Thursday, November 11, 2004
Happy Birthday, Mr. Vonnegut
Today is Kurt Vonnegut's 91st birthday, so happy birthday to you, Mr Vonnegut.

Years ago, in high school and the first few years in college, I called Kurt Vonnegut "the greatest living writer". I kept a copy of his essay collection Palm Sunday in my jacket pocket, and read a few pages or more when I had a a bit of unattended time. I knew, or felt I knew, Kilgore Trout, or Eliot Rosewater, as real familiars.

Some of his writing read to me a bit thin now, and some of the commentaries at In These Times are simply cantankerous. But in his best work: the novels Mother Night, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Slaughterhouse Five, Jail Bird, and the essay collection Palm Sunday, with his deeply-felt humanism, and his bitterly flabbergasted sense of modesty and decency, his voice is as tremendously moving now as ever. He got it right where so many more "serious", more self-regarding writers and thinker did not, could not: be embarrassed, be kind, mind your manners, and above all, do no harm — that is what anyone can really do, in this life, to be good, so you might as well give it a try.