"The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn't want to be used by anybody." - The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
Some news you never want to hear. Kurt Vonnegut was one of the finest writers of the past century, one of my 10 favorite authors, easily, and his passing on Wednesday hurts.
He lived to be 84. We shared the same birthday — November 11 — so in my silly little way, I felt that gave us a secret kinship, like we were members of the same club or something. The first book of his I read was 1990's Hocus Pocus, which had the effect that discovering a truly great author can have on you – it kind of blew my mind. Even though I don't think it's considered one of Vonnegut's top books, the tale of a veteran who becomes a teacher at a prison opened my eyes. It was like watching a really great stand-up comedian riff. Vonnegut launched off onto tangents, spat out one-liners, and made you stop in shock at what he was saying, but he tied it all together in the end. It was virtuoso to read, and a style unlike any I'd ever seen.
I've consumed pretty much every other book and essay Vonnegut's written in the years since, and enjoyed most of them. He was a man who was constantly amazed by how awful life could be but yet never quite gave up on the possibility of hope. He battled depression, suicide (his mother) and war (the firebombing of Dresden). He was endlessly imaginative — the concepts that appear in some of his novels make most science fiction seem mundane and bland — and endlessly quotable. He was the iconoclast made humorous, the pundit with real wit, the depressed man who never stopped dreaming.