What feels like a very long time ago (does anyone remember 2011?), I reviewed a book called Record Collecting for Girls, by Courtney Smith. In that book, she talks about what it means to be a true fan of a particular band. Everyone has bands they like, and many of us have multiple CDs (or itune equivalents, for you new techno hipsters) from a particular group or artist. But Courtney said that the true sign of a true fan is someone who has every recording of everything the group has ever recorded ever. EVER. Like obscure before-they-were-famous albums. And live recordings from concerts in like Budapest in 2003. VHS copies of live performances on The Tonight Show (and if, hypothetically, you ever obtained a scratchy bootleg from a guy in a dark alley on the way home from a concert, she would probably include that as well). If you have made it your quest to have at least one copy (and sometimes multiple copies, just to be safe) of literally everything, then you are a true devotee.
I am going to take the liberty of applying this same thinking to what constitutes being a true fan/follower of a particular writer.
Let’s talk Kurt Vonnegut.
I love reading. I love books. So in a sense, I love all authors for being the creators of the literature I love so much. But I don’t like all writers the same, I have favorites. And very favorites. And a small handful of authors to whom, under Smith-like analysis, I would consider myself a true and devoted fan. And Vonnegut falls in that category.
For example, I like most of the stuff by Ernest Hemingway. But I haven’t read, nor do I intend to read, everything he’s ever written. I recently read a thriller by Jo Nesbo, and liked it fine. But I am in no hurry to read another. I find John Grisham’s early legal-thriller work to be, if not high art, at least extremely entertaining. But I can’t stomach his baseball novels. Do you see what I mean?
But Vonnegut I put in a different category. I have loved everything I have read by him. Not all the same, sure, but I like how he writes, like how his mind works. He is one of a small handful that fall in this category (together with Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. And probably Mark Twain) (I would also include Donna Tartt in this category. Donna Tartt, who, were I both independently wealthy and criminally insane, I would lock in a castle tower somewhere and only let her out when she had written her next novel. Please, Donna, I can’t take it!!!). Any of these writers, if I found out they had written down a story idea on a napkin in a diner somewhere, I would immediately want a legible picture of the napkin, the address for the diner, and a copy of everything anyone had written about their thoughts about the idea on the napkin.
So when I heard that they were going to release, for the first time, the very first and very last works by Kurt Vonnegut, I was of course ecstatic. Of course had to have it.
I wasn’t disappointed. Neither story was, in my estimation, better than, say, Slaughterhouse Five or Welcome to the Monkey House. But come on, that’s a pretty high standard. It was Vonnegut, and it was nothing I had read of his before, and I liked it. He is accessible and funny and bright without beating you over the head with it. I bought the book a fan, and I remain a devoted fan. You should check it out.
And if anyone knows about anything Tartt or McCarthy have written on napkins lately, I will pay top dollar!