I finally got around to reading A Man Without a Country.
I've meant to read it for a very long time. I've actually owned it twice. The first time I bought it I mean to read it, but it sat on the shelf for a long time. I mean to read all the books I buy, but I buy too many. I don't do it just to give money to underpaid writers. If I wanted to do that I'd just send them money -- they get very little of the money I pay for their books anyway. I intend to read them. But if they sit for a long time, after a while I become embarrassed telling people I haven't read them. So when a friend asked to borrow my first copy of A Man Without a Country, I said, "Sure. Take it. It's awesome." I never got it back.
I've been reading a lot more non-fiction these past few years. I never used to be a non-fiction person. I read almost exclusively fiction, and much of that was science fiction. It's how I stumbled upon The Sirens of Titan. I loved it, and in the coming years devoured all of Vonnegut's fiction. The non-fiction I've been reading is mostly political stuff: books about what's wrong with the world, with the people who lead the world, ideas about how to fix it all. I read very few memoirs or biographies. I did read a biography of the Kennedy brothers, and of a man who claimed to be an undercover spy for the French in the terrorist camps of Afghanistan. And I read both of Barrack Obama's books, which I liked very much. Before you start to think this is my way of trying to sway your vote, after much lengthy consideration I voted for Clinton in the California primary, and I was extremely sad to see Edwards drop out of the race. He would have had my vote. Not that it matters much between them anyway, in my estimation. I feel like Bush, Cheney, et. al. are the culmination of America's long, ongoing hatred of itself (and especially the poor, the tired, the huddled masses -- you know, those people). Whichever Democrat becomes our next president (I refuse to acknowledge the alternative) is going to have the worst four or eight years of his or her life. It's going to be like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded, and the pieces of the puzzle have been set on fire. And an elephant is sitting on his/her back.
The second time I bought A Man Without a Country was at Christmastime last year. It sat on my shelf for three months again. Again, I wanted to read it. But what I think was different this time is that I knew that this book would be it. Unless his family find some unfinished or forgotten manuscript and publish it, this would be the last Vonnegut book I ever read for the first time. That sucks.
When Vonnegut died last year, I asked the other CSP writers to consider writing a eulogy. Some of the writers were not big Vonnegut fans, so they were out. Craig finally wrote what I consider a really great piece. I couldn't do it. While Vonnegut was extremely influential on me, I was at a loss. I don't really write like he does. Did. I mean, obviously, no one writes like he did, but I don't especially. I use dashes and semi-colons -- lots of them. I've tried to write like him, or at least in a way I think he (and some others I admire) would enjoy, but it never works out. Mostly I just write to amuse myself, so my essays tend to be very long. I like to hear myself talk. In the shower, or in my car driving to work on the 101, I am an irrefutable genius. Thank goodness I don't own a digital recorder, or I would quickly become disillusioned.
Anyway, I finally read A Man Without a Country. I loved it. There's not much more to say. It is deeply, deeply true, like all of Vonnegut's best work. It pulls no punches and is not flowery. I agree with almost everything he writes in it (except for the stuff about being a luddite, which simply doesn't compute for me), even though I don't always act like I believe those things. And I am, honestly, a little sad I finally read it. There won't be any more Vonnegut books to read for the first time. I already wrote that, but it is worth repeating. But now I can loan it to friends with the warm feeling that comes from knowing how much they'll enjoy it.
"Sure," I'll say. "Take it. It's awesome."