Thursday, April 12, 2007

damn it babies, you've got to be kind

When I was a kid, my mom lived in Manhatten and my dad lived in California and both of them were pretty broke. Hence, many trips aboard the San Francisco institution, the Grey Rabbit, aka the Hippie Bus. It broke down so often, the trip usually took five days, but hey, it got you there eventually. And the company was interesting. As were the books always lying around.

I was perhaps 11 when I picked up Breakfast of Champions on the hippie bus. It was an adult book, but so easy to read! Short sentences! Illustrations! Not that I couldn't read sophisticated works perfectly well at that age, but still, anything that much like a children's book really drew me in. I have no idea how much of it I actually understood.

A later bus trip introduced me to Mother Night, which became my favorite of his books. I wrote an essay on it in high school, finding it utterly profound in the way books can only be profound when you're in high school. I was a fan for years before I realized that Vonnegut's books were actually funny. Then as he got older and I got older, his books got sad again. Perhaps because I now understood just what he was writing about.

I'm so glad I found him. When I think about what was in other counter-culture writers at the time--cynicism, nihilism, paeans to selfishness--how wonderful to have someone out there observing the world who was telling us we have to be kind.