2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 0 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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They Call it “Breakfast of Champions” – But Not Really, At Least Not for Me

So here we are on Book Review Tuesday, tackling an icon of the canon – Kurt Vonnegut – and his novel Breakfast of Champions to boot.  Let me start by saying that I already had my doubts about Vonnegut. I’ve already admitted that I could never get into Slaughterhouse Five, and while I’d not given it as many tries, Cat’s Cradle didn’t do anything for me either.  So why, one might ask, did I pick up yet another Vonnegut?  It was more than just a burst of misguided optimism – I got a solid recommendation from a trusted source (Paul Dail) who claimed that this one was different and had influenced him a great deal.  It was, in fact, one of the ten books that had the biggest influence on him as a writer, and a number of his other choices were books that I also enjoyed a great deal.  Plus it was actually about a writer and the gestalt between writer and character.  And if that doesn’t total a solid recommendation, I don’t know what does…

Well, Paul, I have good news and bad news.

First the good. I actually finished this one. So right off the bat you achieved what no one else has ever been able to – you got me through Vonnegut. And I did really dig the whole writer-writes-himself-into-the-story thing – Vonnegut himself plays a role (and not entirely minor, either) in the story.

Now, unfortunately, the bad. And this part will be a tish longer. And it requires me to attempt to give you a brief synopsis of the book first, to make sure anyone who hasn’t read it can follow where I go.  If you have never read Vonnegut, you may be confused by that last bit – “attempt to give you a brief synopsis”.  I mean, who can’t give a synopsis of a story they’ve read, right?  Well, Vonnegut doesn’t really write stories quite that straightforwardly, so the synopsis isn’t as easy as all that.  I will do my best though – and anyone (like Paul) who happens to have read the book and to have something to add that either (a) I missed, or (b) makes the story seem a bit more logical, should feel free to add it to the comments!

In short, the book is about an author (Kilgore Trout) and a reader (Dwayne Hoover).  Hoover invites Trout to town for a “cultural festival” – as Trout makes his way to town, Hoover descends into insanity, largely due to Trout’s books.  Much mayhem ensues.  A slew of other characters are introduced.  Vonnegut himself appears on occasion, full of snark and piss and vinegar.  Oh yeah, and line drawings.  Yup, the book is sprinkled with Vonnegut’s drawings throughout.  They are intended to illustrate the story.  Mostly they just seem to emphasize the randomness.

I’m sure a better reader than I could come up with a better synopsis, full of in-depth analysis and literary meaning.  The book was written in the 1970s and it’s entirely possible that I just am not in the spirit of the times enough to get it’s all-over-the-place-ness.  Or maybe it’s just not that great a book.  Who knows.  Whatever the reason, it didn’t resonate with me.  Sure, I enjoyed a few parts of it; Vonnegut is clever and every now and then throws out a pearl of insight, laden with cynicism and bitter wisdom.  But on the whole, it felt disjointed and kind of pointless.  And that’s the biggest disappointment of all.

I wanted to like this one.  I really did.  I liked the way other people talked about this book, I liked the premise – the interaction between author and obsessed reader, the interposition of the author into the story, the idea of an author who thinks he writes crap when other people think he is some sort of prophet.  I wanted to like the bits of “art” scattered throughout the story, the very randomness I had a hard time following.  But I just didn’t.  It felt like that kind of bizarre seventies crap that I have always found self-indulgent and overly pleased with itself – the kind that doesn’t make sense and is proud that it doesn’t.

Again I offer the following: maybe I am just not the right kind of reader – for this genre or for Vonnegut.  Who knows.  Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that I’m done with Vonnegut.  I managed to get through one entire book, so I am comfortable saying that now.  So if nothing else, thanks for that Paul!  😉

 

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6 comments to They Call it “Breakfast of Champions” – But Not Really, At Least Not for Me

  • I’m with you. Although everybody says I should read Kurt Vonnegut’s work, I can never get into it. I gave up long ago. Good for you for finishing this one, though!

  • Thanks Dana – always glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t like/can’t get into an author! Thanks for the congrats – it was rough-going a few times, but I’m glad I finished one (I guess)… 🙂

  • Well, glad you at least finished it. Fortunately it’s a pretty quick read. I would never have expected as much if it was 800 pages or something.

    I think you did a pretty good job with the summary. I think what resonated with me was the character of the prolific writer Trout and his apparent destiny for obscurity. I think this plays into many writers’ fears. The interspersing of his story ideas were also interesting in their thinly veiled references to our own society. And I think the chaos at the end played to the fact that I was primarily a horror reader when I picked this one up.

    But enough justifying. As I said, I’ve always liked the fact that you don’t always jump in line with adoration of certain authors/classics.

    I have to say, though (if I haven’t already) that I liked Slaughterhouse Five more than this one. It took me longer to get into it, but once I did, I was hooked by the story. So you don’t have to read another one, maybe one day, should we ever meet in person, I’ll just tell you the whole story over a cup of coffee 🙂

    Hope you had a good weekend.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Well Paul, I said I’d give it a go and I did. I did like some of the things you pointed out – there were some interesting ironic moments and sometimes the absurdity was so, well, absurd, that I had to laugh out loud – even if I didn’t always entirely understand why. That’s worth something!

      I don’t know that I could pick up Slaughterhouse Five any time soon, but if you said you got hooked, I will eventually have to give it a try. I do tend to like longer, more involved stories, so maybe that’ll work in its favor! And if not, well, I promise to buy you as much coffee as you need to explain the whole story to me… 😉

      I did have a good weekend – hope you did too. And I got the book into the mail finally today, so you should have it in a couple of days. Enjoy it!

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