I have read many tributes to Kurt Vonnegut today and I am reminded of how much I have enjoyed reading his books, and also of the circumstances surrounding me as I read these books, which I feel like writing about today:
My first Vonnegut read was Slaughter-house Five, a brilliant book (though not what I consider his best) about the fire bombing of Dresden in World War II. It is one of the few books that have made me uncomfortable picturing myself in it; I can't imagine what it must have been like to be in a city as it was being fire-bombed. My fondest memory of this book is buying a copy for my nephew years later, in the late 90s, and hearing him say "so it goes" again and again for the next month or so. There is nothing quite like the feeling of introducing a piece of literature to someone and seeing them embrace it as much as you did.
In 1997 I was in a bookstore days before taking a flight to Europe. I needed something to read and eventually made a selection. As it turns out I slept on most of the flight to London and did not read (it was overnight) but ten days later my return flight was in the middle of the day. The book I had bought before I left was Bluebeard, another Vonnegut novel, one that I had never heard of but decided to give a chance since I had enjoyed reading him before. I started it an hour or so out of London and finished it about an hour or so before we landed in Chicago. 287 pages, and as far as I can remember, this is the only book I have ever read start to finish without stopping. It is my favorite Vonnegut book, and one of my favorite books of all-time. The next year I went back to Europe for two weeks and spent four days in Iceland by myself. I had always wondered what it would be like to pass yourself off as someone else in a place where no one knows who you are, and in Iceland I decided to give it a try. Icelanders are very friendly people, and every time someone introduced themselves to me I shook their hand and told them that my name was Rabo Karabekian. He is the protagonist of Bluebeard. I hope I represented him well.
I will always remember where I was when Al Gore finally conceded the 2000 election-stuck in a massive snow-related traffic jam, inching along on what would be a four hour trip home from work. I had left downtown at six. Gore conceded at eight. I got home at ten. Under normal conditions it was about a thirty minute trip. December 2000 was exceptionally snowy and I had three of these nightmare commutes within a few weeks of each other. When a fourth seemed certain based upon a weather forecast, I thought of ways that I could counter the boredom. I wound up bringing my copy of Breakfast of Champions with me, and when the hours long commute materialized, I held the book against the steering wheel and read it. I was either stopped or creeping along at less than five miles per hour. It was surprisingly easy to avoid colliding with the car in front of me and concentrating on the book.