Saturday, April 14, 2007

Show & Tell: Kurt Vonnegut Remembered

To most people, this is what they know of Kurt Vonnegut:

Then there are those of us who are fans.

Dear Old Dad was a Vonnegut fan, but I came to Kurt late in life, some time in college. I had a Dell 5-book set in a slipcase that sat on my shelves for years. I had started the collection of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House once or twice, but never finished the book.

The other four books that sat encased in the Dell box were:


In 1988, I met Melanie, the future Mrs. BillyBlog. She liked Vonnegut as well, especially her favorite book of his:

It's hard for me to pin-point the progression, but I am fairly certain that I gave Kurt another try after I graduated from college. I specifically remember trying again and subsequently devouring everything in print by Vonnegut in the Summer of 1989, when I was temping at Southern California Edison.

After Monkey House, I must have read Slaughterhouse-Five. And then the other three in the box. Cat's Cradle blew me away. So much so that, even after going through everything else, it ranked as one of my favorite books of all time. Check the sidebar, and read the original post, where I rank it #4.

Again, people may have a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five around.

Since that Summer of '89, I've had a tad more.

This situation was improved by my marriage and, on April 2, 1996, I opened my "paper" anniversary present: a signed Kurt Vonnegut book. Melanie's gift set my bibliophilia
into a whole new realm. I transformed from a book lover to a book collector and occasional book scout. My obsession with signed poetry anthologies evolved from that one gift. Thanks, dear.

This is my collection of Vonnegutiana today:

That dark spot in the middle of the top row is the aforementioned anniversary gift, a signed, numbered, slip-cased copy of Jailbird, Kurt's Watergate novel. Take a peak:

I mentioned previously that I never got to see old KV in New York, despite a couple of botched attempts. I did manage to snag a couple signed copies of his later books, ones he pre-signed for Barnes & Noble events and remained after the event. Lucky me, I grabbed 'em:


That's Bagombo Snuff Box.

Some time after April 2, 1996, but before June 1, 1997 when I moved to New York, I acquired my favorite Vonnegut item. It's not my favorite book, but it's a great story. It's an inscribed copy of Hocus Pocus:

Alas, it's not inscribed to me, but to, as the story goes, a reviewer for an Orange County newspaper. I snagged this at a bookstore in Orange, or Anaheim. A bookstore that, shortly after I swapped a few books for trade credit, books that I couldn't believe they took to let me have this item. Books so insignificant, I don't remember what they were. One may have been a first edition of Hemingway's posthumous book Islands in the Stream. I can't remember.

Anyway, Hocus Pocus, in a first edition, is rather common, and not necessarily a remarkable novel (at least not one of my favorites). But I love this copy for the following reason:

Now, Vonnegut signed his books occasionally like this. It's not a one-of-a-kind item, but it is extremely scarce. And I love it.

So that's the extent of my Vonnegut treasure trove. Signed copies of Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are lottery-winner affordable, so I will continue to dream. The hardcover of Slaughterhouse in my collection is a seventh printing, desirable and scarce, but affordable.

I urge you to read Vonnegut and keep him alive through appreciating his words. There are great resources on the web to explore his work further. Here's one gem. I remember reading this when it came out, a pheomenal interview in Playboy, that was billed as a conversation between Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. Read it here.

Also, check out Dear Old Dad's Vonnegut post here.

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

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