Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said, “We must be careful what we pretend to be,” which is one of my favorite quotes of all time, but Vonnegut was a highly opinionated and prolific author and essayist, and he was always a good source for a good quote or a witty turn of phrase.
The other day I got into a conversation with a few patrons not just about the need for intellectual curiosity in people, especially in this day and age, but the need for constant access to the tools that could inspire and grow that curiosity in these modern times, and it reminded me of something Vonnegut had said a few years before his death (in 2007):
“While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.
And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what’s really going on.”
-from A Man Without A Country, his 2005 memoir/essay collection.
You can find an excerpt from the book over at The Guardian, which includes the portion the above text comes from. Much of this book, and in particular this excerpt, are very political with Vonnegut discussing his disappointment in the then-current political climate of the country. Whether you agree with Vonnegut’s politics there or not, you have to admire that there are some nuggets of common sense true for all people, and that he always maintained a strong humanistic outlook on life.
Also, on a side note, in the paragraph preceding the above quote Vonnegut references Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, his documentary about the September 11 attacks and everything after, and reminds us that the title of the documentary is a reference/parody of Ray Bradbury’s great, classic science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. That novel refers to the fact that 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, at which paper and the information on it will burn.
The gist of it is this: Not to toot our own horn (too much) but libraries curate and cultivate information, and with information comes intelligence, which is never a bad thing and always in short supply. The library is a resource that you should never let go to waste.
by Eddie Campbell, from here.
Elsewhere on the internet:
Vonnegut’s obituary in The New York Times.
Vonnegut’s advice for writers.
Vonnegut’s story diagrams.
An interview with Vonnegut in The Paris Review.
“2BR02B,” a 1962 short story that appeared in Vonnegut’s third collection, Bagombo Snuff Box.
“The Big Trip Up Yonder,” a short story that appeared in Vonnegut’s first two collections under different names.
The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis.
Dave Eggers reviews Vonnegut’s first collection of unpublished fiction.
At the library we have quite a few books both by Vonnegut and about his life and work, including When Mortals Sleep, a posthumous release of previously unpublished short fiction by the author, as well as And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, a new biography of the author by Charles J. Shields, and…
Vonnegut And Hemingway: Writers At War by Lawrence Broer, which draws interesting parallels between these two literary artists, who previously might have been only been coupled together by how vastly different they were. Both were born under the spectre of hereditary insanity, forged in wartime experiences, and used their writing as a means of therapy and survival. And how much more fitting to see them linked, since Hemingway was our quoted author last week? I hope you’ll come and check them out.