So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut, so it goes...
Kurt Vonnegut died today and I am sad. I was 14 when I read "Slaughterhouse Five"; 17 when I read "Cat's Cradle" and "Breakfast of Champions." And for almost the entirety of my teenage years, I proclaimed Kurt Vonnegut as my absolute favorite author.
Several weeks ago I was browsing at Barnes & Noble and I picked up one of his books. I realized that, as a teenager, I had know idea what Vonnegut was really trying to say. He's a socialist, a secular humanist, etc. -- all in all a pretty wacky left-winger. He's one of those authors you read as a teenager and it makes you feel smart, like you know that everyone around you is missing a out on a secret that you know. Today, (as a much wiser, and more moderate, 27 year old...ha!) I doubt I'd agree with much that Vonnegut proclaims.
But I can say that his novels had an effect on me that persists even today. "Cat's Cradle" instigated the "existential crisis" that led me to really ask myself why I believe what I do (i.e. in the LDS Church). My wife laughs when I say how much I love Kurt Vonnegut because, she reminds me, he's the one who started me on the path that led to a period of inactivity in the church. She's right, in a way. But I must say that walking that path was crucial: it led me to decide things for myself, to ask questions and to make sure I was doing what I was doing for the right reasons. So, I think Vonnegut would be happy with that. Looking back, the philosophy underlying his novels wasn't all that deep, nor was it particularly original, but his sarcasm and satire made me ask some serious questions of myself. And more importantly, his writing was really, really funny.
As someone who has a kid that is set to be born anytime now, I found this Vonnegut quote particularly good. I may relate it to my son when he arrives (probably without the expletive):
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”