Kurt Vonnegut, RIP
Kurt Vonnegut, the author of eccentric, classic novels from The Sirens of Titan to Slaughterhouse Five, died yesterday at age 84. There are obituaries floating around the web, but here's one from USA Today.
Vonnegut was still on the lecture circuit until recently. I heard him speak in the fall of 1996, and even in 2005, he appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As Stewart told the audience, "As an adolescent, [Vonnegut] made my life bearable."
I agree. I first discovered Vonnegut's novels during a 10th grade independent study literature class. His prose was clean, stark, appealing ("So it goes.") His oddball characters and absurd time shifts have won over many a gifted, disaffected teen stuck in the absurd construction of high school. His novels invited you to engage in the Big Questions. Your high school classmates -- too stuck on who said what to whom at whose locker -- did not offer such engagement. And so Vonnegut provided an escape.
A number of other novelists have provided a similar service over the years. I was never so big on Catcher in the Rye (it's so obviously about teen angst that it becomes a bit too much) but The World According to Garp embraced the absurdist element to perfection. I'd love to hear about other people's Make-My-Life-Bearable novels from adolescence. What books are transformative for the gifted teen?