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.

Welcome To The Monkey House

Welcome to the Monkey House book coverWelcome To The Monkey House is a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Having recently read Pity the Reader which provided much insight into Vonnegut the writer and Vonnegut the person, I read this collection with much more appreciation, and much more fun, that I think I would have otherwise. I even laughed out loud a few times which I almost never do when reading.

I will also admit that I partially picked up this collection for the story “Harrison Bergeron” which I had read in either high school or my undergraduate years (so many years ago) and had for a long time associated the story with Ray Bradbury (I think because I read the story at first while also reading Fahrenheit 451).

This collection is great. Despite all of these stories being written in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them comment on social issues that persist or are, unfortunately, re-emerging today. I also think it is fun to read stories like these 60-70 years after they were written because they often imagine a future that people from those days thought might come to pass. They were big dreamers back then and lived in a much different world than the one we have today. Of course, these being stories, they include conflict despite the “bright” future they imagine or because of the “darker” future they could also dream up. I will admit that “Deer in the Works” may not be terribly far off from a situation Vonnegut imagined could happen in a future of mega-corporations.

Overall, this is a fun collection and, despite some aspects of these stories being outdated, the stories remain relevant and insightful about the human race and the way we interact with each other.

Happy Reading.

The Sandman

Sandman and the Endless

Sandman and the Endless by Jim Lee & Jeremy Roberts

I have to admit that The Sandman was an interesting journey to say the least. I haven’t read many comics (despite knowing many comic characters and stories [no, not just Marvel ones]), but it is a unique medium that is worth looking into if you have been hesitant to do so. Of course, there are tons of stories within the medium and you simply need to find one you are interested in. I decided to begin Sandman for various reasons: I’ve heard friends talk about it, I’ve seen it show up several times in circles of interest, and one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote it. Granted, a comic is a product of much collaboration and creation and each contributor deserves their due. Some contributors changed throughout the series, but here are those who created the first issue titled “Sleep of the Just”: Neil Gaiman (writer), Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg (artists), Todd Klein (letters), Daniel Vozzo (colors), Art Young (assistant editor), and Karen Berger (editor).

I acquired the Omnibus Editions Continue reading

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood coverIt has been over a month since my last recommendation. This is partly due to my reading slump and other demands on my time, but today I am recommending a story that is one I consider top-tier. This is the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I first discovered this story via the anime adaptation which has two versions (which I will discuss shortly), but first let’s begin with a quick blurb to see if this is the type of story you are interested in.

“In an alchemical ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armor. Their journey to restore their bodies through the power of the Philosopher’s Stone begins here.”

That was taken from the back of volume one of the deluxe edition. There are 18 volumes included in the deluxe edition and 27 in the original version (the deluxe editions combine the 27 into 18 hardcover volumes).

I hope this caught your interest, because as I stated above, this story is incredible. The Elric brothers are alchemists. Alchemy, for a simple explanation, could be equated to magic. The entire system centers on the Law of Equivalent Exchange. For example, by using the right alchemical formula, an alchemist could change water into hydrogen by removing the oxygen. The correct materials are present. They can change the chemical and/or physical makeup of things with alchemy but only if the materials are present. Alchemy cannot therefore create something from nothing. Except perhaps with the Philosopher’s Stone.

Though I recently read the manga series for the first time, I did watch the 2003 adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist and the 2009 adaptation titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The reason two versions exist isn’t simply that the latter is a remake. The first was adapted while the manga was still being written and the show went on past the published material and thus took creative liberties to conclude the series resulting is quite a few differences from the source material. The 2009 adaptation is more accurate as the series had been completed and it therefore stayed true to the source material. This is perhaps why I believe it to be the better version.

What I like about this series is the blend of comedy, drama, ethics, morality, and the questions of what it means to be human and what is the value of a human life. It covers topics such as genocide, so this series does delve into some heavy areas and there are some impactful moments, one of which stands out as a forever “too soon” reference within the fandom. If you’ve read or watched this series, then you likely know what I am referring to.

The series is rich with interesting characters both good and bad. I would even dare to call it timeless due to the nature of the worldbuilding and the fact it centers on those questions that humanity will always be considering despite the fact no concrete answer will ever be possible.

If you’ve never heard of this series, then I hope you look into it either by reading or watching. I of course recommend print format but also the 2009 adaptation if you want to watch it. Both versions are currently available on Netflix. In the spirit of Equivalent Exchange. I thank you for reading my post and I hope you got something from it that you find as valuable as the time spent reading it.

Happy Reading.

Kokoro

Kokoro book coverKokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.

That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.

Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.

Happy Reading.