Saturday, February 19, 2011

Breakfast of Champions, 10/100

Oh, Vonnegut. You're wonderful.

Breakfast of Champions is written as someone trying to explain life on Earth to an alien. The result is hilarious and poignant satire, working as social commentary, which points out the conditions of our world that most of us accept (or have accepted) without thinking twice. Slavery. Racism. War.

He makes ordinary things seem extraordinary, and extraordinary things ordinary. And I mean extraordinary as in big, huge and complicated ideas or problems. Everything is put on the same level. Nothing is sacred.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

As a result, we're given random details about every single character's life, whether it's relevant to the plot or not. What little plot there is. And I love this style of writing. This is a novel of characters -- and the man who created them, the narrator, the author, the Creator of the Universe.

Also, there are doodles. So bonus points.

(on the Star Spangled Banner)
...a lot of citizens were so ignored and cheated and insulted that they thought they might be in the wrong country, or even on the wrong planet, that some terrible mistake had been made. It might have comforted them some if their anthem and their motto had mentioned fairness or brotherhood or hope or happiness, had somehow welcomed them to the society and its real estate.

What is the purpose of life?

To be
the eyes
and ears
and consciense
of the Creator of the Universe
you fool.

They rode in silence for awhile, and then the driver made another good point. He said he knew that his truck was turning the atmosphere into poison gas, and that the planet was being turned into pavement so his truck could go anywhere. "So I'm committing suicide," he said....

"My brother is even worse," the driver went on. "He works in a factory that makes chemicals for killing plants and trees in Vietnam." Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes. The chemicals he mentioned were intended to kill all the foliage, so it would be harder for communists to hide from airplanes.

"Don't worry about it,' said Trout.

"In the long run, he's committing suicide," said the driver. "Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way."

There in the cocktail lounge, peering through my leaks at a world of my own invention, I mouthed this word: schizophrenia.

The sound and appearance of the word had fascinated me for many years. It sounded and looked to me like a human being sneezing in a blizzard of soap flakes.

I did not and do not know for certain that I have that disease. This much I knew and know: I was making myself hideously uncomfortable by not narrowing my attention to details of life which were immediately important, and by refusing to believe what my neighbors believed.



  1. I love this book -- so much so that I started an essay* with a quotation from it!

    He told Trout about people he’d heard of in the area who grabbed live copperheads and rattlesnakes during church services, to show how much they believed that Jesus would protect them.
    “Takes all kinds of people to make up a world,” said Trout.

    * Saying Master's thesis feels boastful, but just calling it an essay feels like a bit of an understatement. I'm torn and feeling like a douche bag either way!

  2. If I had written a master's thesis, I'd be boasting plenty!

  3. Ah but I guess I'm an anti-intellectual at heart...