Friday, June 29, 2012

Slaughter-My-Mind-Five-Times, Vonnegut

Currently Reading: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Even after having a few weeks to mull over Slaughterhouse Five, I’m still not sure what my opinion of the book is. 

Again, this could be in part because back to back Vonnegut books is a lot to take if you’re not big on books with little plot or character development, which I'm not. And I think I was extra frustrated with this aspect of Vonnegut’s writing because this seemed like such a rich area of history for a compelling story. I’d never heard of the bombing of Dresden before despite having studied World War II rather extensively and I was pretty excited to read an inside perspective on the event. Instead, I got jostled and thrown around different eras at random - with an alien kidnapping and zoo thrown in for good measure - like someone riding a particularly bumpy, upsetting roller coaster. Much like at the end of such a roller coaster, I’m not sure how I feel at the end of this novel. Did I actually enjoy that? Or am I just proud that I survived it?

I believe I found Slaughterhouse Five unsatisfying because I hate finishing a book and thinking, “What?!” and that’s exactly what I did. As a point of pride, I like when I understand whatever the author was hoping to convey in his novel by the time I finish it. After all, I’m an English major. I should have the skills to do just that. So when I turn the last page of a novel and find myself wondering what the hell the author was trying to do, it upsets me on two levels. One: I have no closure and two: my English major pride has been hurt. Damn you, Vonnegut.

Because I don’t get it. Seriously, I really don’t.

Well… Strike that. I somewhat get it. I understand the message he’s trying to convey. Partly because it’s essentially the same one presented in The Sirens of Titan and partly because he practically beats you over the head with it in the dozens of repetitions of the phrase, “So it goes.” Again, the message is that it’s pointless to try to control and understand the world around you so instead of getting upset, you should simply take things as they come.

But I want to vent about what I didn’t understand. The basic foundation for the plot. Why did Vonnegut introduce the idea of time travel and aliens into this story? Was it really necessary to introduce this concept of everything in life being in a state of past, present, and future at one time (Hello chrono-synclastic infundibula concept from Sirens! Nice to see you again you confusing fictional, physics theory.)? Why on Earth did Vonnegut feel it was useful to have his character kidnapped by aliens and thrown into an alien zoo? How was that relevant at all?

What was even more confusing to me was the time traveling aspect of the novel. All I wanted to know the whole book was whether or not the time travel was legit. Was the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, actually traveling through time? Or was this simply a way for Vonnegut to highlight another part of his theme? After all, if everything is happening both in the past and the present, then you can simply focus on the better parts of your life to allow you to accept the bad parts since they are all happening at one time anyways… if that makes any sense. What better way to emphasize focusing on other parts of your life than to have the protagonist literally travel to those parts of life periodically? If Billy Pilgrim actually is traveling through time, not just looking back or forward, I have one burning question: how did he get the ability to travel through time???

I know that this shouldn’t be what’s bugging me weeks later, but come on! How does he not explain this? I’m just supposed to accept that this guy happens to have the ability to time travel and just coincidentally is chosen to be a specimen in an alien zoo?

Or is Billy Pilgrim just crazy and none of the alien stuff actually happened?

To me, this feels like when I finished The Sun Also Rises and was utterly confused about why the main character didn’t just sleep with the love of his life… until about a month later my English teacher just dropped in randomly that the main character was impotent. Light bulb switched on and suddenly everything clicked. I’d really like the missing piece of information for Slaughterhouse Five that will have the same effect. Anyone have it for me? Please?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Real Meaning of "BA": Book-Buyers Anonymous

Currently Reading: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

First of all, I’ve finished Slaughterhouse Five, but I feel like I need to let it simmer a little longer before I make an attempt at a post. Largely because I’m debating whether or not I should re-read the whole book since I finished it and basically thought, “WTF????” Seriously, I think I must have missed something because currently, I really don’t understand why this book is such a big deal… Right now it reads like a less-well-done version of Catch-22 with a way sadder point so I’m actually hoping I missed something. Otherwise, I feel I may have to betray the English major and traitorously state that I just didn’t like Slaughterhouse Five.

P.S. Essentially reading two Vonnegut books back to back is a lot of depressing, deep, plot-less book to take. Unless that’s your jam, I wouldn’t recommend it.

So to give myself more time to contemplate the twisted, confusing world of Slaughterhouse Five, I decided that instead I’d share a confession with you.

Confession: Two days ago, I purchased $90 worth of books at Barnes and Noble. And then proceeded to carry the bag around with me while I hung out in Baltimore with my best friend for four hours.

The worst part of that? That purchase total is with a discount… I really may need to seek out help…

It was supposed to be a quick and small shopping trip! I simply needed a new copy of Brave New World since our copy was literally falling apart in my hands as I read it. Side note: cool as it may be to have a book that’s last copyright was in 1955, the cool factor drops significantly when the pages begin to fall out.

So I was just going to buy a replacement book. And perhaps a new copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy since ours was accidentally donated during a hectic house-cleaning session. Two books. Very reasonable.

But then I got in the store.

I don’t know what it is about bookstores that I love so much, but they’re pretty much wonderful. They definitely get me acting like a kid in a candy store and, believe me, I know the full weight of that expression having actually worked in a candy store and seen first hand what that means. Fortunately, the metaphor ends for me before I get to the running around and screaming about everything part.

Usually, I have pretty good self-restraint. I can tell myself all the very logical reasons not to buy a book – including the stack of books in my “to-read” pile that keeps getting larger and the stack of money in my bank account that keeps getting smaller. However, two days ago, I had no hope. I knew I was going to make a purchase anyways so I didn’t need to bother with restraint.

OOOooohhh! I don’t have this book! That one looks good! Oh and that one’s on my blog reading list! Oooohhhh! That one’s only $8!!! And that one will be totally helpful in planning that trip to Italy I will hypothetically take! And haven’t I always wanted to know more about zoology? I should just buy this book on that too! I will totally read that!

And as I stood there, suddenly with seven books in my hands instead of the two I set out to buy, I couldn’t bring myself to put a single one back.

But… but… but… How do I choose which to buy and which to leave???

Everyone has his or her shopping weakness. For most girls its clothes, jewelry or make-up while for men, I believe it’s mostly electronics of some kind. For me, evidently, it’s books.

The weirdest part of this vice, in my opinion, is that it’s almost an infinitely dumber buy than clothes or jewelry, etc. After all, you try clothes on in the store before you purchase them. Books? You have to guess whether or not you’re going to like it before you leave with it. It’s a much riskier purchase. Plus, most people only read a book once. What kind of long-term use are you going to get out of a book? Not to mention that whole fabulous library system where you can read a book without having to buy it or the even easier option of simply borrowing a book from a friend.

Um, could I possibly choose a more impractical way to spend my money? I thought getting a college degree made you smart... when does that kick in?

The thing is, though, I still really enjoy buying books, even if it is stupid to do so. I know it may sound silly, but when I find a book that has really touched me or changed my life in some way, I love that I can take it with me wherever I go or that it can sit on my bookshelf, holding memories in it like a beloved stuffed animal or a framed photograph.

My bank account certainly won’t thank me, but I have no plans to give up this addiction.

… Although I may have to rethink the job application I picked up for Barnes and Noble…