Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

This book would no doubt have meant more to me if I had already read some of Vonnegut’s works. I selected A Man Without a County from a number of different books by Vonnegut, with little method to my choosing. The cover caught my eye (my left one to be exact) and then I saw this quote right underneath Vonnegut’s drooping cigarette: “[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir.” I like memoirs. I figured I would give this book a shot.

After the first twenty pages I almost gave up. Not for good. I simply thought that it might be better if I were to read some of his novels before I read his final work. But I think it just took a little getting used to. Vonnegut was all over the place. He is talking about the art of joke-telling one paragraph, and socialism the next. The book is really just a hodge-podge of Vonnegut’s thoughts, luckily his thoughts are interesting, insightful, and entertaining, but there is no overall theme to the book, nor to most of the chapters. So in the spirit of this book, the rest of this review is just going to be a disparate collection of quotes form A Man Without a County, which I enjoyed reading after I realized what to expect.

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.”

“If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I’d just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

“We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

“It is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln. He always steals the show.”

“Now then, I have some good news for you and some bad news. The bad news is that the Martians have landed in New York City and are staying at the Waldorf Astoria. The good news is that they only eat homeless men, women, and children of all colors, and they pee gasoline.”

While most of Vonnegut’s ruminations were decidedly pessimistic, there were some points of unadulterated optimism. There was a great couple pages about the simple act of mailing a letter and all the different people that Vonnegut interacted with on his little postal quest. My favorite came in the section devoted to Vonnegut’s relationship with his fans. “Joe, a young man from Pittsburgh, came up to me with one request: ‘Please tell me it will all be okay.’ ‘Welcome to Earth, young man,’ I said. ‘It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it, Joe, you’ve got to be kind!’” Ah, there is just something calming about humanism in its purest form. I guess I should track down some of Vonnegut’s other works.


Christopher said...

The Onion AV Club recently ran a feature called "15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else," and it included that quote to "Joe."

I read Slaughterhouse-Five ages ago, and haven't read anything since, mostly because in high school and college Vonnegut is one of those sacred names. But I might try to read another one of his books. Probably not this one.

Nihil Novum said...

Cat's Cradle, dude.

caleb said...

Cat's Cradle just depressed me. Try God Bless You Mr Rosewater, Timequake, Breakfast of Champions or Galapagos.

Just two cents from someone who hasn't earned them.

Will in the Outback said...

"A Man Without a Country" is not vintage Vonnegut, but the elderly sage's skipping about to remind us of what he's railed about for a generation or three and where we(the U.S.of A)should be morally and spiritually. It is, as blogger.com's owner notes, a retrospective little volume for those Vonnegut fan(atics) who have drunk widely from Vonnegut's cornucopia. If any author can survive the dubious sanction of academics (like myself) Vonnegut can.