Thursday, April 12, 2007

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?


keelyellenmarie said...

I can't think of any of my favorites from high school at the moment, which is very weird because there were so many. However, Roald Dahl made early elementary school much better for me. Matilda was my favorite book for several years.

Anonymous said...

And his short story "Harrison Bergeron" speaks to issues gifted students face. It made me feel someone else felt the way I did when I read it in Jr. High.

Anonymous said...

Sad to say that is was Ayn Rand who sustained me during High School. She told me that it was ok to be "smart - able - and moral." I always grimace when I see that some people took her books to mean support for the "looking out for #1 mentality" that I so dispise.

If I could go back in time, I would have held out more hope to my teen self that being all those things didn't have to mean taking on a "me against the world" position. But gratefully, I did, eventually discover that part of life, too.


Anonymous said...

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was definitely my "gifted" book during high school. I think I practically had it memorized.

Anonymous said...

Harlan Ellison

Jason Jones said...

Anything by Nietzsche kept me sane.

Parentalcation said...

I agree with anon... Enders Game rocks.

Asimov was also a life saver during a lot of classes, after I has already read the entire textbook in a week, and couldn't stand to hear the teacher going over stuff I already knew.

Anonymous said...

Orson Scott Card fans who are gifted should get ahold of Card's short story "Unaccompanied Sonata" from the late 70s or early 80s. It was originally published in Omni magazine and collected in a short story collection called, appropriately, "Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories". It's probably the most powerful thing Card has ever written.