Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Them V's

So ever since I got a job I've been wondering what book I should read at work. I decided that it had to be practical: a paperback that I could easily carry with me. I was already reading Dubliners (see previous post) and I thought it would be fitting: but it turns out it's too big, or rather, too normal-sized for quick-access on breaks or when I'm taking out dogs for walks (I work at a kennel).

I realised that it had to be a compact-paperback, designed for this sort of thing--unfortunately, we haven't figured out how to make them over here in the West, so they're not as common, but I had a few lying around. I chose God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut.

Just to note, I've read Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Player Piano, Sirens of Titan, and Galápagos. Normally, I'm a big fan of his work.


But page after page, Kurt Vonnegut decides not to tell a story, but to go on an extended, creative rant about the paradoxes and hypocrises of American life and government. This, in and of itself, does not sound like a bad premise for a rant, or even for a whole book (though it is short to be sure). In fact, it sounds like it could be delicious, but unfortunately, it is not: I sense almost none of Vonnegut's usual sharp wit in Mr. Rosewater and find his thinly-veiled attacks on capitalism (in which he refers knowingly to himself one too many times) uninteresting and pretentious--not at all like similar, subtler attacks made by his idol and perhaps a better writer, Mark Twain.

I am reminded, of all things, of George Carlin (may his godless soul rest in peace), whose "politics" were occasionally spot on but often far too broad and generalising to mean much of anything. And as I read I keep thinking about how much more War with the Newts did with this concept (at least the bumbling bureaucracy/government part). Karel Capek, I have repeatedly told friends, was Kurt Vonnegut 30 years before Kurt Vonnegut was Kurt Vonnegut.

But then I still have a lot to go (I'm only 40 or 50 pages in) and I have to caution that as always I tend to play devil's advocate and let the critic in me scrutinise flaws first and foremost; ultimately I have had a great time with a number of Vonnegut's work and even this one squirms its way into my heart (however difficultly) on occasion. Who knows, maybe I'll feel differently by the end. Ultimately Vonnegut is one of those authors who I know I will read every piece of their ouvre some day, so I think, in the end, he is forgiven this transgression.

Forthcoming: I will soon be reading The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, simply because it is the only other "small paperback" I have. I am looking forward to synergising it with Imagined Communities, which I got at a used bookstore a ways back and has since been sitting on my desk.

Otherwise, I'm almost done with The Christian World (see previous post again), and as predicted, I do have my pet peeves about it, so I will delineate said nitpicking in the next post.

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