Before this year, I had read two of his works. The first was Slapstick, in high school. A friend promised it was funny, and it was, but also kind of scattered thematically from what I remember. Something about the president, who grew up hiding his genius, surviving the apocalypse, renaming all his citizens and discovering the afterlife is an overcrowded turkey farm. I couldn't keep up. Maybe I'd like it more now. So it goes.
The other was "Harrison Bergeron," which I'd read for a writing class my freshman year in college. I liked it, although I find it much funnier now than I did then. I was also a bit wary of a maybe misread subtext that Vonnegut seemed to be screaming at the time: "I'm completely pretentious and I think I have the right to be."
Now I'm taking a Literature Seminar class, which basically means I get to read whatever I'm interested in for a semester and at the end I write a paper to justify how I dare to sign up for so much fun. One can study an author, a movement, different translations of a text, whatever.
We have a lot of Vonnegut in our house. It only seemed right. It's been so, so right.
I never thought before how so very much Vonnegut is the anti-Hemingway. They both used simple statements in their writing - plain facts - and worlds of humanity would open up behind them. They also shared an immense sympathy. However, while Hemingway was often terribly sad, Vonnegut has made me laugh out loud more than any writer I've encountered (Dave Eggers holds a close second). Which isn't to say Vonnegut wasn't also a sad writer. Sadness and humor can be, maybe inherently are, sister experiences, though humor likes to pretend this isn't true. Without getting too lofty, I'll just say Vonnegut handles the two deftly, in a way unlike I've seen before.
Mr. Vonnegut probably wouldn't appreciate this comparison. He detested culture's portrayals of things like war and masculinity, a la John Wayne and Hemingway himself. But that's part of what puts the "anti-" in my anti-Hemingway theory. One wrote heroes of stoicism and stern philosophy. The other wrote clumsy victims of circumstance, and hardly ever a villain (after all, how does anyone get through life but clumsily?).
So that's who I've been reading, and it's all been fantastic. Everybody should read Slaughterhouse Five. Sympathy is useful.