Slaughterhouse Five

Or The Children’s Crusade
A Duty-Dance With Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
275 pages
Dial Press Trade Paperback
@ 1969

Ok, well I’ll try this again. It’s bad when a book review blog takes a several month break from reading books and goes traveling. I’m back now. Seat firmly planted in chair.

I’ve said it before: I like Vonnegut. But, he gets a bit too vulgar for my tastes. I suppose it could be argued that war is vulgar, so a book about war must be vulgar. I suppose.

Vonnegut’s main character, Billy Pilgrim, has gotten unstuck in time and has traveled to another planet where he has learned not to fear death. Because death is only one moment of many moments and the other moments were for the most part happy. So you may die in one moment but there are plenty more when you are alive.

I like Vonnegut’s big ideas. Sort of like Robert Heinlein’s big ideas. Fleshing them out is tricky.

Vonnegut fought in World War II and much of what happened in the book really happened. The big moment in this book is the fire bombing of Dresden. Airplanes flew over that city and dropped incendiary material on the whole city. People burned alive. Everything burned. All the buildings were destroyed. Only those who were able to shelter underground survived. Not many people survived.

“The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.”

I like the way Vonnegut describes himself as a writer:

“A trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations…”

World War II was bad. Shockingly bad. But people have been doing bad things for ages. Vonnegut subtitles his book the Children’s Crusade. The Children’s Crusade started in 1213, “when two monks got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France and selling them in North Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered…about half of them drowned in shipwrecks…”

The book is jumbled and jangled. Vonnegut explains this:

“…there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.”

“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.”

People are not supposed to look back, says Vonnegut:

“…Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”

I’ve almost stopped myself from looking back. I can see there’s no point to it. Time marches forward. The past is gone. There all kinds of songs about it.

“Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”

I feel spastic in time too. I don’t know what to make of it. I feel like I’ve been asleep and have woken myself up. I am home now, I keep telling myself. Home.

Dresden, fire bombings, Children’s Crusades, birds.

I’ve gotta read something less depressing.

A book review on Slaughterhouse Five that turned into a political rant. Sorry!

By Kurt Vonnegut

X pages

@ 19XX

I think from now on when someone asks me who my favorite authors are, I’ll have to include Kurt Vonnegut. At least this is my thought after reading the first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve read other books by Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions, Bluebeard, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Cat’s Cradle and except for the vulgarity, I’ve liked him pretty well. A self-described science fiction writer, Vonnegut was a World War II veteran and a progressive, and Slaughter House 5 is an antiwar novel. I think maybe we need more of these types of books, novels that proclaim the horrors of war.

I had never really wanted to read this book before. Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions were more interesting to me when I was younger. But lately after listening to Dan Carlin’s series of podcasts about World War I and anxiously awaiting him to begin a series on World War II, these wars have become fascinating to me, as have all wars.

How can it be? How can war be? And how completely sheltered have I been and I suppose others have been too. Until listening to Dan Carlin, I had a rather academic view of war. It seemed cleaner, more heroic, more purposeful. And now, well now that’s all been shattered. Do we have to defend ourselves? Well, yes of course. But peace is sort of like green energy. The stuff has been around, well, forever, but until recently we’ve chosen not to do the hard research necessary and to throw the dollars at it that are needed to establish viable ways to harness it and all the while we exclaim about how it’s impossible to use it. The wind is too erratic. The sun is veiled by clouds. It’s undependable. Batteries to store the abundance of electricity created on windy days for use later will never work.

And yet, as we are finding now after government subsidies have been in place for several years, the viability of green energy is on the rise. After putting money into it, after putting the best minds on it, we are discovering ways to get it to work for us. And batteries are being developed that work. And once that really gets rolling, we’ll jump onto that money train and walk away from guzzling oil, and funding war. But not before we destroy a few more things, like the Arctic, or pollute a few more rivers, or use up a little more fresh water. After all, who cares what our grandkids will be drinking. So what if their glistening glasses of ice water started out yellow? We’ll be dead in the ground by then. And the richest of us will still have the best water supplies at our disposal.

But I digress.

What point was I making about peace? Just that we should put the kind of effort into it that we put into war. We should match dollar for dollar and neuron for neuron the effort we spend on war and spend it on peace, as well.

Trump. The guy is everywhere and here in my post too. All the liberals hate him. My tap on right wing republican minds isn’t as strong as it used to be, but I’m guessing they’re liking him. And why? Because he isn’t scripted. Because the media’s constant attacks on him and unwillingness to see him as legitimate, makes him sympathetic. Because he appears strong, especially when put up against his competition. He’s not a real politician they say? Really? How uninformed is that? Of course he is. Anyone who rises to such power, plays politics like a pro. Business is all politics.

But where is the surprise? Look at the field of Republican candidates. Those guys are all the Republican party has to offer us? Really? Does no one else in the Republican party have enough money to rise to the top? Of course, the democrats aren’t looking much better. I’m sorry. Yes, Hillary is a woman. I’m a woman. Uh, hmm, sorry. I’m gonna need a little more. There are a lot of women out there that I really don’t like. And Hillary comes off like she could be one of them.

Lecturing the representatives from Black Lives Matter instead of listening to them was a mistake. Listen is what our politicians need to do, not lecture. In fact the sound bite that keeps getting replayed makes her sound closed minded and arrogant. I don’t like arrogant.

But Trump is arrogant. Why is his arrogance less offensive? How is he getting away with it? I think it’s because he’s aware of it. He knows he’s arrogant and he likes himself. His body language communicates that clearly. The Donald reeks of genuineness and in today’s world genuineness could cross party lines.

Hillary is stiff in her movements. Her face is tight and angry. (Understandable given the life she’s led, but unappealing.) Hillary would like us to believe she’s not arrogant. And in that we sense a deception and because of this effort to deceive, she’s unlikable. Why can’t the women of this country have someone like Elizabeth Warren for president?

What about Bernie Sanders?

He’s too good for us.

And his name is Bernie. President Bernie. Is the guy going to wear jeans?

This is what Hillary needs to do, and it wouldn’t hurt Trump either. They should both put a freeze on all of their assets for a complete year. And, no one is allowed to give them any money. Then they need to get jobs at some place like WalMart or Burger King or even in a nursing home or even better in a sewing factory for about $8 an hour. If they can live their lives like that for a full year with NO help from any of their rich friends, family ,or relatives. If they can, like monks, venture into the world of those whom they hope to rule over—live the life they are claiming to know so much about and survive to tell the tale, then and only then should either of them be considered for president. It should be a law. Anyone running for president should have to live like a pauper for a year to know what that’s like. No safety net. Your only safety net is that time will eventually pass. As for Don and Hil, I don’t think either of them has what it takes.

Do I like The Donald’s politics? Well, let me put it this way. Whenever I’m tempted by Trump, I think about his opposition to the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. A Trump presidency, my friends, could be the last nail in the coffin of the middle class.— Any way you look at it, the idea of the next four years scares the hell out of me.

But the book! You came here for a book review and I’m yammering on about politics, which in polite society should never be done.

It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.

My nine week adventure ended in a hospital in Las Vegas. A couple of take aways: if you’re going to slip, pass out, and wind up in the ER, don’t do it in Vegas. First reason: Sunrise Hospital, the hospital close to the strip is deplorable. Frequented by the economically challenged, the service and care seem overburdened, thinly stretched and downright callous at times. Stay in the ambulance longer and request a hospital in the rich part of town.

Second reason: people will jump to the conclusion that in some way you were recklessly jeapordizing your safety by virtue of simply being in Vegas. Perhaps, but my husband slipped in the shower or maybe he passed out because of a heart condition. We still don’t know. In one scenario his health is basically fine; he’s just a clutz. In the other, he could have a serious risk to his health. The first shadow of his mortality becoming undeniably evident. (And he doesn’t remember.)

What I remember: the sickening thud of his skull hitting the hard cold marble. The blood on the floor. His unresponsive body. My panicked calm as I rush to the phone. The vomiting. Ten hours passing in the ER. The fact that I’m not dressed for the cold.

He’s better now. The gash on his face has healed. He knows what state he’s in. He remembers his favorite brother.

And I’m left thinking over our marriage, and marriage in general. We join our lives together, hopeful and full of love. Life throws events at us, both good and miserable. Until death us do part. How horrible to be the last one to go. How lonely. How solitary. I look at my husband differently now. Now he is mortal. Now he is fragile. How did I not see it before? Be strong I tell myself. I have to be strong for him, to protect him from the doctors, from the ones we go to with our hats in our hands, for help.

Female authors reading list

I recently read an article lamenting the absence of female authors on reading lists. The woman who wrote the article cited two lists by prominent men of our day (I won’t say who), but these men had not included any women authors on their suggested reading lists. That prompted me to think about my own list of female authors, and there are many.

Here’s my list. I am sure I have made some embarrassing omissions.

Rachel Carson

Daphne du Maurier

Susan Sontag

J. K. Rowling

Harper Lee

Amy Tan

Toni Morrison

Ursula LeGuin

George Elliott

Isabel Allende

Agatha Christi

Jane Austen

Pearl S. Buck

Virginia Woolf

Louise Erdrich

Kathleen Alcala

Doris Lessing

Ahunrati Roy

Emily Bronte

Joan Didion

Flannery O’Connor

Charlotte Bronte

Octavia E Butler

Jhumpa Lahiri

Margaret Atwood

Edith Wharton

Iris Murdoch

Nichole Krauss

Nein Cheng

Zora Neale Hurston

Barbara Tuckman

Barbara Kinsolver

Ayn Rand

Christina Rosetti

Donna Tartt

Chimamanda Adichie

Eleanor Catton

Edwidge Danticat

Emma Donoghue

Sheila Heti

A M Holmes

Gillian Flynn

Elliott Holt

Rachel Kushner

Claire Messud

Margaret Wrinkle

Lorrie Moore

Zadie Smith

Alice Munroe

Karen Russell

Taiye Selasi

Jeanette Walls

Maya Angelou

Louisa May Alcott

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sara Gruen

Veronica Roth

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada 

An amazing find. I wish I had time to hike all of these trails!

Calico Hills:

Icebox Canyon: 
Tips: Go early in the morning in summer. The park gates open at 6 am. The entrance fee per vehicle is $7. Take water. A camel pack is good. Take additional water in your vehicle, such as a 5 gallon Collman storage can. Wear a hat. Remember to drink your water. The desert heat can sneak up on you and heat exhaustion can come on quickly. Protect yourself from the sun. I prefer clothing that covers my legs and a T shirt. Eat a low fat meal before going. Watch for desert wildlife and be aware that snakes often hide under rocks. Wear good hiking shoes and watch out for cacti. With these precautions, I find this area euphoric!

Trump Tower

With all the press Donald Trump has been getting lately, I simply had to check out his hotel in Las Vegas.

The staff were very nice. The interior was what you would expect from Trump, opulent. A couple of surprises though. Photos of the hotel make it look like it’s close to other hotels on the Strip. It isn’t. Here’s a view of the tower from a different vantage point.  The other hotels are quite a distance from the tower. A large mall is directly across the street.

The other surprising thing is that unlike other Vegas hotels, there is no gambling inside this hotel. This is because Trump Tower was originally built to be condominiums not a casino. I’m not sure why that has any bearing on why there can’t be gambling, but there it is.