Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield

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Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Gloria Nneoma Onwuneme
Reviewed by Gloria Nneoma Onwuneme
Summary: A collection of all kinds of letters by the Amarican writer Kurt Vonnegut, whose works of fiction are often categorised as science fiction.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: April 2013
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099582939

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Kurt Vonnegut: Letters is a fascinating tome of personal correspondences between one of the greats in American literature and the several individuals and institutions whose paths he’d crossed. Written from the early forties up until 2007, the year of Vonnegut's untimely death, these letters enable readers to understand the workings of the mind behind classics such as Slaughterhouse-5 and Cat's Cradle.

This collection, edited by writer and journalist Dan Wakefield, one of Vonnegut’s good friends, is partitioned into chapters according to the decade in which the individual letters were written. The chapters are initiated with summaries of key events in Kurt’s life. One learns about how his father urged him to take less 'frivolous courses' at Cornell, as a consequence of the relatively recent Great Depression having hit the Vonnegut household rather hard. As time moves on, his various ventures (including inventing games, and establishing a SAAB dealership) are assumed and dropped, as he affixes himself more and more on the scene of impactful American writers.

Though a self-professed Luddite, having written all of his letters on a type-writer, Vonnegut was most progressive in all other areas of his life. In some of his letters, he railed against the book burnings that were taking place in US school buildings supposedly dedicated to education. In others still, he did his utmost best to enable the Russian translator of his works to receive permission to visit the States, taking on a seemingly futile fight against Soviet bureaucracy. With great sarcasm, he suggested that authors be sold like professional athletes, and whilst writing to friends and family, he proclaimed that TV was the best piece of American enterprise.

The writing style which helped make Vonnegut almost vital for youth culture pervades all of his letters. Briefly, it is well-described by the words of advice he gave his students at various institutions (including the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the University of Chicago) in course assignment sheets: Do not bubble and Use words I know'.

In letters, he references his satire on the prescriptive nature of writers' conferences (Teaching the Unteachable), and complains about how both teaching and attempting to abstain from his life-long habit of smoking are 'stealing time from his work'.

Interspersed with letters of protest are the expressions of Vonnegut’s own hopes and fears to the most intimate of his acquaintances. As a struggling writer looking to catch a break, he makes it known that he is damn well fed-up with the character-building aspects of disappointment. Hints at the depression with which he subsequently waged a long-lasting war are shown, as he in a deceptively careless manner voices concerns about his mental health. In a more playful, relaxed state of mind, he writes his first wife, Jane, a contract at the beginning of their marriage, promising tidiness in exchange for her not nagging him. But as the years roll by, he writes of his marriage that something telepathic is broken, a harbinger of the divorce that Jane and Vonnegut get in 1977.

Despite claiming that he left his home because he wanted to be more self-centered, it is clear in his letters to his children that he was not exempt from the worry that follows with parenting, as he entreated them to write him more, to visit him more. The career advice given by him to his children differed markedly from that which he received from his father, as he encouraged them to pursue that which they wanted to do, even hoping to guide them in the direction of making creative pursuits.

In answering his brother’s question about why people need to know something about an artist’s life before even bothering to gain a more comprehensive appreciation, Vonnegut offered a written explanation, stating that artists need to be known about, at least a bit, as their work is ultimately part of conversations with people they hope to reach. Job applications, fierce objections and words of encouragement to friends and family make up a volume that, in my opinion, does a better job than a biography might at allowing me to get to know Vonnegut.

You might like to try some short stories by Vonnegut.

Buy Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield at Amazon.com.


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