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Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels Hardcover – November 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Like so many of America’s great vernacular spokespersons—Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers, Frank Lloyd Wright—Kurth Vonnegut knew that he’d be most convincing when telling his own story with simple, plain honesty. Gregory D. Sumner has perceived that directness in Vonnegut’s novels, and correlates the author’s life and works in an engaging, almost spellbinding manner. The Grand Old Man would have liked this book, and I can sense his blessing on it.”
—Professor Jerome Klinkowitz, author of Vonnegut in Fact, The Vonnegut Effect, and Kurt Vonnegut’s America

“Gregory D. Sumner celebrates what he playfully identifies as the ‘Kurt Vonnegut road show’ with a tribute that is enlightening and entertaining. I read with wonder and delight the biographical sketches so gracefully fused with a montage of Vonnegut stories and the ideas they dramatize. Unstuck in Time is an achievement of scholarship illuminated by a fan’s contagious enthusiasm.”—Sidney Offit, Curator-emeritus George Polk Journalism Awards

"Gregory D. Sumner's Unstuck in Time is a wonderful primer to Kurt Vonnegut's work. Every page brims with analytic insight, biographical revelation, and old-fashioned storytelling. Reading Sumner reminds us about how astoundingly right Vonnegut was about the planetary
condition. Highly recommended!"
—Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University

"'Unstuck in Time'" is a fine, appreciative account of the life and work of a great American writer, Kurt Vonnegut."
—Dan Wakefield, author of New York in the Fifties

“An excellent reading companion to Kurt’s work.”
—Mark Vonnegut

About the Author

GREGORY D. SUMNER, JD, PhD, is chair of history at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he has taught since 1993. He holds a doctorate in American history from Indiana University and is the author of Dwight Macdonald and the Politics Circle. Sumner has been awarded summer fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has twice been William J. Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the Université di Roma Tre. His most recent book is Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; First Edition edition (November 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609803493
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609803490
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let's face it: the typical high school student forced to explore the world of American Literature is often turned off by writing that is ponderous, inaccessible and humorless. I'm not saying that Melville or Faulkner aren't great writers, but for many (especially inexperienced readers), they're difficult reads. There are, fortunately, writers that are more fun while still being great. Mark Twain is a good example, as is the man he inspired, Kurt Vonnegut. For a teen compelled to read for school, a Vonnegut book is a nice treat compared to other drier (if still essential) works.

Vonnegut has many strengths. He is a modern writer (having only died in 2007), his writing is often funny and it is deceptively simple, disguising deep ideas in seemingly (but not actually) shallow writing. At least two of his novels are true classics - Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five - and many others are excellent, near-classics themselves, including Mother Night, The Sirens of Titan and Breakfast of Champions.

Gregory D. Sumner's book Unstuck in Time is a biography of Vonnegut as related to his fourteen novels. Beyond the Prologue and Epilogue, there are fourteen chapters corresponding to Vonnegut's novels. Each book is discussed with a summary of the story and how it corresponded to what was going on in Vonnegut's life. Since many of Vonnegut's books have an autobiographical element, this method works well.

Sumner shows the primary influences in Vonnegut's life and how they correspond to his novels.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Doug Urquhart on January 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I took a liking to this book even before I opened it: the use of Vonnegut's asterisks from 'Breakfast of Champions' on the cover suggested that what I was about to read was aimed at those of us who love Vonnegut's work, and cherish his sense of humour, and humanity. I have no idea whether the author chose the cover, but whoever did deserves a word of thanks.

As an informal reference work, this book is invaluable, particularly for those of us who read his works at the time they were published, and are now turning into what Vonnegut would describe as old farts.Much as we remember the pleasure we got from the books, the details are lost between timid and Timbuctoo.

Each of Vonnegut's books gets a chapter to itself, with an overview of the plot which is detailed enough to invoke memories in those of us who have read the book, and provoke interest in those who have not (or may not have read the early, funnier ones). It also reminds us when old friends reappear in later volumes: something which I tended to miss when I first read the books, back in the day. I've never been good with names: apart from Kilgore Trout, that is. Each chapter also includes episodes of Vonnegut's life, at the time he wrote the book. The author doesn't make any outrageous claims about motivation, affects or semiotics; he just mentions what was going on at the time, and lets us draw our own conclusions.

Books, of course, illustrate the Tralfamadorean view of spacetime: everything is laid out already, and the reader just has to choose the viewpoint. This book is an excellent way for the Vonnegut afficionado to spend a few hours unstuck in time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Gregory D. Sumner's UNSTUCK IN TIME sets out to to collect and analyze all of Kurt Vonnegut's work with respect to his biography. This is a weighty task, and one Sumner attempts out of a love for Vonnegut that is obvious throughout the book's pages. However, the scope of the project is so large that he can't quite do justice to the task --- nor could anyone, perhaps --- and the book turns out to be more an index of every Vonnegut novel than a complete analysis or biography.

UNSTUCK IN TIME begins with a short bio of Vonnegut that tells in broad strokes of his wealthy upbringing, the demise of his family fortune during the Great Depression, and his time at Cornell studying chemistry and working at the campus newspaper. It then moves on to consider his experience as a soldier during World War II, his attempt at a Masters in Anthropology at the University of Chicago (his thesis ideas were rejected so he quit without finishing, though he was honored with the degree later in life) and his first day job in PR at General Electric.

All of these experiences shaped the way Vonnegut writes. Sumner proves this point by spending the book's remaining chapters describing at length the plot of every Vonnegut novel, and outlining how certain plot points and themes connect to events in Vonnegut's life --- or what we know of it from the short description we are given.

But Sumner spends far more time describing each book than getting to a point. Had he chosen to discuss fewer of Vonnegut's works or focused on only certain aspects of them, he could have analyzed his points in more detail, and UNSTUCK IN TIME would have been less of Sumner proving to us that he has read every piece of Vonnegut literature and more of him telling us something interesting about the novels.
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