(A Little More Than) 11 Books Vonnegut Might Have Read

If you’ve been hanging about our library for a while, you’ll know that the “library” bit seems like an afterthought at first glance. We do have a model of Vonnegut’s study cozied up in the back corner, but it’s nothing compared to the museum, space-wise. The mock study is a lot of fun to poke around in, though, and our mock Vonnegut has excellent taste in literature. Take a look at some of the books we know Vonnegut liked or think he would have liked.

 

The Reader’s Digest is here mainly as a joke. Vonnegut liked to make fun of it during his lifetime. This may or may not have been because they didn’t accept many of his short stories. We also have some assorted Russian authors here. Vonnegut’s first wife, Jane, adored Russian literature and made him read The Brothers Karamazov on their honeymoon.

 

Vonnegut was always a humanitarian and was a political commentator in later life. That means Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States would have doubly appealed to him.

 

Vonnegut said Mark Twain wrote mainly crap late in his career, but he also named his son, Mark, after Twain, so Vonnegut probably liked Twain okay.

 

      

Richard Yates and John Updike were both great friends of Vonnegut’s. He’d surely have wanted to keep their books on his shelf.

 

Catch-22 = novel about the senselessness of war. Slaughterhouse-Five = novel about the senselessness of war. Both were written by World War II veterans. Both have hyphenated titles containing numbers. Joseph Heller and Kurt were even friends. Sounds like these two books would make a happier pair than a lot of the couples in Kurt’s novels.

 

King Jesus is a novel that puts Jesus and his life into a historical context rather than focusing on his religious significance. Vonnegut was an atheist who respected the teachings of Jesus, so this sounds right up his alley.

 

“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.” That’s the last line of The Princess Bride, but it also sounds like something Vonnegut would have said. Besides, what’s not to like about true love, high adventure, and bitter but strangely loving satire?

 

These classic dystopian, sci-fi, and adventure novels would surely have been some of Vonnegut’s favorites.

 

Vonnegut is famous for his novels about PTSD, time travel, and the end of the world, but he also wrote short stories that poked fun at modern American life. That side of him would have appreciated Jane Austen’s wit, if not her liberal use of semicolons.

 

We’re told Vonnegut was big into Frankenstein. Like, five-copies big into Frankenstein.

 

Vonnegut was taught by, married, and fathered intelligent women. Cassandra Mortmain, the articulate and compassionate young heroine of I Capture the Castle, would have suited him perfectly. Since the book was published in 1948, Edie and Nanny Vonnegut, Kurt’s daughters, might have read it as teenagers. Maybe their imaginary selves left it behind in our imaginary library when they moved out, and our imaginary Kurt keeps it around as a reminder of them.

Looking to donate books but don’t know what we’re looking for? Here are some authors who are not present on our shelves but should be:

  • Ray Bradbury. Bradbury and Vonnegut were contemporaries; we even have a picture of them together in the museum. Save for an incinerated copy of Fahrenheit 451 (we can explain), we don’t have any Bradbury books in the library.
  • Terry Pratchett. In his prolific career, Pratchett used fantasy to satirize religion, government, and everyday life, all with a dry sense of humor and a profound faith in the fact that man can be a fundamentally decent animal, at least if he decides to be. Hmm, does that remind you of anyone?
  • Octavia Butler. Butler wrote at around the same time as Vonnegut, and she also wrote about time travel, aliens, and how society is pretty screwed up.
  • Ernest Hemingway. Some of Hemingway’s subject matter – war and bullfighting – didn’t sit well with Kurt, but Vonnegut still enjoyed Hemingway’s work. He said, “If Hemingway had been a painter, I would say of him that while I often don’t like the subjects he celebrates, I sure as heck respect his brushwork.”

If you have any books by these authors, or anything else you think Kurt Vonnegut would have liked enough to spend money on, pass it on to us! We’ll take good care of it. And we won’t burn it like that poor Fahrenheit 451. We promise.

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