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Kurt Vonnegut: Letters Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 30, 2012

4.8 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Even with the abundance of novels, stories, and essays Vonnegut completed during his lifetime, it will surprise few admirers that he was an equally prolific letter writer. Compiled for the first time, by his close friend and fellow author Wakefield, Vonnegut’s correspondence spans 60 years, from a 1945 letter he wrote to his parents upon being released from a German POW camp to a final declining, at 84, shortly before his death, of an invitation to deliver a lecture at Cornell, his alma mater. In between, bearing all the canny observations and sardonic witticisms that distinguished his most famous works, are dozens of letters to relatives, friends, and sometimes foes, many revealing fascinating insights into Vonnegut’s private thoughts and inspirations. Highlights include reflective letters on his sudden rise to fame, supportive notes to such colleagues as Bernard Malamud and Norman Mailer, and a scathing missive to a school board threatening censorship. Arranged in chronological order and including Wakefield’s insightful background information on Vonnegut’s life, this is a volume fans will treasure. --Carl Hays


“Splendidly assembled . . . familiar, funny, cranky . . . chronicling [Vonnegut’s] life in real time.”—Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review
“[This collection is] by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and mundane. . . . Vonnegut himself is a near-perfect example of the same flawed, wonderful humanity that he loved and despaired over his entire life.”NPR
“Congenial, whimsical and often insightful missives . . . one of [Vonnegut’s] very best.”Newsday
Letters’ greatest gift is the gift of all such anthologies: It humanizes an icon. . . . The fallibility and kindness of the real person shine through clearer in his more personal writing, separating the author from the oeuvre in a way that makes both richer.”—The A.V. Club

“There are authors we admire or envy, but there are just a few we really, really love, and Vonnegut is one of them.”The Washington Post

“These letters display all the hallmarks of Vonnegut’s fiction—smart, hilarious and heartbreaking.”The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, funny, and very compassionate. Reading this is a must for fans of the author.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Old correspondence from even famous writers can be a bore, but not Vonnegut’s. He was always at his best when adopting an intimate, down-to-earth tone, and the same animating force that made him a brilliant storyteller is evident again and again in these letters. . . . This is a frank and funny book, offering rich insights into Vonnegut’s character and career.”The Dallas Morning News

“This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. . . . Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut’s best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A literary treasure . . . this collection of letters—many of which have never been published—rightly can be viewed as the autobiography Vonnegut never wrote.”The Oklahoman

“[An] intimate, far-ranging monologue by one of the 20th century’s funniest, sharpest, darkest minds . . .  it’s difficult not to marvel at Vonnegut’s depth, warmth and wit. . . . Together, [the letters] give a comprehensive sketch of his personality. They show who he was and who he became.”The Kansas City Star

“[Reveals] Vonnegut’s passions, annoyances, loves, losses, mind and heart . . . The letters stand alone—and stand tall, indeed. . . . Vonnegut’s most human of hearts beats on every page.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Bearing all the canny observations and sardonic witticisms that distinguished his most famous works [the letters reveal] fascinating insights into Vonnegut’s private thoughts and inspirations. . . . This is a volume fans will treasure.”Booklist

“As these remarkable letters reveal, [Vonnegut] mixes hard-edged ideas with the buoyancy of imagination and humor. His best work makes us both gasp and laugh—wishing the fire from the Roman candle would never end.”The Plain Dealer

Letters mirrors some of Vonnegut’s best fiction . . .  wry, witty, and eminently quotable. Perhaps more importantly, his letters reflect a genuineness and humanity that always lived just beneath the surface of Vonnegut’s fiction.”The Financialist

“Wit, aphorism, charm, wisdom and joshery abound here. . . . Vonnegut’s voice was as unique as his art. It is ominpresent here.”Buffalo News

“Everything that’s familiar in [Vonnegut's] fiction is in the letters—he’s funny, caustic, sentimental, profound, melancholy, angry, and always himself.”The Oregonian

“Tirelessly compiling letters and manuscripts from over seven decades of correspondence with his mentors, publishers, and even a school board director who banned his works, Wakefield finally gives the reader a sense of Vonnegut’s life without time travel or aliens to mystify and universalize his emotions. . . . Vonnegut is stripped of any possible self-promotion and his true affection and unselfishness shows. . . . a deep and true portrayal.”The Daily Californian

“At last: the Vonnegut book readers of the late modern master have been waiting for. . . . It’s his voice again, live as ever, clear and unvarnished, with the pop and crackle of a hardwood fire on an Autumn night. . . . For those of us that miss Kurt Vonnegut, it makes this collection a gift. Pick up this book, it’s like having him by your side.”NUVO

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1St Edition edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343756
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lena Rivkin on November 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's rare that a book's introduction makes me speak out loud while reading. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't reading aloud. I just found myself saying "Wow" and "Huh!" and "I didn't know that!" out loud, to myself, as I read this beautiful book. As an artist, I found the cover photo and art and even the fonts of the chapter headings both stunning and a fond visit back to the Seventies. But as a reader, and a passionate re-reader of writers I love, I was intrigued and fascinated by the introduction- written with passionate restraint by Dan Wakefield.

Honestly? I rarely read more than one page of book introductions, as they usually reveal more about the writer of the Introduction than the person the Introducer is introducing. But this is happily not the case with Dan Wakefield. I love Wakefield's books, especially "Expect A Miracle" and "Spiritually Incorrect." Actually, now that I think about it, I probably only began to read this Introduction because it was written by Dan Wakefield! His clear, concise and empathetic prose informed me deeply about Kurt Vonnegut and his influences, his family and his artistic struggles to have his iconic and iconoclastic voice published and read.

In fact, a unique and welcome addition to this book is the introduction of each era of letters- which smartly and helpfully places us in the context of Vonnegut's life when he wrote the letters and to whom he was writing. It's such a simple technique but begs the question of why this isn't done more with published letters of notable people... and in this book the chapter introductions serve to create more comprehension of Vonnegut's life and how he dealt with family, friends, associates, success and disappointment.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps I am wearing rose colored glasses when I read this, with KV being my favorite author, but this book will show you how the man thought throughout the decades in a way that no biographer can ever capture. His letters flourish with wit, humor, insecurity, grandiose notions, and indignation. He outlines his struggles to become a literary giant, while not understanding how he achieved this title.

You actually can picture him at the typewriter and share in the "mood of the moment" of his thoughts, written to a wide variety of people through the 60 years that this testaments span.

As a true fan of his literature, you won't be sorry for this purchase as you revisit books long past, and my guess is that after reading this you will be dusting off Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle to fully understand what you have just enjoyed reading.

Finally you will receive a sense of American history and where the world was, is and is perhaps heading towards. Just loved it and snorted this book up like a cocaine addict.

5 stars.
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Have been a Vonnegut fan since *Slaughterhouse 5* and have read most of his fiction, and some of the non-fiction (*Timequake*). These letters are a cut above most of what he was publishing in those last 20 years, and they explain what was going on that made those later books so disappointing, to me anyway. The letters are especially well edited by a friend from his hometown, Indianapolis. Not a "getting even" book. More a "getting inside" the life of one of the most authentic writers of our time.
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This collection of correspondence really has it all: The unique, seemingly effortless, voice; the wry humor; and the humanistic outlook that is the hallmark of all Vonnegut's work. It is almost as good as reading one of his novels, this one about the trials , successes, heartaches and petty complaints that make up the long and complicated life of a novelist. What is most surprising here is to read about how difficult the writing was for him when to us, the avid reader, his prose has always seemed to flow so easily.
The only complaint I really have here is not about content, but about price. 18 bucks for an ebook? It seems excessive, and made me consider purchasing the hardcover. If shelfspace was not a factor in my life...
Regardless, this is a must read for Vonnegut fans. If you can stomach the price, buy it right away.
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I'm a big Vonnegut fun and even visited the KV Library in Indianapolis so anything he writes is going to be a joy for me. Some of his letters are simply wonderful where he writes about how any work of art is one half of the conversation (what the artist said) and the other half is what the observer says. Some letters are stinging and others witty. There are also a few others that you might not have the right amount of background to fully appreciate (sort of like the old joke...."you had to be there"). He professed no love for his former son-in-law, Geraldo Rivera and the struggles of keeping a marriage together and with wanting to be closer to his children. He writes to people about book banning and you get more insight into what he was thinking at the time of some of his work. It is a relatively quick read and I'd recommend it to fans of KV.
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This is the real Kurt Vonnegut - from 'the horse's mouth' as it were, or as he would have added - "Well one end of the animal or the other anyway!" Then he'd of exploded into his trademark sheet-tearing Pall Malls inflicted wet laugh, the brand he smoked furiously all his life and that a classmate eponymously named 'Vonneguts' at Iowa.

On the fly leaf of the book, KV replies to a relative who wrote telling him he thought KV was one of 'America's literary giants'.

"I am an American fad on an order only slightly higher than the hula hoop," he wrote back. This was in the '80's probably, when the critics were not being very kind to his work.

It's true that KV was at just the right place and at just the right time in the anti-war cultural context of the '60's/early '70's and that helped account for the runaway best seller success of 'Slaughterhouse Five'.

Like a fine song on the the 'oldies' station in the car, many of the boomer generation can listen to his voice without tiring, like listening to an old friend who has chatting with us from the grave.

This no matter no matter what the pecksniffery of English major lit crit twits said about his work in the '80's, trying to dismiss him as '...a 'graphic novelist' who's written a series of what amounts to Marvel Comics'.

Well, how about we tell the twits that there are a lot of us 'English majors' out there that happen to like Marvel Comics and Vonnegut and Terry Southern and Bill Fox and Charles Portis too.

Anyway, I'm reminded of the Paul Simon lyric: "It's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts; Medicine is magical and magical is art."

KV was a magical artist and still is.
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