person narration of a would-be reporter, seeking to learn more about the Hoenikker family, whose patriarch was the father of the atomic bomb. His journey carries him from small-town America and tales of midget love (no, really) to the peculiar shores of the island republic of San Lorenzo, where love, religion, and a surprise career advancement await.

But summarizing the plot of Vonnegut novel hardly stands to do his work real justice. Without losing a beat or slowing down (it really is a quick read, mind you), it pricks, at every step along the way, at the (often absurd) building blocks of society that hold us all together, and the dependencies we weave—as well as the fact that lies, told over and over, often become our truth. With irony, humor, and a sense of terror that rings down through the ages, this delicate and intricate exploration of mankind’s foibles picks not merely at the absurdity of existence, but the very substance of belief. Even the abrupt ending, while jarring, is foreshadowed well—and seems all too appropriate for the snappy style of the book’s tale.

Kindness, they say, is a Virtue

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

It’s easy to be mired in–to be content in, even–the woes of comparison. Day after day, the world can seem the most bitter of foes, fate and luck and God and whatever else you wish, all conspiring against you, from the little things to the big. It makes us bitter as these things stack up, because as malleable a creature as we humans are, there are certain things we just never seem to forget…and most of them bad. What’s more, surrounded as we are by our fellow man, it’s all too easy to make the fatal mistake of comparing ourselves to others.

The result? Discontent with what we have, with the qualities that make us who we are. We begin to treat someone else’s success as our failure, our own successes as null and void by comparison. It’s a way to live, I suppose, and some dare say it drives us to better…but how does that lead to happiness?

Be kind. Embrace the world for what it is. Take stock of all that you have–it may not be all that you want, it may not even be half the things that someone else has, but it is yours, as those other things are someone else’s. Admire each on their own virtues. Is it wrong to hope, to wish, to long? No. But we mustn’t let it consume us. Happiness must be found in the moment, and a little kindness–a little acceptance–can go a long way to achieving that.

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”
~Kurt Vonnegut