November 2009


Classic Readings

Where I was a week ago.

Where I was a week ago.

Without my laptop to provide me my required evening entertainment and podcast updates, last weekend I resorted to old fashioned entertainment: Reading.

Honestly, since moving to Germany I’ve read a number of books I’d never bothered to read before: 1984, Brave New World, and Catcher in the Rye.

This past weekend I finally read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, the novel that is about the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany. I read it because I sort of felt morally obligated to do so—given that I live two hours from Dresden and because I’ve visited the city several times. I thought that reading it would provide me context and understanding.

It didn’t.

Quite frankly I found the constant jumping around time and space to be incredibly disorienting and tedious. The narrative technique left me frustrated and wondering what exactly was going on.

I was a bit surprised about this because there was a period of time that I greatly admired Harrison Bergeron—or at least the 1995 TV film adaptation of that short story. I’m not actually sure I ever read the short story back then, I can only remember having seen the film. (The book and story was a favorite of somebody I worked with at the University of Wyoming—I’d put his name here, but he’s done a remarkable job of vanishing off of the Internet and considering that he is somewhat famous in certain circles, I will respect his invisibility.)

After finishing Slaughterhouse Five, I continued my reading with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I might have well said that I was having a World War II reading weekend—this one about to German occupation of Guernsey, an island located off of the coast of France, but a part of the United Kingdom.

Like Slaughterhouse Five, the narrative is a bit disjointed, but I found it much easier to follow and understand. The cruelty of the Nazis is brought into sharp relief—but also the individual humanity of the soldiers and the people on the island. It talked about the impact of being occupied and of consequences of being decent.

I don’t think I’ll be re-reading either of the books in short order—but I’m glad I’ve read both.

3 comments to Classic Readings

  • disenchanted

    Hmmm. I had the same feelings about Slaughterhouse Five when I read it last summer. I was thinking about reading the second book that you mentioned, but maybe I’ll wait until I can find my library card and just check it out instead of buying it.

  • i loved 1984. have you read fahrenheit 451? that is a worthy classic and, should you not enjoy it, it has the added benefit of promoting the burning of books.

  • disenchanted: I wouldn’t buy the second book — I’m curious to hear what you think of it once you’ve read it.

    dave: I have read Fahrenheit 451–I’d forgotten about it until you mentioned it. I liked it, but it’s been long enough that I’d have to skim it to recontextualize it for me.