52 Books a Year: #15 - Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons

Posted by Brian Sat, 14 Nov 2009 21:57:00 GMT

Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons
By Kurt Vonnegut

3.5/5

I honestly don’t remember enough about this book to write a coherent review of it and I didn’t take any notes while reading it. I guess this is why you shouldn’t wait six months to write a review of a book. It is a collection of essays on various subjects and I would only recommend it for fans of other Vonnegut works who wish to read all of works. Interesting, but not essential.

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52 Books a Year: #10 - God Bless You Mr. Rosewater

Posted by Brian Fri, 06 Nov 2009 02:33:00 GMT

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater By Kurt Vonnegut

4/5

I mentioned yesterday that Mother Night was a book that I liked at first, but then gnawed at me for months until I thought it was amazing. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater took a somewhat opposite course. Reading it is a surreal trip into the line between insanity and charity, but it doesn’t have the same sort of staying power. Or possibly I only have room for long-term thoughts on one Vonnegut novel at a time.

Eliot Rosewater is a wealthy trust-fund child who is struggling to use his money for philanthropy. Norman Mushari, Jr. is a lawyer trying to get rich by weaseling his way into some extended family. Vonnegut is direct, dark, and sarcastic is his writing, milking humor from the worst in human nature and hypocrisy abounds. It never reaches the level of surrealism found in Slaughterhouse-Five, but it never reaches the vileness felt in Breakfast of Champions either. Instead he finds a nice balance between the insanity of Eliot and the gold digging of Mushari.

God Bless you Mr. Rosewater is probably middle-of-the-road in quality as far as Vonnegut novels go, but that is still much better than the best that most authors achieve in their lifetimes. If you haven’t read Vonnegut yet, get started.

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52 Books a Year: #9 - Mother Night

Posted by Brian Wed, 04 Nov 2009 18:15:00 GMT

Mother Night By Kurt Vonnegut

5/5

I read my first Kurt Vonnegut book in the summer of 2007. It was Breakfast of Champions and it left me completely dumbfounded. Very rarely do I put down a book at the end and just say “Wow”, but I had never read anything like that in my life. I read a few other of his novels that summer with similar results (Slaughterhouse-Five and The Sirens of Titan), but didn’t get back to the rest of his work until this spring when I read a few more. Mother Night was the first of those.

Mother Night didn’t wow me at first, but it is one of those books that sticks in your mind and gnaws at you for months. The introduction is fashioned to appear as though Vonnegut is simply introducing the legitimate memoirs of the lead character. It is superbly done and could easily be believed if you have no other experience with Vonnegut.

The novel follows Howard Campbell, an American playwright in Nazi Germany who is recruited as a spy by the U.S. War Department. From there the novel follows the consequences of him pretending to be a Nazi propagandist in WWII and beyond. His memoirs are supposedly written while he awaits trial for war crimes in an Israeli prison for his role in spreading anti-Semitic propaganda.

When I finished this book I thought it was good, but it has grown on me since to the point that I find it be superb. Campbell’s struggle to escape what he pretended to be (and what everybody else thought he was) is infiltrated by doubt about what he actually was. In the introduction Vonnegut lays out the moral of the book, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” His writing was dark and the morals often ambiguous, but here it is best heeded.

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