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2 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

A Man without a Country

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A Man without a Country Cover

ISBN13: 9780812977363
ISBN10: 081297736x
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

1

As a kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always a jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation. My sister was five years older than I was, my brother was nine years older than I was, and my parents were both talkers. So at the dinner table when I was very young, I was boring to all those other people. They did not want to hear about the dumb childish news of my days. They wanted to talk about really important stuff that happened in high school or maybe in college or at work. So the only way I could get into a conversation was to say something funny. I think I must have done it accidentally at first, just accidentally made a pun that stopped the conversation, something of that sort. And then I found out that a joke was a way to break into an adult conversation.

I grew up at a time when comedy in this country was superb—it was the Great Depression. There were large numbers of absolutely top comedians on radio. And without intending to, I really studied them. I would listen to comedy at least an hour a night all through my youth, and I got very interested in what jokes were and how they worked.

When Im being funny, I try not to offend. I dont think much of what Ive done has been in really ghastly taste. I dont think I have embarrassed many people, or distressed them. The only shocks I use are an occasional obscene word. Some things arent funny. I cant imagine a humorous book or skit about Auschwitz, for instance. And its not possible for me to make a joke about the death of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Otherwise I cant think of any subject that I would steer away from, that I could do nothing with. Total catastrophes are terribly amusing, as Voltaire demonstrated. You know, the Lisbon earthquake is funny.

I saw the destruction of Dresden. I saw the city before and then came out of an air-raid shelter and saw it afterward, and certainly one response was laughter. God knows, thats the soul seeking some relief.

Any subject is subject to laughter, and I suppose there was laughter of a very ghastly kind by victims in Auschwitz.

Humor is an almost physiological response to fear. Freud said that humor is a response to frustration—one of several. A dog, he said, when he cant get out a gate, will scratch and start digging and making meaningless gestures, perhaps growling or whatever, to deal with frustration or surprise or fear.

And a great deal of laughter is induced by fear. I was working on a funny television series years ago. We were trying to put a show together that, as a basic principle, mentioned death in every episode and that this ingredient would make any laughter deeper without the audiences realizing how we were inducing belly laughs.

There is a superficial sort of laughter. Bob Hope, for example, was not really a humorist. He was a comedian with very thin stuff, never mentioning anything troubling. I used to laugh my head off at Laurel and Hardy. There is terrible tragedy there somehow. These men are too sweet to survive in this world and are in terrible danger all the time. They could be so easily killed.

Even the simplest jokes are based on tiny twinges of fear, such as the question, “What is the white stuff in bird poop?” The auditor, as though called upon to recite in school, is momentarily afraid of saying something stupid. When the auditor hears the answer, which is, “Thats bird poop, too,” he or she dispels the automatic fear with laughter. He or she has not been tested after all.

“Why do firemen wear red suspenders?” And “Why did they bury George Washington on the side of a hill?” And on and on.

True enough, there are such things as laughless jokes, what Freud called gallows humor. There are real-life situations so hopeless that no relief is imaginable.

While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one soldier said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.” Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it. At least we were still alive! He proved it.

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Jennmarie68, March 11, 2010 (view all comments by Jennmarie68)
I watched a PBS interview with Kurt Vonnegut and they were talking about this book. I found him to be a very interesting and satirical man. I had never heard of him before and was intrigued by watching him.

There were many times throughout the book that I thought to myself "that is exactly what I was thinking." I liked that he was not afraid to say what he felt and I got the feeling that he didn't care who heard him.

This book lead me into my quest for reading all Kurt Vonnegut I can get my hands on. I am looking forward to reading much more in the future.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812977363
Author:
Vonnegut, Kurt
Publisher:
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Editor:
Simon, Daniel
Author:
Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
United states
Subject:
American - General
Subject:
Form - Essays
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Authors, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
United States Politics and government.
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Anthologies-Essays
Subject:
essays;memoir;non-fiction;politics;humor;fiction;autobiography;satire;biography;american;kurt vonnegut;essay;literature;war;social commentary;american literature;usa;political;philosophy;america;culture;writing;us;short stories;current events;religion;his
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070116
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
20 ILLUSTRATIONS THROUGHOUT
Pages:
160
Dimensions:
7.86x5.38x.41 in. .29 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Humor » Anthologies
Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Essays
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

A Man without a Country Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 160 pages RANDOM HOUSE TRADE - English 9780812977363 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Vonnegut...is either the world's most optimistic pessimist or its most pessimistic optimist, and his new collection of essays...is filled with his usual contradictory mix of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, humor and gravity."
"Review" by , "Vonnegut seems to find renewed fire in our dire situation: the attack on civil liberties, the reduction of social safety nets for those who need it most and the unpleasant spectacle of our nation thuggishly squabbling over fossil fuels even as the world roasts in global warming."
"Review" by , "Again and again in this new book, Mr. Vonnegut instructs his readers not to neglect their own minds, to nurture them, indulge them even. The best thing one could say about this book is that it would be a great place to kick off that necessary decadence."
"Review" by , "Vonnegut actually proves to be whip smart and razor sharp throughout this thin volume....[And] writes with an assured wit and a layer of doom that is more a resigned warning than a full-on sermon."
"Review" by , "[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir."
"Review" by , "Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, [Kurt Vonnegut's] crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted....[Reading A Man Without a Country is] like sitting down on the couch for a long chat with an old friend."
"Review" by , "For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations...this is what he is like in person."
"Review" by ,

"Filled with [Vonnegut's] usual contradictory mix of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, humor and gravity." Chicago Tribune

"Review" by , "Fans will linger on every word...as once again [Vonnegut] captures the complexity of the human condition with stunning calligraphic simplicity."
"Review" by , "Thank God, Kurt Vonnegut has broken his promise that he will never write another book. In this wondrous assemblage of mini-memoirs, we discover his family's legacy and his obstinate, unfashionable humanism."
"Synopsis" by , Gleaned from short essays and speeches composed over the last five years and plentifully illustrated with artwork by the author throughout, "Only Kidding" delivers Vonnegut both speaking out with indignation and writing tenderly to his fellow Americans.
"Synopsis" by , In a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny, one of the great men of letters of this age — or any age — holds forth on life, art, sex, politics, and the state of America's soul. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Country is intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonnegut's passions.
"Synopsis" by , NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir.”

-Los Angeles Times

“Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, [Kurt Vonneguts] crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted. . . . [Reading A Man Without a Country is] like sitting down on the couch for a long chat with an old friend.”

-The New York Times Book Review

In a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny, one of the great men of letters of this age-or any age-holds forth on life, art, sex, politics, and the state of Americas soul. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Country is intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonneguts passions.

“For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations . . . this is what he is like in person.”

-USA Today

“Filled with [Vonneguts] usual contradictory mix of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, humor and gravity.”

-Chicago Tribune

“Fans will linger on every word . . . as once again [Vonnegut] captures the complexity of the human condition with stunning calligraphic simplicity.”

-The Australian

“Thank God, Kurt Vonnegut has broken his promise that he will never write another book. In this wondrous assemblage of mini-memoirs, we discover his familys legacy and his obstinate, unfashionable humanism.”

-Studs Terkel

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