Kurt Vonnegut Rapidly Reviewed
This is an adapted version of something I wrote up for a friend who was reading Vonnegut at the time and asked my opinion on what she was reading.  I read most of these books when I was in college in the early to mid-'90s, so my recollections of many of them are somewhat hazy now that a decade (or as much as two, nearly) have passed.  I'm sure I would read them differently now if I happened across them for the first time, but that's the way it goes.  Use this in deciding which to pick up next after you read Slaughterhouse-Five (because everyone starts with Slaughterhouse-Five, that's why).


Note that there are some books by him I just wouldn't recommend or would go so far as to tell you to avoid, but I'd rather steer you toward the ones that are worth checking out because they're interesting and/or just plain enjoyable.

Player Piano (1952) - Not recommended.  One of the few by him I never finished, and I've never had any desire to return to this one.  It reads like it's by a completely different author.  I believe it's his longest.  Note that he didn't write another one for seven years, and by then he was a different person or writer at least.

The Sirens of Titan (1959) - I don't know why, but this one was really fun.  It isn't regarded as one of his best, but it was one of my favorites at the time I read it.  You could make the criticism that it's overly simplistic, but that's true of almost everything he ever wrote!

Mother Night (1961) - Not recommended.  It's relatively famous and was even adapted as a film in 1996 starring Nick Nolte, but I just didn't think it made as good a story as the premise would suggest.  I mean, I get the point it makes (which is valid and good), but I don't think it's that great a read.

Cat's Cradle (1963) - Really, really good one.  If you start looking around, there are a lot of references to "Ice 9" embedded in the culture.  I'm not sure why no one has tackled a film adaptation of this yet.  I think this was the second book by him I read.  It should be the second Vonnegut book everyone reads.

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater (1965) - Not recommended.  I barely remember this one.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) - Essential reading!  This was the first one I read by him, and it's among my favorites.  I've gotten interested in time travel over the last few years, and Vonnegut's take on it here is the closest to the version I imagine.

Welcome to the Monkey House (1970) (short story collection) - A lot of good stuff here, but I don't think Vonnegut is a great short story writer.  He's at his best in his novels.  The exception is the story "Who Am I This Time?"  Also contains the short story "Harrison Bergeron" which I have used as a metaphor for ADD.  The father (or uncle?) with the helmet blasting loud noises in the smart guy's head?  That's what it's like having constant distractions pulling you in different directions so that you can never get one thing done or follow a thought to completion.

Breakfast of Champions (1973) - I didn't like this one a lot because it was divided across two completely separate stories that don't overlap until the very end, and not really for any good reason.  Each could have been expanded into its own novel.

Wampeters, Foma, and Granfallons (1974) – essays, assorted works - A lot of interesting ideas in here.

Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More! (1976) - There are a lot of really great ideas in this one, and it's very fantastical.  Goes stranger places than probably any of his other books.  Ironically, Vonnegut himself apparently hated this book (see below).  I loved it.  Go figure.

Jailbird (1979) - Not recommended.  Just not a compelling enough story.

Deadeye Dick (1982) - I think this was the first of his books where he started hinting at or even telling you the end of the book before you were a couple chapters in.

Galápagos: A Novel (1985) - Really great one.  It's the one novel by him I would describe as epic.

Bluebeard, the Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988) (1987) - Another really fun one.  There are a lot of things going on in here.  I felt like this and the two before are stylistically similar and represented a breakthrough for him.  All three were good and different and fresh.

Hocus Pocus (1990) - Not recommended.  I never could finish this one.  I think I finally did, but I can barely remember anything about it.
 
Timequake (1997) - A bit of a mess.  It seemed to me to be a series of nearly unconnected recollections and largely autobiographical.


Vonnegut grades himself

In his non-fiction collection Palm Sunday, the author grades his own works.  We agree strongly in some places and disagree just as strongly in others.

Player Piano: B
The Sirens of Titan: A
Mother Night: A
Cat's Cradle: A+
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Slaughterhouse-Five: A+
Welcome to the Monkey House: B−
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Breakfast of Champions: C
Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons: C
Slapstick: D
Jailbird: A
Palm Sunday: C





Copyright 2012 Alexplorer.
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