Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

I finished Kurt Vonnegut's Palm Sunday about a week ago. When I started on it, I'd assumed that I'd read it before, but I don't think I had; not all of it, anyway. I think the bit that really stymied me when I first attempted the book, 18 or 20 or so years ago, was the history of the Vonnegut family in America, written by Vonnegut's Uncle John, which takes up 43 pages, and is fairly dry reading. But I found myself more interested this time than I had been back then, and I breezed through it. Maybe my increased interest in Vonnegut's family history is directly related to his recent passing; maybe I'm just more mature and patient these days. Maybe both.

I also found myself more interested in the entirety of the book, which is primarily a collection of various speeches and letters from Vonnegut. One section which affected me as much now as then was the opening chapter, "The First Amendment," which touches on the banning and, in at least one case, the burning of Vonnegut's books. Actually, this probably affected me much more back then; my outrage at the things small-minded people do to prevent others from accessing content and ideas which they find unpleasant or objectionable had yet to fully develop. Censorship has been one of my hot topics for many, many years, and Vonnegut surely helped me down that path. You'll find my favorite line from that chapter over at the top of my sidebar now, and I'll repeat it here: "From now on, I intend to limit my discourse with dim-witted Savonarolas to this advice: 'Have somebody read the First Amendment to the United States Constitution out loud to you, you God damned fool!'" (Don't feel bad if you have to look at the Wikipedia article for Savonarola. I had to.)

Other points of note throughout the book include: Vonnegut's story for Harlan Ellison's anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions, called "The Big Space Fuck," which Vonnegut proudly (if questionably) claims is the first short story in history to have the word "Fuck" in its title; his observations on fame, and comedy, and famous comedians; and his thoughts on religion, which seem to vary throughout the course of the book, which I find very interesting. At times, Vonnegut's views seem to be staunchly atheistic, and at times, they tend more toward a lackadaisical agnosticism, and at times, mostly in the pieces written at later dates, Vonnegut seems tolerant, even accepting, of the concept of God, if not religion in general. I was a bit surprised by this. Am I misreading his attitudes? Or was he just growing mellow with age?

Anyway. That's two Vonneguts down in my plan to read (or reread) all his books in 2007. Next up: I checked Galápagos out from the library, but then I discovered my old paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. So... what the heck. Why not get the biggie out of the way? I should be done with Slaughterhouse-Five in a day or two, plenty of time to get through Galápagos before it's due back. And after that, Cat's Cradle. I guess I'm not going to try to go in order of publication after all!

One final note: when I post about books in my Sidebar Updates, I try to find an online image that most closely matches the cover of the edition I've got in hand. But for Palm Sunday, I couldn't turn up a picture from the original hardback I was reading. And I prefer this cover, with Vonnegut grinning and laying on the lawn next to his beloved dog. So here are some scans I made of the cover sleeve, for the benefit of the internet community as a whole. You're welcome. Click 'em to enlarge.

Palm Sunday, front cover
Front Cover

Palm Sunday, front and back covers
Front and Back Covers

Palm Sunday, full cover jacket
Full Jacket

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