Forget dog-eared: my copy of Cat’s Cradle is a torn-up mess. Still, I took Verylin Klinkenborg‘s advice (mentioned earlier) and revisited the book for the first time in decades. It turns out Klinkenborg’s spot on: Vonnegut’s work is so rich with wit and truth, it deserves to be read outside of a dorm room, by people who think they already know. Somehow, he managed to combine willful naiveté, insistence on kindness, and a freewheeling imagination with a no-illusions view of history and human stupidity, all without having the resulting paradox implode on contact. No wonder he is routinely compared to Mark Twain.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 103, A Medical Opinion on the Effects of a Writers’ Strike:
Young Castle called me “Scoop.” “Good morning, Scoop. What’s new in the word game?”
“I might ask the same of you,” I replied.
“I’m thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until manking finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?”
“Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out.”
“Or the college professors.”
“Or the college professors,” I agreed. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”
“I just can’t help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems…”
“And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.
“They’d die more like mad dogs, I think–snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails.”
I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”
“In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
“Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.
“No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”
Cat’s Cradle. Kurt Vonnegut, 1963. *****