Brett's Books


Doing Time

by Kurt Vonnegut

Thoughts Going In

Kurt Vonnegut was a giant of an author back in the day. I remember everyone liking Vonnegut... well, almost everyone. It's never everyone. Whatever the case, I liked him.

As I recall, Kurt Vonnegut had a simple, easy style. Even simpler than someone like Hemingway. But unlike Hemingway, there would be a fair bit of thought. Actually, this might be unfair to The Old Man. But since I've never really been a fan of The Old Man (see, not everyone is), I don't really care.

Anyhow, before starting the book (but after reading the front and back covers, reviews, and publishing data, basically, everything up to the first page), these are my preconceptions.

I am expecting something light, but not overly funny. I don't actually expect to laugh out loud. But I expect to be amused by some wry social commentary... that likely as not at this remove (forty years later) will fall flat.

Still, back in the day Kurt was quick (to read), had a bit of wit (was alive), and was fun, clever, and delightful.

I hope the years have been kind to him.

And, no. I have no idea as to the plot... perhaps someone stuck in the normality of life. I guess that would be the obvious guess... to me, anyway.

Of course, Vonnegut was a POW (a Prisoner of War), so maybe that will be the tie-in. Though, I would have thought he'd used up that material in Slaughterhouse-Five. Oh, speaking of Slaughterhouse-Five, all the reviews say Jailbird is his best book since Slaughterhouse-Five. Who knows if that is a reference to content, style, plummeting book sales, or a general level of suckitude in his intervening work? Soon, we shall know.

But first, I should probably jot down a few notes from last night as to my expectations:

Notable Quotes

"Great wealth should be accepted unquestioningly, or not at all."

enemies of the economic order

Those were our salad days, when we were green in judgement.

It was a toy steering wheel...

The President of the United States ought to be given a wheel like that at his inauguration, to remind him and everybody else that all he could do was pretend to steer.

Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.1

"You inconceivable twerp," she said. Most of the speeches in this book are necessarily fuzzy reconstructions -- but when I assert that Sarah Wyatt called me an "inconceivable twerp," that is exactly what she said.

To give and extra dimension to the scolding she gave me: The world "twerp" was freshly coined in those days, and had a specific definition -- it was a person, if I may be forgiven, who bit the bubbles of his own farts in a bathtub.

He accidentally dropped his wristwatch into a vat of boiling cooking oil. Before he realized what he was doing, he had plunged his hand into the oil, trying to rescue the watch.2

Another part of the machine ['the great engine of the economy'] was spitting out unrepentent murderers ten years old, and dope fiends and child batterers and many other bad things.

"Dear Lord -- never put me in the3 charge of a frightened human being."

1: Meaning from rags to riches to rags. Included here, as I like the turn of phrase.

2: When I worked fast food, a manager told me this story, as if he had seen it happen to another manager first person. I am inclined, now, to believe he had recently read Jailbird... or for whatever reason the rumor was making the rounds and he was gamely passing it on.

3: All the difference one word makes.

Running Thoughts

The Debriefing

And then I stopped reading.
Perhaps, Kurt Vonnegut explains it best.
The Sermon on the Mount, sir.
Of course, that is not why. I simply grew bored. It is time to read, a time when I read, and I do not feel like reading this book. The journey has been fun... but uneventful; not due to an absence of plot points, but an absence of caring.

It is time to move on.

If I were not writing this up as a project, I likely would have stopped sooner. So there's that (take it however you wish). And as read books (for this project) in the future, well, I'll likely stop again... and sooner.

Enjoyable but empty, that's what I'd call this book.

On the other hand, that story about the hand in the fryer was something a manager told me back when I was working fast food, relating it to me as if he had seen it, so... liars abound. He owed me nothing... and neither I, he. Please, feel free to read that last however you want.

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