Books

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

Kurt Vonnegut

This collection of Vonnegut’s letters is the autobiography he never wrote – from the letter he posted home upon being freed from a German POW camp, to notes of advice to his children: ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that smoking and boozing are bad for you. Here I am fifty-five years old, and I never felt better in my life’. Peppered with insights, one-liners and missives to the likes of Norman Mailer, Gunter Grass and Bernard Malamud, Vonnegut is funny, wise and modest. As he himself said: ‘I am an American fad—of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop’.

Like Vonnegut’s books, his letters make you think, they make you outraged and they make you laugh. Written over a sixty-year period, and never published before, these letters are alive with the unique point of view that made Vonnegut one of the most original writers in American fiction.

Fates Worse Than Death

Kurt Vonnegut

This is the second volume of Vonnegut’s autobiographical writings – a collage of his own life story, snipped up and stuck down alongside his views on everything from suicidal depression to the future of the planet and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Honest, dark, rambling, funny; this rare glimpse of Vonnegut's soul is a dagger to the heart of Western complacency.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

Kurt Vonnegut

For eight years, big game hunter and war hero Harold Ryan has been presumed dead, lost in the Amazon rainforest while hunting for diamonds. Now he’s back, only to find his wife engaged to a hippy doctor and his son transformed into a pampered sissy. Though his hunting trophies remain, an inexplicable birthday cake sits in the living room bearing a strange icing inscription: Happy Birthday Wanda June. Can the household bear the returning force of Harold’s machismo? And who on earth is Wanda June?

While Mortals Sleep

Kurt Vonnegut

While Mortals Sleep is a smart, clear-eyed collection of stories from one of the most original writers in American fiction. Set in trailers, bars and factories, Vonnegut conjures up a world where men and machines, art and artifice, fame and fortune become curiously twisted and characters pit their dreams and fears against a cruel and comically indifferent world.

Written early in his career, and never published before, these tightly plotted stories are infused with Vonnegut's distinctive blend of observation, imagination and scabrous humour.

This collection features an introduction by Dave Eggers.

Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut (and others)

Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle is an irreverent and highly entertaining fantasy about the playful irresponsibility of nuclear scientists, beautifully repackaged as part of the Penguin Essentials range.

'All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.'

Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding fathers of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he is the inventor of Ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker's three eccentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness.

Will Felix Hoenikker's death wish come true? Will his last, fatal gift to humankind bring about the end that, for all of us, is nigh?

Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global apocalypse preys on our deepest fears of witnessing the end and, worse still, surviving it . . .

'The time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be. He is not only entertaining, he is electrocuting. You read him with enormous pleasure because he makes your hair stand on end' New York Times

'One of the warmest, wisest, funniest voices to be found anywhere in fiction' Daily Telegraph

'Vonnegut has looked the world straight in the eye and never flinched' J. G. Ballard

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and was followed by The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House (1968); a collection of short stories, Slaughterhouse Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988), Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997). He is also the author of a number of collections of short stories and essays. Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007.

Bluebeard

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has surpassed even his own giddy heights of hilariously bitter irony in Bluebeard. It is a novel so funny and yet so terribly serious that you will read it - then reconsider your own life.

Palm Sunday

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, described by Graham Greene as "One of the best living American writers", is equally well known as an essayist and commentator on American society as he is as a novelist. This volume brings together the best of his shorter work - essays, stories, speeches, letters, articles and autobiography.

Deadeye Dick

Kurt Vonnegut

Rudolf Waltz's principal objection to life was that it was too easy to make horrible mistakes. He was himself to become a double-murderer at the age of twelve - on Mother's Day. This would at least make subsequent mistakes seem fairly trivial.

Rudolf's father, Otto Waltz, had in 1910 bought a painting in Vienna from a destitute Adolf Hitler, thereby possibly saving him from starvation for a future generation. He made the further mistake of setting himself up as an artist when he returned from Europe to Midland City, Ohio, where everyone knew Otto couldn't draw for sour apples. He had funds to indulge this grand illusion (in the splendor of a vast converted 'medieval granary' studio, reminiscent of Mount Fujiyama) because his father had made a fortune producing an opium-and-cocaine-laced quack medicine called Saint Elmo's Remedy, popularly known to be 'absolutely harmless unless discontinued'. The Waltz inheritance even stretched to a troupe of black servants, which was just as well since Rudy's mother was as disinclined to look after a home as his 'artist' father was to paint.

Look At the Birdie

Kurt Vonnegut

Look at the Birdie evokes a world in which squabbling couples, high school geniuses, misfit office workers, and small-town Lotharios struggle to adapt to changing technology, moral ambiguity, and unprecedented affluence. In "Confido," a family learns the downside of confiding their deepest secrets into a magical invention. In "Ed Luby's Key Club," a man finds himself in a Kafkaesque world of trouble after he runs afoul of the shady underworld boss who calls the shots in an upstate New York town. In "Look at the Birdie," a quack psychiatrist turned "murder counsellor" concocts a novel new outlet for his paranoid patients. The stories are cautionary they also brim with his trademark humour.

Wry, ironic, satirical and poignant Look at the Birdie reflects the anxieties of the postwar era in which they were written and provides an insight into the development of Vonnegut's early style

Armageddon in Retrospect

Kurt Vonnegut

First published on the anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's death, Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of twelve new writings - a fitting tribute to the author, and an essential contribution to the discussion of war, peace and humanity's tendency towards violence. Imbued with Vonnegut's trademark rueful humour, the pieces range from a visceral non-fiction recollection of the destruction of Dresden - to a painfully funny short story about three soldiers and their fantasies of the perfect meal.

Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

With his trademark dry wit, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle is an inventive science fiction satire that preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon - and, worse still, surviving it. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Benjamin Kunkel.

Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to humanity. For he is the inventor of ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Writer Jonah's search for his whereabouts leads him to Hoenikker's three eccentric children, to an island republic in the Caribbean where the absurd religion of Bokononism is practised, to love and to insanity. Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global destruction is a frightening and funny satire on the end of the world and the madness of mankind.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was born in Indianapolis. During the Second World War he was a prisoner in Germany and present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience he recounted in his famous novel Slaughterhouse Five (1969). His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, including The Sirens of Titan, Jailbird, Deadeye Dick, Galapagos and Hocus Pocus.

If you enjoyed Cat's Cradle, you might like Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'One of the warmest, wisest, funniest voices to be found anywhere in fiction'
Sam Leith, Daily Telegraph

'A free-wheeling vehicle ... An unforgettable ride!'
The New York Times

'Vonnegut looked the world straight in the eye and never flinched'
J.G. Ballard

Bagombo Snuff Box

Kurt Vonnegut

New York, 1950. A young PR man working at General Electric sold his first magazine piece. By the time he'd sold his third, he decided to quit his job and join the likes of Salinger, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, and make a living as a full-time writer. That young man was Kurt Vonnegut.

Bagombo Snuff Box collects Vonnegut’s favourite stories from the postwar years that sharpened his dark, vaudevillian and quietly subversive voice. Here we see the mind-bending wit and central themes of his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five. A must-read for Vonnegut aficionados new and old.

Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut

According to science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout, a global timequake will occur in New York City on 13th February 2001. It is the moment when the universe suffers a crisis of conscience. Should it expand or make a great big bang? It decides to wind the clock back a decade to 1991, making everyone in the world endure ten years of deja-vu and a total loss of free will - not to mention the torture of reliving every nanosecond of one of the tawdiest and most hollow decades. With his trademark wicked wit, Vonnegut addresses memory, suicide, the Great Depression, the loss of American eloquence, and the obsolescent thrill of reading books.

Welcome To The Monkey House and Palm Sunday

Kurt Vonnegut

A diabolical government asserts control by eliminating orgasms from sex in the title story of Welcome to the Monkey House – setting the tone for a collection shot through with Vonnegut's acrid wit, and his bewilderment at the corruption of humanity.

From riffs on country music, George Bush, and his mother’s midnight mania, to a bittersweet tribute to a dead friend, Palm Sunday demonstrates why Kurt Vonnegut is equally well known as an essayist and commentator as he is a novelist.

This caustic, funny and poignant collection resonates with Vonnegut’s singular voice.

God Bless You, Mr Rosewater

Kurt Vonnegut

Eliot Rosewater is tortured by a fabulous inheritance he feels he does not deserve, so he devotes himself to drink, and to a life serving the dull, the ugly, the irrelevant and the useless. This is a novel about the pleasures, pains and perversions of people and money. It is the story of a millionaire's lunacy, the obsessions of a famous family and the collective madness of a nation.

Jailbird

Kurt Vonnegut

Pay attention please to the life of Walter F. Starbuck. Nineteen-hundred and Thirteen gave him the gift of life. Nineteenth-hundred and Thirty-one sent him to Harvard. Nineteen-hundred and Thirty-eight got him a job in the federal government. Nineteen-hundred and Seventy gave him a job in the Nixon White House. Nineteen-hundred and Seventy-five sent him to prison for his part in the American political scandals known collectively as 'Watergate'.

Now Walter F. Starbuck is coming out of jail, into the brave new world of 1980s Manhattan, and this is the story of his first twenty-four hours of freedom.

Mother Night

Kurt Vonnegut

Whilst awaiting trial for war crimes in an Israeli prison, Howard W. Campbell Jr sets down his memoirs on an old German typewriter. He has used such a typewriter before, when he worked as a Nazi propagandist under Goebbels. Though that was before he agreed to become a spy for US military. Is Howard guilty? Can a black or white verdict ever be reached in a world that’s a gazillion shades of grey?

Breakfast Of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut

In a frolic of cartoon and comic outbursts against rule and reason, a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene.

Hocus Pocus

Kurt Vonnegut

Eugene Debs Hartke, ex-Vietnam vet, ex-college professor, current inmate of Tarkington State Reformatory, awaits his trial and probable death from TB. How did he get there? Via numerous absurd twists of fate which he now narrates on scraps of paper found about the place. Killer of men, romancer of women, compulsive list-maker, Eugene is just one more victim of the world's hocus pocus.

Slapstick or Lonesome No More

Kurt Vonnegut

Manhattan has become the Island of Death. The former President of the United States stands barefoot in a purple toga around a cooking fire in the lobby of the Empire State Building. He is Dr Wilbur Daffodil-II Swain and Slapstick or Lonesome No More! is his story - one of monstrous twins, orgies, revenge, golf, utopian schemes, and very little tooth brushing. In this post-apocalyptic black comedy - dedicated to Laurel and Hardy - Vonnegut is at his most hilarious, grotesque, and personal.

Biography

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During the Second World War he served in Europe and, as a prisoner of was in Germany, witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers, an experience which inspired his classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five. He is the author of thirteen other novels, three collections of stories and five non-fiction books. Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007.

Dan Wakefield first befriended Kurt Vonnegut in 1963. Like Vonnegut, he was born and raised in Indianapolis. He is a novelist and screenwriter whose books include the bestselling Going All the Way and the memoir New York in the Fifties.