Books

Kurt Vonnegut’s Unsung Heroes

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut

We love him for his sardonic wit, his minimalistic masculine style, and for his clever, crude doodles. Kurt Vonnegut has been standard in the canon of American writers for some time now, and for good reason.

Most are familiar with what is considered by most his magnum opus, Slaughterhouse-Five, a war satire. However, there is so much more to this man’s writing than gallows humor and doodles.

Vonnegut’s writing speaks to truths about the universality of human beings that still resonates with so many; that’s why we love him.

For a lot of writers, some of the most enjoyable works to read by an author are their earliest and most overshadowed (whether it be a follow-up to a critical success or too ahead of its time). Sometimes the most essential of an author’s works aren’t their most well-known; Vonnegut is no exception. Below, we recommend 3 of this best yet less prominent books.

GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER (1965)

by Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press Trade Paperback

This novel’s premise could not be more in tune with our current time. I remember having a conversation with a friend who said, “I don’t have a massive problem with billionaires; I just wish that they had the semblance of a moral conscience.” Fittingly, that is the premise of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The protagonist, Eliot Rosewater, is a millionaire who inscrutably develops intense guilt surrounding his wealth, abandons the rat race of New York City, and settles in a small town in Indiana where he focuses on giving away all his wealth.

It’s an absurdist book that keys in on wealth disparity, and is also the introduction of a few of Vonnegut’s recurring characters—namely, his literary alter ego, Kilgore Trout. If one wants a place to begin their journey with Vonnegut, this book is a fantastic jumping point.

god bless you, mr. rosewater on LEO edit

CANARY IN A CAT HOUSE (1961)

by Kurt Vonnegut
Gold Medal

Published in 1961, this fun collection has a lot of Vonnegut’s trademark satire and wit. While he became somewhat of a political and cultural commentator later in his career, those who have heard of him but have yet to read his work, don’t realize science-fiction was his primary genre. This short story collection contains some underrated pieces.

One reason this book is so delightful is in its simplicity and straightforward nature. All the stories are sharp and show that it was only a short amount of time before Vonnegut broke through to literary stardom. There isn’t anything remarkable about this collection, other than it shows the emergence of Vonnegut’s voice as a go-to American writer. It would be eight years before he would write his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, and that he would break through to global literary fame.

canary in a cat house on LEO edit

THE SIRENS OF TITAN (1959)

by Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press Trade Paperback

Vonnegut’s second novel, The Sirens of Titan is an ambitious project that tackles nearly all the big questions of human history such as free will, space exploration, and the purpose of humans on Earth. Overshadowed by his later works, this book is often left out of the conversation when the topic of Vonnegut work is broached.

This work of science-fiction is about Malachi Constant, one of future America’s richest men, who travels from Earth to Mars to take part in the interplanetary wars. (Funnily enough, this doesn’t seem like such an off-the-mark prediction of the future.)

It’s a remarkably inventive novel, especially considering that we were years away from setting foot on the moon ourselves, and centers on the conflict of characters who know too much about the past and the future, forced to operate within a universe that strips them of their agency.

But don’t let the complicated genre jargon and philosophical debate deter you—the novel is bursting at the seams with pathos and, for my money, Vonnegut’s most essential read.

the sirens of titan on LEO edit

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