It’s time once more for the fourth update in my year-long experiment of living (actually reading) fictionally. For those of you keeping score at home, the first book I tackled was Oscar Wilde’s fascinating 19th century novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Next was Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1952 novel The Old Man and the Sea, followed by my first ever cat mystery novel in Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Played Post Office. For book number four I decided to take on a novelist who I’m sorry to say I had not read up to this point: Kurt Vonnegut and what is considered his greatest work, Slaughterhouse Five.
Despite previous essays on this experiment shying away from delving into the plot or narrative of the books I’ve been reading, I feel little bit of gushing is required. This may very well be the best novel I’ve ever read. This may be due to the paucity of titles I have gotten to over the years, but I feel I can state this with some confidence. Vonnegut’s use of simple language combined with the post-modern satirical nature of the entire work combine to make a powerful indictment of our violent humanity and how we react to the violence of our age. The short, clipped sentences reminded me of Hemingway, while the overall caustic commentary on warfare was more Joseph Heller, and yet Vonnegut weaves a story that is completely his own. I came away from this book seeing almost everything in my universe differently, which is what I’m looking for in each work I delve into, and I was immensely satisfied with the statement Vonnegut was trying to make.
Digging down more into the writing takeaways from this book, I would say there are two:
In short, while I am ashamed it took me this long to get to such a monumental author’s work, I can say without a doubt that reading anything by this man will improve your writing. An absolute joy of a novel to read, it also is an epic yarn that ought to rattle your perceptions of time, the universe, and our own human nature. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, and hope to continue reading more of Vonnegut’s work throughout the years.
Up next in the experiment I return to the mystery genre, this time tackling a book I have wanted to read for years: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are only a few books remaining on my list before I start working in some recommendations from you all out there. If you still want to give me your list, feel free to shoot me an email or comment on this here bloggy. And stay tuned for the next exciting installment in my year of living (actually reading) fictionally.
It’s time for the third update in my year-long experiment in living (actually reading) fictionally. For those of you keeping score at home, the first book I tackled was Oscar Wilde’s fascinating 19th century novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Next was Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1952 novel The Old Man and the Sea. Now I have switched gears, turning to a book my wife suggested, Lillian Jackson Braun’s 1988 novel The Cat Who Played Post Office.
I will be the first to admit I never thought I would read a mystery series, let alone one whose main mystery-solvers are a pair of Siamese cats and their owner, Jim Qwilleran. But part of my learning experience over the past year has been opening myself up to new concepts, one of which was trying to understand various niches and where my own writing might fit in among them. As usual, I won’t get too much into the plot or give away the ending, but I will say that this was a very engaging novel and Braun creates a world, albeit a few books into the series (which originally started in the Sixties) that I enjoyed jumping into each time I sat with the work. This leads to the first point about writing I wanted to observe.
These are the three main writing lessons I’ve come away with after reading The Cat Who Played Post Office. And yes, I would recommend this book (or series) to anyone looking to get some enjoyment out of their reading. While it probably won’t cause you to make a deep reappraisal of your world and society, it still should give you some good ideas for how to become a more popular author.
Up next in this experiment I turn to an author who I have sorely neglected for some time, and hope to begin rectifying this by reading what is considered his best work: Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment in my year of living (actually reading) fictionally.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.