I’ve just finished the late, great Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. It’s a slim book, which the Sunday Times calls “part memoir, part rant and part joke”. I had forgotten how much I like Vonnegut’s darkly funny voice. I love his embrace of the absurd, how he is enraged by corruption and the deeds of the powerful, and his light touch. Here are some snippets from the book that stood out for me:
I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
On creative writing:
First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show that you’ve been to college.
On how the Germans took over America:
And these guilt-free people, speaking English at work but German at home, built not only successful businesses, most strikingly in Indianapolis and Milwaukee and Chicago and Cincinnati, but their own banks and concert halls and social clubs and gymnasia and restaurants, and mansions and summer cottages, leaving the Anglos to wonder, with good reason, I have to say, “Who the hell’s country is this anyway?”
After having spent a delightful time at the post office, sending off a parcel:
Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.
On America’s gift to the world – the blues:
Foreigners love us for our jazz. And they don’t hate us for our purported liberty and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance.
On the leadership of America and the soldiers fighting on other soil:
By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas. (my emphasis)
On his favourite American heroes, librarians:
While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, their powerful political connections or great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
On his Uncle Alex’s capacity for happiness:
And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”