A Story About Kurt Vonnegut Books

I only got to meet Kurt Vonnegut once, my favorite fiction writer, that is if you consider Kilgore Trout and Tralfamadore to be fiction. Billy Pilgrim certainly was not. He was right there next to Vonnegut witnessing the horror and absurdity of the fire bombing of Dresden. His book in 1969 about that massacre proved to be his masterpiece.

I have first editions of most of his books, with many of them signed, but no inscriptions, which are much rarer. If you started collecting them early on, as I did, they were very affordable, in the $30 range & not very hard to find. But getting the signature in person is the best, as I wasn’t doing this as an investment, but as a way to sort of physically connect to the genius of this dear man.

It was in May 1993 when the Stanford students Speakers Bureau brought him to campus. The tickets were general admission and my seat ended up being near the front of the balcony, far away, but with a good view of the man at the podium. He told the students, “You have been put on Earth to fart around.” A practical thinker, he said, “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have nerve enough to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.” Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, of course he had to say something about computers, which he didn’t use in his writing. “Don’t you know the only purpose of the machine is to knock you down to minimum wage, no matter how smart you are?” He admitted he owned a computer. Apple gave him a Macintosh and then put him in their annual report two days later. He only used it to play chess. I don’t remember any gasps in the audience to any of these remarks, just laughter. The students probably thought he was an old fart anyway.

From my perch in the balcony, I began to think I’d need to be satisfied with my distant view of the man. But at the end there was an amazing announcement that Mr. Vonnegut would be available for a while in a nearby building. And off I went! The night before I had gone through my collection to choose what to bring to his talk. At first I thought about bringing three books, but then I could hear him saying, “Three?? Get out of here! Get a job and make some money on your own.” So I settled on two, a first edition of Breakfast of Champions in nearly brand new condition and of course, his masterpiece, which I had bought at Know Knew Books, a used bookstore perhaps one mile from where he spoke, on the edge of the campus. Both were true first editions, first printings.

Two ended up being acceptable to him. He was friendly in a slightly curmudgeonly way. I had been wondering whether he would sign his name in the way I had seen it in other signed copies of his books. The 1976 250 copy First Delacorte numbered edition had come with a gold facsimile of his signature embossed on the front cover, with it then signed in ink on the numbered first page inside. I barely made the cut with number 248. You could actually make out Kurt with this signature and the V in his last name and the T at the end were clearly visible. But it had evolved after that, more toward being a work of art, with the asterisk added in the 80’s or early 90’s. Would he really be able to do that with people lined up for their turn? Well yes, he did! And especially boldly on Slaughterhouse-Five, perhaps because he recognized its importance and relative rarity, nearly filling up the first page with his signature, which had really become part of his identity! I suppose he had a business manager, so he never had to sign any checks, which would never be large enough for such a statement. 📚

Watch in the timeline for the pictures I’ve taken of these two books, asterisks and all.

The Story Behind the Photograph I'm Posting Today

Patti Smith is a great writer & performer, one of our living American treasures. On 8 Nov 1998 I drove to San Francisco to attend her appearance at the SF Book Festival and to buy her newly published lyrics book, Patti Smith, Complete. She read five pieces, then sang six songs, backed by Oliver Ray. Just like when I had seen her perform at the Fillmore the previous August 15th, she was totally open, without guile and warmly welcoming, as though we had come to visit her in the parlor of her home. I always feel very grateful to have the privilege of being in her presence.

Of course she talked about the process of creating her book, explaining that she doesn’t use a computer, having typed it all on her manual Royal typewriter. Comparing this to her performance art, she described the machine as her “acoustic typewriter,” which brought laughter from the crowd and made me appreciate that this was truly a handcrafted work by Patti. I thought the image was quite wonderful. 🎸

The very first page of the book is a short quote from “Footnote to Howl,” by her friend Allen Ginsberg. The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!

The second page in the book is a black and white photo of her typewriter, sitting on a dark cloth backdrop, like in a museum. My guess is that she took the picture herself. 📚

After her generous performance, it was time for us to line up to get our books signed. She greeted me like her sister (she is just under 1 1/2 years younger than me) and I told her how much I had enjoyed her Fillmore concert. She beamed and agreed that was a “fantastic show!” Then I told her how much I enjoyed the acoustic typewriter in her talk and suggested she include it in future book signings. She liked that and then signed my book in bold black pen, with a personal touch that blew me away.

I photographed the page she signed this morning, so you could all see it.

Yesterday our first spring blossom appeared. Then at night came light fluffy snow with no wind to blow it off the trees, still gorgeous in the morning.

Spring is here! When it was super cold we saw Mr. & Mrs Cardinal only a few times. But now they’re coming around every day & last two days he’s been singing loud and long. Today we saw our first chickadees! And this morning the carrots we put out for the wabbits were gone.

I look up & snow is pouring down with gusts of wind blowing it along, thick like a blizzard, BIG snowflakes. It’s 39F outside, so the snow melts right away when it reaches the ground. How long will this last? . . . um . . . about 15 mins! We had a fifteen minute blizzard!

We went to a friend’s house to watch the Academy Awards. I nearly had to drag my Thai wife there. She didn’t understand what awards we were going to see. In Thailand she had known them as the Oscars and she loves watching the Oscars! Watch out for misunderstood words!

My Surprising Recommendation That You Watch the Omarosa Video

At the beginning of this year, I decided that one of my 3 Words for the Year would be “Positive.” I am apolitical & stopped reading Dave Winer every day, because there was just too much politics. I have been reading Microblog every day because it has been just the opposite. I don’t follow late night shows. I don’t have the least bit of interest in celebrity gossip. But for some reason I watched the video of Omarosa on Stephen Colbert’s TV show. It was shocking to me, in the sense that it wasn’t what I expected and I’m very glad I watched it! I liked her very much! She is waaay smarter and more articulate than my previous ideas about her and I recommend that everyone take the time to watch the whole video. Don’t bother to read the text on that page, just watch the full video. Please, I don’t want to start a discussion here about politics! I just want to recommend that others watch the video. The impact of it on me was positive, hence in line with my own resolve for positive change in this year. I hope viewing it will be positive for you as well.

I’ve never done a Micro Monday thing. But I put the RSS feed for a few people here into Feedly, to see their postings easily any time. One is Colin Devroe @cdevroe ‘cause he points to interesting stuff, not just talking tech lingo or how to get his postings to be a certain way.