Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Best Kurt Vonnegut Quotes (from 'Letters', 2013)



I’ve been a Kurt Vonnegut fan since I read Mother Night twenty years ago. So when I came across his published Letters (2013) in a Moscow bookstore, I bought it without thinking twice. I’m glad I did. This collection of a half-century of his correspondence is better than any biography because it’s more authentic—giving us snapshots of the author’s issues over the decades and the humor he used to cope with them. After journeying through the mind of a great American writer, there isn’t much I can say about him that will be worth a damn. Better to simply share some of my favorite Vonnegut quotes from Letters—his wise, funny words on writing, teaching, caring, and dealing with this absurd thing we call life.



“If something nice doesn’t happen, then something terrible will happen. I’ll have to get a job.”  -1953

“She (his sister) is damn well fed up with the character building aspects of disappointment. Me too.” -1956

“Jack Teagarden, the guy everybody agrees was the greatest living trombone player by far, died broke about a week ago. He didn’t take dope. He wasn’t a drunk. He just didn’t get paid much for being the greatest living trombone player.”  -1964

“I’m glad to be back in the Corn Belt again. Word of honor: I like it. Word of honor: it’s good looking as anything.” -1965

“Nelson gave me a big red sticker (that) said “STOP THE WAR IN VIETNAM.” I stuck it on my car, but the car was wet, and the sticker blew off before I was half way home, and I’m just as glad. My gladness doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about Vietnam. It has to do with how I feel about stickers.” – 1965

 “Sometimes the classes go good, sometimes they go lousy. That’s show business.”
-1965, on teaching

“I wish my students could write…simply and clearly, and keep a story moving as well…. I am going to take them on walks and make them look at people.”

“Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” -1966

“After June 24, I’ll be freelancing again—probably forever…” -1967

“I will have to come up there in the next couple of weeks to put the finishing touches on the mother-fucking income taxes. Amazing amounts of cash will wing their way from us to the Pentagon. Too bad.”  -1971

“If I were younger, I think I might try to become a European.”

“When things go well for days on end, it is a hilarious accident.”

“…the hell with the college boards. Educate yourself instead. Get a collection of the short stories of Chekov and read every one.”

“I know it is the place of a man to do brilliant things with money, but this manhood thing has me completely worn out. I just want to be a writer.” -1972

“Thinking about money games now will simply fuck you up. Concentrate on creative games. That’s your job.”

“It is true that some of my characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life.”  -1973

“Word of honor: I do not lust after the money or the fame. As some old man in Plato’s dialogues said about not feeling the sex urge anymore: I feel as though I were at last allowed to dismount from a wild horse.” -1974

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to teach anymore. It’s a damaging, pooping thing to do.”

“I have no hope of explaining to your satisfaction why I said what I said. I was using a form of humor called irony, saying one thing while clearly meaning another.”

“The secret of good writing is caring.” -1975

“The difficulty is not in writing but in writing well.” -1979

“It isn’t my duty to take part in promotional schemes.” -1981

“Our president supposes that his brain is producing his opinions. His brain in fact is soaked in a culture, and has never bothered to examine its ingredients.” -1987

 “Only you could project the charismatic, absolutely beautiful, one-hundred percent American, deep-seated insanity which afflicts this man (character Dwayne Hoover, Breakfast of Champions).”  -1988, to Jack Nicholson


“I have seven children, four of them adopted… They would have heard the word ‘fuck’ by the time they were six, whether they had me for a father or not.”

“Nature can be surprisingly merciful. It has always been the case with me that when my life is a mess I can find some relief by writing.”  -1992

“I feel good about it (this book). It’s called Timequake. Like this country, it should be completely finished in another year.” 

What made being alive almost worthwhile for me was all the saints I met almost anywhere, people who were behaving decently in an indecent society.” -1993

“Robert McNamara has now made clear, that war (Vietnam) was loony tunes.” -1995

 “I say go for truths, very personal ones, not likely to be learned from TV sets. We need to know what those are.” -1996, on writing

“A writer is first and foremost a teacher.” -1997

“And how should we behave during this apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one… I’m out of here.” -2007


all quotes from Kurt Vonnegut, Letters (2013), Vintage Books, London



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