Friday, October 29, 2010
Update: In the comments, Robert Z notes that November 11 is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday, and that a Vonnegut Museum is opening this week. Here's the hotlink.
Second Update: Here's the New York Times story on the opening.
Why I thought of Kurt Vonnegut when I was in the U. library looking for something else entirely I don't know. But I did, and I found two fairly obscure books which contain interviews with him. One is a very slim volume called Like Shaking Hands With God (Seven Stories Press), which is actually two dialogues with another writer, Lee Stringer, who wrote about his experience as a homeless man in New York and earlier in his life in his book, Grand Central Winter. Vonnegut championed his work, and the two did a public conversation in 1998 and continued it privately, though recorded and again with a questioner named Ross.
A couple of statements struck me, which I'd like to record here. The first was from Stringer actually, who was talking about our fast-paced and results-oriented culture. "I guess in that kind of environment it is difficult for what we call literature to exist because a book is not all that practical a thing in the short term. It's probably infinitely practical in the long term."
Several times the discussion turned to Stringer's efforts to write his second book. Stringer was working through knowing too much about the book business that he didn't know the first time, and it was getting in the way. In the private conversation, Vonnegut insisted that he didn't really have to write another book. "All a writer has to do is write one book, and you did that."
This might seem odd from a writer who wrote so much, but Vonnegut was sincere (backed by statements he made on other occasions, which I'll get to eventually in this--let's dub it now--Vonnegut on writing thread.) And as someone who has been trying to get that second book together (numerous second books of course) for way too long, it's a comfort. In a sense, I know what he means. It's quite a trick to pull off, and the book exists as the evidence. So I'm not sure I'll stop feeling bad that I haven't published more, but I'll take some solace in Vonnegut's statement. Or maybe I could even call it a blessing.