Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

Dan Wakefield (ed.), Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

This collection includes the letter the twenty-two-year old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from the German POW camp; wry dispatches from Vonnegut's years as a struggling writer; a letter to the CEO of Eagle Shirtmakers with a crackpot scheme to manufacture "atomic" bow ties; angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; letters to his children including advice like 'Don't let anybody tell you that smoking and boozing are bad for you. Here I am fifty-five years old, and I never felt better in my life'; fantastically wise letters to writers such as Norman Mailer, Gunter Grass, and Bernard Malamud; and his characteristically modest response to being called a 'great literary figure': 'I am an American fad-of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop.' Like Vonnegut's books, his letters make you think, they make you outraged and they make you laugh. Written over a sixty-year period, and never published before, these letters are alive with the unique point of view that made Vonnegut one of the most original writers in American fiction. 3.9 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication April 2013
ISBN 978-0099582939
Publisher Vintage Classics
 

This collection includes the letter the twenty-two-year old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from the German POW camp; wry dispatches from Vonnegut's years as a struggling writer; a letter to the CEO of Eagle Shirtmakers with a crackpot scheme to manufacture "atomic" bow ties; angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; letters to his children including advice like 'Don't let anybody tell you that smoking and boozing are bad for you. Here I am fifty-five years old, and I never felt better in my life'; fantastically wise letters to writers such as Norman Mailer, Gunter Grass, and Bernard Malamud; and his characteristically modest response to being called a 'great literary figure': 'I am an American fad-of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop.' Like Vonnegut's books, his letters make you think, they make you outraged and they make you laugh. Written over a sixty-year period, and never published before, these letters are alive with the unique point of view that made Vonnegut one of the most original writers in American fiction.

Reviews

The New York Times

Kurt Andersen

Splendidly assembled and edited … The letters display the forever-young sensibility that made him an outlier before the ’60s and passé soon after, funny but breathtakingly wise in his 20s, perhaps too wacky and glib in old age.

26/10/2012

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The Spectator

John Preston

This collection of letters has been crisply edited by Dan Wakefield, who also contributes an unusually glutinous introduction. In essence, this puts Vonnegut forward as a prime candidate for canonisation. ‘For the record let me say of Kurt Vonnegut, “He’s up in heaven now”,’ Wakefield writes in conclusion, which may leave readers — British readers in particular — pining for the sick-bag.

27/04/2013

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The Sunday Telegraph

Keith Miller

It is for their literary rather than their documentary value that these letters commend themselves, in the end. They have a directness and a consistency, a scruffy but ensnaring humanity, that I’ve never quite been able to find in Vonnegut’s fiction … Kurt seems by turns kind, engaged, imaginative, witty, self-deprecating and — on various fronts — courageous. Of course, the other half of this correspondence might well portray a gutless, faithless, feckless, miserly drunk with a penchant for laughing at his own bad jokes.

27/04/2013

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The Times

John Sutherland

[A] labour of love that gives us one more reason to love Kurt Vonnegut ... There is a long string of particularly informative, and coherent, correspondence with his first editor and agent Knox Burger. The later, more interesting sections, after he broke with Burger (an ugly episode) are rich with Vonnegutian sententiae. Particularly those with his daughter, Nanette (“Nannie”) ... But none of the letters, even those to his loved ones, disclose the inner life of Vonnegut

06/04/2013

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The Sunday Times

Ed Caesar

There are some strange omissions in this collection. For instance, Vonnegut, often described as a science-fiction author, hardly mentions the moon landings. Meanwhile, great political moments — assassinations and elections — receive only glancing references. He is interested primarily in his work and his immediate circle: loved ones and the world of books ... Considered together, Vonnegut’s correspondence offers a vivid picture of his life and ticklish worldview. This book is also a wistful reminder of what a fine and intimate thing a good letter can be.

14/04/2013

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The Guardian

James Campbell

Charles Shields's biography of Vonnegut, And So It Goes, appeared last year, but there is no substitute for a well-rounded collection of letters. Wakefield, a lifelong friend, has divided the book into sections according to decade, prefacing each with a brief essay. He also adds comments before some of the letters — a method chosen by certain editors in preference to footnotes — which occasionally has the effect of informing us of events before we have the chance to read about them at source.

20/04/2013

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The New Statesman

Daniel Swift

The letters of great writers may be divided into two categories: letters as poetry or letters as plot. That is, they may — as in the case of John Keats or Virginia Woolf — be valuable for their style and their angle upon the world and for giving us more of a writer we love. Or they may be worthwhile for usefully filling in parts of the biography, for their information about the plot of a life. This collection falls troublingly into the second category, which is a double shame, for what they show of the man is often unattractive and what is valuable is the very rare flashes of the humour and insight that made him famous in the first place.

16/05/2013

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