Maybe a Bad Book

It “may be a very bad book.”

I read this in The Paris Review: Interviews Part I—-

Kurt Vonnegut:…Now, judging from the reviews my latest book, Slapstick, has received, people would like to bounce me out of the literary establishment–send me back where I came from.

Interviewer: There were some bad reviews?

Vonnegut: Only in The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek, The New York Review of Books, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone. They loved me in Medicine Hat.

Interviewer: To what do you attribute this rancor?

Vonnegut: Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do.

Interviewer: You needed comforting?

Vonnegut: I never felt worse in my life. I felt as though I were sleeping standing up on a boxcar in Germany again.

Interviewer: That bad?

Vonnegut: No. But bad enough. All of a sudden, critics wanted me squashed like a bug. And it wasn’t just that I had money all of a sudden, either. The hidden complaint was that I was barbarous, that I wrote without having made a systematic study if great literature, that I was no gentleman, since I had done hack writing so cheerfully for vulgar magazines—-that I had not paid my academic dues.

Interviewer: You had not suffered?

Vonnegut: I had suffered, all right—-but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony off by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.

I’ve never read a Vonnegut novel. His books—-and a whole slew of books by men of his era—-didn’t exactly call to me. But I like how he is willing to say his book may be bad. Everybody else writes bad books, why should I?


And I like, we’re all stuck with me and we’re stuck with my books.

Ah but if the world were just stuck with me…

How would you respond to critics?


If I put my stories (#18!) out in the world, how will I respond to criticism? Quietly. Keep writing.

9 thoughts on “Maybe a Bad Book

  1. Yes! Quietly keep writing :). Criticism is inevitable if you want to put your words out there. And, now, with e-everything (blogs, twitter, facebook, etc. etc.) our words are permanently out there. For me it’s just about being authentic and not trying to please everyone, because you can’t :). Thanks for sharing the Vonnegut interview.

  2. Oh, I love the Vonnegut interview. Then again, I love all things Vonnegut. In the mid ’70s, just your average girl in high school, I picked up my first Vonnegut book, Slaughterhouse-Five, and fell in love with Billy Pilgrim. I’ve read all of Vonnegut’s stories since. You wouldn’t think a man of that era appeals to a young (or old) woman, but he speaks the language of all ages and both genders. You might want to read him if only for his genius wit and sarcasm.
    His last book, A Man Without A Country, is a marvel. It reads like a memoir but it’s so much more. Annd he writes with staggering clarity. I’d recommend you give him a chance. As you’ve quoted him here, you must sense what a wise soul he was.
    And critics? Who are they they to judge? You know if you’ve got something good. No critic can prove or disprove that.

    1. I’m willing to give him a chance. Probably if I’d ever had a professor make me read Vonnegut, I would’ve learned I liked him. I love many male authors! But there have always been so many other books to choose from, I never got around to giving him a chance. Thanks for stopping by! I’ll give V. a chance.

    1. All books to add to my reading list! I hadn’t heard of Slapstick before, just Slaughterhouse Five. Most of the Paris Review Interviews are worth reading.

  3. Love that “may be a bad book” line!

    When I was teaching, I once played for my classes a recording of Vonnegut reading aloud from Slaughterhouse-Five. I will never, ever forget the tone and pacing of his voice saying, Overhead he heard the cry of what might have been a melodious owl, but it wasn’t a melodious owl. It was a flying saucer from Tralfamadore. Many years later I met him — will tell that story someday — and his voice sounded even better in person.

    Critics are a pain in the rear. Unavoidable (you can’t please everyone), and they do help make praise even sweeter. But that they’ve got such a damned big megaphone really rankles.

  4. P.S. But then there are the GOOD reviews… Talk about being intimidated by a book not yet published: check out The Night Circus. Egad. I’d kill to have even one of those advance blurbs. (And the book itself sounds like great stuff!)

    1. Oh, I came across The Night Circus a few weeks ago and felt two things (well, more than two, but two main things): One, excitement—-I want to read it. Sounds like my kind of story. Two, illness—-it’ll have a bunch of things I wish I’d written, things similar to what I have notes/other stories about, it’ll prove why I can’t get published. Sigh.

      I’d like to hear the Vonnegut story.

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