Critical Linking: Kurt Vonnegut Edition

This post is part of our Kurt Vonnegut Reading Day: a celebration of one of our favorite authors on the occasion of the publication of his letters. Check out the full line-up here.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the eduction of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read.

Vonnegut destroys some book-banners.


At age 32, after one novel: “Honest to God — I don’t think there’s ever going to be another.” Five years after “Slaughterhouse,” at age 51: “I may have retired. I’ll have to ask my lawyer.” Then, four novels and 11 years later: “I am not at all sure I want to write another one.” One novel after that, he says he’s written “the last chapter of what may be my last book.” He would write two more.

Helpful to remember that even prolific, influential writers sometimes, hell regularly, want to fold up the tent.


7. Pity the readers

They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years.

So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify — whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.

Vonnegut was a Strunk & White fan, but that did’t stop him from making a list of his own writing rules.


He was an idol of the young, a voice of the counterculture, a man whose views would henceforth be solicited for a never-ending stream of interviews, articles, profiles, addresses. He stood for peace, love, decency, humanity—became the Kurt Vonnegut we knew for the final four decades of his life, a figure about whom it was possible to say, in the words of a recent book, that “precious few authors have ever loved mankind so completely.” He became, in other words, exactly what he had always warned against, a prophet of gimcrack religions: in this case, a facile faith of niceness that neatly concealed his bottomless darkness.

What do you get when you re-read Vonnegut as an adult? A clearer version of what he was…and what he never wanted to be.

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