The Vonnegut Novels (Ranked)

I read all 14 of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels in the last several months. I had read 3 several years ago, so re-read them to have all books fresh in my mind and also because I found a new appreciation for Vonnegut’s work. I figured it would be fun to “rank” the novels from “worst to first” based on how much I liked them. Quick caveat: I don’t think any of his novels are bad. Some definitely could have been better, and several were near-perfect, but I enjoyed them all for various reasons.

14. Galapagos (1985)

13. Deadeye Dick (1982)

12. Breakfast of Champions (1973)

11. Slapstick (1976)

10. Hocus Pocus (1990)

9. Timequake (1997)

8. Jailbird (1979)

7. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

6. Mother Night (1961)

5. Player Piano (1952)

4. Slaughterhouse Five (1969)

3. Bluebeard (1987)

2. The Sirens of Titan (1959)

1. Cat’s Cradle (1963)

Cat’s Cradle was the novel that sent me on this journey through Vonnegut-world. I read it for the first time and found it incredible, so jumped into the rest. I also read the biography on Vonnegut which also added to my appreciation of his work as well as some of his short stories and other writings.

I recently finished a re-read of Slaughterhouse Five as I wrapped up my readthrough of all 14 novels listed above. I use GoodReads, which tracks reading dates, progress, etc. and I found a funny little datum about my reading this book. I first read it in 2015, in early January, and read it in five days. My re-read I completed in early January 2023, and I read it in five days. I just thought that was interesting.

I added the dates next to the titles for my own benefit to see how my ranking played out against how they were released. I think I have a favor toward his early work with the exception of Bluebeard which really surprised me. I think it may be the book with the best “human” moment of all listed. I hadn’t even heard of the book prior to my decision to read all of Vonnegut’s work. Perhaps that is why I liked it so much. I had no expectations for it. However, the same could be said of Deadeye Dick and Galapagos and I will likely never read those again.

Perhaps you agree, or disagree, with my list. That is okay. The perspective and/or relationship of a book and a reader is extremely individual and can be dependent upon many variables. Perhaps Cat’s Cradle just came to me at the right time in my life. I know I didn’t have a great perspective when reading Vonnegut back in 2014-2015, and now I do have a better one and new appreciation for his work. Time is a funny thing and it is often at the center of Vonnegut’s novels.

The top eight on this list are books I would recommend. I have recommended the top six via posts on this blog. Again, this list is from this one reader’s preference and experience, but I hope it is beneficial or at lease interesting for you.

As always, Happy Reading.

And So It Goes

And So It GoesChris J. Shields’s biography And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life is a deep look into the incredible life of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. By incredible, I don’t necessarily mean great, good, or terrible. I mean Kurt experienced a lot, both good and bad, and approached life valiantly while notably having his own shortcomings. I had known he was a POW during WWII and was held in Dresden when the city was destroyed. This much is mentioned many times in discussions, intros, and summaries of his novels (especially Slaughterhouse Five). Much of what he wrote about does go back to his experiences during that time. There are snippets of Vonnegut’s personal life in his novels but more so on their jackets, so some of the major events within this book (i.e. of his life) were known ahead of time, but what was offered in those snippets were unfocused facts and this biography gives them clarity.

Reading more about Vonnegut gives a different perspective for his novels. Certain things seem more personal, or significant, than they had been previously. Much of what he covers in various stories seem sourced directly from his life. Many of his short stories were written earlier in his career, and many of his novels written later with the exception of his more popular books. For example, his first book Player Piano was published in 1952, then Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), then his fifth and most famous novel Slaughterhouse Five released in 1969. He wrote a total of 14 books and many other articles, short stories, essays, speeches, etc. all the way up until his death in 2007 with several publications being posthumous including an in-progress novel he had been working on.

The world Vonnegut was born into in 1922 was completely different than the one we know today 100 years later (perhaps it is by more than chance I’ve come to Vonnegut at this century marker). The world we know today is already completely different than the one he died in back in 2007. The world is ever changing while human societies seem to change at a much slower rate. There is a quote from Vonnegut in this book that goes something like “take the world seriously, but none of the people in it.” I think that is sound advice.

Vonnegut was a prolific writer who enjoyed much of the fame he had heaped upon him in his later years, and he enjoyed most of this fame while disliking some of it. The Vonnegut many readers imagine in their minds, derived simply from his books, is quite different from the man who wrote those books. Not having known him myself, I rely on this biography and other anecdotes I’ve read by others to build a better picture of the man himself. This biography does a phenomenal job and may be the most extensive record we have of his life, but an entire life is ~425 pages is still a small window.

Vonnegut was no doubt a great writer, but he was an absent father and poor husband. He was married to Jane for 34 years and likely would not have become the writer he was without her support and without her taking on the role of singular parent to six children. Granted, Kurt took in three nephews when his sister and brother-in-law died tragically within days of each other. Much of what Kurt did was aimed with good intentions except of course his infidelities which lead to the eventual end of his first marriage. His second marriage seemed almost to include a little karma for his shortcomings in his first. I’m not one to judge solely from one perspective, but I believe Chris J. Shields did a phenomenal job presenting the facts of Vonnegut’s life and had the extensive research notes to support them. Essentially, Kurt’s second wife was an apathetic, overly-ambitious bitch who treated him poorly especially at the end of his life.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had a long, incredible life rife with blessings and curses. He wrote stories that bombed and stories that were immensely successful. He remains a prominent author today and is read widely, and I think as a society we still don’t know how best to categorize his work. He “began” his career being placed in science fiction due to the use of some themes of that genre. Later, he was deemed “black humor” and of course each book has its own elements that would sway things one way or another. I think his work has come into its own and is simply referred to by his name. Vonnegut is Vonnegut whatever that means for each of us.

I for one have come to enjoy Vonnegut’s work and will continue to read through his novels (and likely re-read a few I hadn’t fully appreciated early on). Knowing more about him as a person, I likely will read his books with a little more insight and understanding. I think anyone who is a fan of Vonnegut should read this book to better understand who he was as it differed in many ways from what is gleaned from his novels.

Happy Reading.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing

I am happy to finally talk about a piece of artwork I had commissioned by the incredible artist Jillian Kaye. This piece is Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing (as seen below). If you would like a copy of this awesome print, you can purchase it at JillianKayeArt.com. Also, since you are reading this post and hopefully enjoy my stories or discussions about books and writing, you can use the code “GRANFALLOON” to get free shipping!

I posted about Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules for Writing a few weeks ago, and I’ll admit I also wanted to have Vonnegut’s rules on my wall above my desk. There are no “real” rules to writing (I’ve posted two sets now) and you can likely find many more “rules” by Vonnegut himself online. These are more like reminders or advice to keep in mind while writing. I pulled the 8 Rules for the Vonnegut artwork from the book Pity the Reader which shares much more about Vonnegut and his views on writing and life. That book in turn had pulled the “rules” from a newspaper article Vonnegut had written about titled “How to Write with Style.”

So, this goes to show that writing is truly an individual art and there is no real way of doing it wrong. Enjoy yourself and keep going. Use these rules for guidance, or perhaps Neil’s rules work better for you, or perhaps use no rules at all. Or create your own rules. Whatever works for you is what you should use.

Vonnegut-finalpiece-hires

On Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt VonnegutI gained a greater appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut after reading Pity the Reader by Suzanne Collins and Kurt Vonnegut. I had read a handful of his books prior and did so primarily because he had become a larger literary figure and his book Slaughterhouse Five is often considered a classic American novel. I failed to fully appreciate the few novels I’d read at the time, and all of his work I’ve read recently I’ve enjoyed immensely. I think it is because I have a better understanding of the work as it continues to relate to the world we live in today.

Granted, some of the stories are dated considering they were written 60-80 years ago, but they are dated much in the same fashion as Philip K. Dick’s work is dated. In a nostalgic way that showed how hopeful and imaginative some were about a future that has since come and passed. Unfortunately, several topics Vonnegut covered continue to remain problematic in today’s society despite the decades since he wrote about them.

I first discovered Vonnegut randomly and without realizing who he was. There is/was this website that would take you to random websites much like playing roulette with the entire internet. I don’t recall the name, but several people at the university I was attending were using it to alleviate boredom and I momentarily joined the trend. Anyway, as I was jumping around the web, I came across a YouTube video of an older guy discussing the shapes of stories. This guy turned out to be Vonnegut and that video supposedly became fairly popular as Suzanne Collins explains in Pity the Reader. This was my first encounter with Vonnegut and surprisingly remains with me. He was witty and fun while remaining serious about what stories were and how they impact us, or rather what is needed for us to like or relate to them. He was able to distill complex topics into simple explanations which is the mark of a master.

Though I have explored Vonnegut’s work, there is still plenty I have yet to cover but I am taking my time. I don’t feel a rush to read it all and I think it is better to read his books scattered among other books (at least that is how I like to read them). After learning more about Kurt Vonnegut, I not only feel I have a better appreciation of his work, I think I have a better appreciation of what this life is and what we should be doing with it. I hate to say I need reminders from time to time as I get busy with work and responsibilities and forget to take a step back and remember to breathe. Vonnegut’s work often does the job reminding me that society is essentially a farce and we shouldn’t invest too heavily in our participation.

Vonnegut, like many other authors I’ve come to cherish, was actually alive during my lifetime but I failed to realize this until after his passing. Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 and died in 2007. He first published in 1951 and went on to write 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works. Much of his work, and much about himself, had a deep-rooted connection to his time spent as a soldier in World War II. Many speculate that Slaughterhouse Five is his work that most closely discusses his experience during the bombing of Dresden. Perhaps his view of the world was highly influenced by his need to make some sort of sense out what he experienced, but that is simply my own speculation. Regardless of what happened in the past, he left behind a sizable volume of work that continues to be read by many today and which will persist well into the future.

On Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesI first discovered Diana Wynne Jones through the adaptation of her book Howl’s Moving Castle by the well-known film company Studio Ghibli. I love the film and the book, and the two other books she wrote that tie into that world. Since finding her work, I’ve become more interested in her as an artist. Perhaps this may be partly influenced by stories told about her by other authors I like, such as Neil Gaiman who wrote about her and how he first met her. I don’t know why, but I’ll never forget that little story (if you want to know about it, you can read it in his book A View From the Cheap Seats).

I read her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing which is almost more a memoir than a book about the craft, which suited me just fine. I learned more about her, which made me want to learn even more about her. One thing that really stuck out to me was that she had both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors when she attended Oxford. Her thoughts on both of them were amusing to be honest. She had an interesting childhood though tough at times. Her wonder for the world never diminished despite living through darker moments of human history (primarily referencing World War II here). Her stories are skillfully written but are often marketed to children. I think she wrote them for children, but I think they have something for everyone, especially for adults who have forgotten the wonder they once held for the world.

I hope to introduce or read her stories to my children. They are magical and wholesome. I’m curious how my reading habits would have been different had I discovered her books earlier. I was probably mid-twenties when I first found them. Now that I have, I can return to them when needed so as to (hopefully) never lose my own sense of wonder in the whirlwind of adult responsibilities. I am grateful to have the opportunity. I am grateful she wrote her stories and let them out into the world. I’m sure she has impacted more lives than she could have dreamed possible. Diana Wynne Jones passed away in 2011 at the age of 77. Her works will likely live on for a long time. Much longer than my own lifetime at least, because once you discover a book that nestles its way into your heart, it will remain there forever to bring you comfort and joy. My hope is that you give her work a chance if you have not done so already. Of course, I suggest starting with Howl’s Moving Castle.