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Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style

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The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and listeners written by Kurt Vonnegut's former student. Here is an entirely new side of Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut as a teacher of writing. Of course, he has given us glimpses in his aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches. But, never before has an entire book bee The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and listeners written by Kurt Vonnegut's former student. Here is an entirely new side of Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut as a teacher of writing. Of course, he has given us glimpses in his aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches. But, never before has an entire book been devoted to Kurt Vonnegut, the teacher. Here is pretty much everything Vonnegut ever said or wrote having to do with the art and craft of writing - Plus - a wonderful, healing/nourishing expedition, of which McConnell has outfitted us for the journey, and in these 37 chapters, covers the waterfront of how one American writer brought himself to the pinnacle of the writing art; and the result only serves to benefit us. Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few grandmasters of American literature, whose novels continue to influence new generations about the ways in which our imaginations can help us to live. Few aspects of his contribution have not been plumbed - 14 novels, collections of his speeches, his essays, his letters, his plays - so this fresh view of him, written by a former student, is a bonanza for writers, readers, listeners and Vonnegut fans everywhere. ©2019 Trust u/w of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (P)2019 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books


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The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and listeners written by Kurt Vonnegut's former student. Here is an entirely new side of Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut as a teacher of writing. Of course, he has given us glimpses in his aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches. But, never before has an entire book bee The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and listeners written by Kurt Vonnegut's former student. Here is an entirely new side of Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut as a teacher of writing. Of course, he has given us glimpses in his aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches. But, never before has an entire book been devoted to Kurt Vonnegut, the teacher. Here is pretty much everything Vonnegut ever said or wrote having to do with the art and craft of writing - Plus - a wonderful, healing/nourishing expedition, of which McConnell has outfitted us for the journey, and in these 37 chapters, covers the waterfront of how one American writer brought himself to the pinnacle of the writing art; and the result only serves to benefit us. Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few grandmasters of American literature, whose novels continue to influence new generations about the ways in which our imaginations can help us to live. Few aspects of his contribution have not been plumbed - 14 novels, collections of his speeches, his essays, his letters, his plays - so this fresh view of him, written by a former student, is a bonanza for writers, readers, listeners and Vonnegut fans everywhere. ©2019 Trust u/w of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (P)2019 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books

30 review for Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style

  1. 5 out of 5

    Niklas Pivic

    Kurt Vonnegut was not only a prolific writer and a highly respected human being but one who made rules and mostly broke them. Suzanne McConnell is one of Vonnegut’s former students from his period of teaching at Iowa Writer’s Workshop. They remained friends until his death. Until this book came along, only small fragments of Vonnegut’s teaching—including his philosophies and other worlds of thought—were available, mainly as short stories which were fragmented throughout time and different publishe Kurt Vonnegut was not only a prolific writer and a highly respected human being but one who made rules and mostly broke them. Suzanne McConnell is one of Vonnegut’s former students from his period of teaching at Iowa Writer’s Workshop. They remained friends until his death. Until this book came along, only small fragments of Vonnegut’s teaching—including his philosophies and other worlds of thought—were available, mainly as short stories which were fragmented throughout time and different publishers. Here, McConnell does not only collate the entire experience that is his writing on writing but also brings to life his oeuvre as a teacher and a human being. One of the main boons of this book is McConnell’s exquisite, funny, and daring way to comment on everything throughout the book. Her comments often provide valuable insights into Vonnegut’s process for thinking, mashing, drafting, and finalising his material. I believe that 60% of the book is Vonnegut and 40% McConnell. From the book: You probably met Vonnegut also through reading his books, assigned in high school or college or read independently, depending on your age. If you read Slaughterhouse-Five, the most well known, you also know the experience that drove him to write that book because he introduces it in the opening chapter: as a twenty-year-old American of German ancestry in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden, which was then firebombed by the British and Americans. He and his fellow prisoners, taken to an underground slaughterhouse, survived. Not many other people, animals, or vegetation did. It’s easy to see how Vonnegut’s dry and black humour has either mixed with or matched that of McConnell’s; I adore it, and cannot count the number of times that I laughed while reading this book. The book is littered with insight into how knowledgeable, scholarly and also transformable Vonnegut was. He seems to often have provided gleaming trinkets of truth that upended a lot that was fashionable then and still is today. Imagine switching the names Keruouac and Hemingway for Franzen and…well, Kardashian in the following paragraph: “We’ve come to the point where we’re more interested in looking at the scrolls of Kerouac than reading Kerouac. The same with Hemingway’s home in Key West.” Fetishism of famous writers, he suggested, occurs because “it’s such heavy-lifting to actually read books.” There are quite a lot of interesting bits here, where both Vonnegut, McConnell, and other interesting people are thrown into the mix. Some reviewers dismissed Kurt Vonnegut’s writing for being too simple. John Irving criticized Vonnegut’s critics. They think, Irving wrote, that “if the work is tortured and a ghastly effort to read, it must be serious,” whereas “if the work is lucid and sharp and the narrative flows like water, we should suspect the work of being simplistic, and as light and as lacking in seriousness as fluff. This is simplistic criticism, of course; it is easy criticism too. “Why is ‘readable’ such a bad thing to be these days?” Some people “are gratified by the struggle to make sense of what they read . . . I am more often gratified by a writer who has accepted the enormous effort necessary to make writing clear.” Vonnegut criticized lit critics too. They wrote “rococo argle-bargle,” he once said. That’s one of the best insights, in regards to reviewers, that I’ve ever seen. It seems that Vonnegut spent quite some thought and action on trying to get his students—and anybody, really—to know that their writing, their action, their thoughts, were as valid as anybody else’s: Novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time. There are short bursts of beauty: Kurt advised John Irving, who was working on his first novel, “that I was interested in a certain young woman’s underwear to an excess of what my readers would be.” Irving revised it accordingly, but “Not to the degree that I probably should have . . . But he also said I wrote with so much enthusiasm. He told me, Never lose that enthusiasm. So many writers are unenthusiastic about their work. McConnell calls Vonnegut out on his sexism; he wasn’t intentionally sexist or harmful, she writes, but learned from being called out back in the day: Such blind spots, to phrase it most benignly, occur in every culture. You may harbor some yourself. Sexism, racism, ageism, nationalism. Homophobia. Political and regional prejudices. Your teachers, being human, will have such blind spots. They may not, as Vonnegut’s own mentor did not, recognize your value, remember you, or care about you. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It doesn’t mean they themselves are evil. The blind spot itself, though, is. An insidious, damaging wrongdoing, undermining confidence and selfhood. one upside: consciousness soars with obvious abuse. Four pieces of advice: recognize the blind spot. Call it out. Keep your eyes on your own prize. expect change. People and times do change. raggedly, incrementally. Vonnegut changed too. “The women’s liberation movement of today in America,” Vonnegut wrote in 1981, “in its most oceanic sense, is a wish by women to be liked for something other than their reproductive abilities. . . . And the rejection of the equal rights Amendment by male state legislators is this clear statement by men, in my opinion: ‘We’re sorry, girls, but your reproductive abilities are about all we can really like you for.’” Late in his life Kurt sent me postcards and clippings about women’s issues. Vonnegut’s playfulness shone through everything, even though he was able to stay on the ball with his acute sense of worth. Throughout his work, Vonnegut conjured and indicated words. [dr. ed Brown] coined a new word for Sylvia’s disease, “Samaritrophia,” which he said meant, “hysterical indifference to the troubles of those less fortunate than oneself.” Vonnegut comes alive through this book, and in spite of being such an intense ride, I just feel like reading more and more of his written words. We all have a lot to learn from his pathos, methods, and, mainly, the ways through which he always broke all rules. There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers. This book is wonderful. I suggest that you purchase a copy at once.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GONZA

    This book could be summed up as if "On Writing" had been written by Groucho Marx. Jokes aside, I do not know Kurt Vonnegut so much, I read some of his books but he is not one of my favorite author, still his student Suzanne McConnell gave us such a deep knowledge of her teacher, that it seems like he is a friend of mine right now. I am not so interested in writing a book right now, but if you are, this good is one of the best place to start. Se dovessi riassumere in breve questo libro, direi che This book could be summed up as if "On Writing" had been written by Groucho Marx. Jokes aside, I do not know Kurt Vonnegut so much, I read some of his books but he is not one of my favorite author, still his student Suzanne McConnell gave us such a deep knowledge of her teacher, that it seems like he is a friend of mine right now. I am not so interested in writing a book right now, but if you are, this good is one of the best place to start. Se dovessi riassumere in breve questo libro, direi che sembra quasi "On writing" scritto da Groucho Marx. A parte gli scherzi non sono una grande esperta di Vonnegutt, ma la sua studentessa (ed autrice del libro) Suzanne McConnell ci fornisce uno spaccato cosí intenso della vita del suo professore, che mi sembra quasi sia un amico ora. Inoltre, in questo momento scrivere un libro non mi interessa particolarmente, ma se dovessi farlo, questo volume é un ottimo punto di partenza. THANKS EDELWEISS FOR THE PREVIEW!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lanette Sweeney

    I highly recommend this delightful new book of writing advice from dead author Kurt Vonnegut. How is it that we are able to receive advice from a dead man? His advice has been gathered together and extrapolated upon by one of his former students, Suzanne McConnell, who has quoted his novels, essays, teaching tapes, and interviews to compile all the advice he has given on what it means to be a good writer. McConnell studied with Vonnegut starting the year I was born, 1966, at the Iowa Writer’s Wo I highly recommend this delightful new book of writing advice from dead author Kurt Vonnegut. How is it that we are able to receive advice from a dead man? His advice has been gathered together and extrapolated upon by one of his former students, Suzanne McConnell, who has quoted his novels, essays, teaching tapes, and interviews to compile all the advice he has given on what it means to be a good writer. McConnell studied with Vonnegut starting the year I was born, 1966, at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and then developed a friendship with him that lasted until his death. The Vonnegut Trust asked her to write this book. She begins by referring to a piece Vonnegut had in the NYTimes about how to be a writer that she had copied and given to her own students at Hunter College every year. The advice begins: “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.” Vonnegut notes that this advice needn’t only be applied to novel writing but also to “a petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door.” McConnell then offers many samples of Vonnegut’s work to demonstrate how he followed each rule himself, including: “Do not ramble.” “Keep it simple.” “Have the guts to cut.” “Sound like yourself.” “Say what you mean to say.” And finally, “Pity the reader.” The main insight I gained from the book is contained in Vonnegut’s first instruction: that writers have to care deeply about communicating something in order to write anything worth reading. This may seem obvious, but I have never heard it asserted quite this plainly. McConnell includes advice from herself and many other writers, too, including her first creative writing teacher, who helped her and all her fellow students write their “first twenty bad stories.” Vonnegut himself tried for 23 years to write about the period of his life during which he was taken prisoner by the Germans during WWII and survived the American bombing and destruction of Dresden. He wanted desperately to tell that story, but he had to write four other novels first while continuing to work on that one, the one he cared most about. He was only able to finally get it done when “he got old enough, distant enough from the actual events, and experienced enough as a writer.” (p. 75) Vonnegut also wrote extensively about using fiction as a means of processing trauma. His parents lost their fortune by investing in a Ponzi scheme during the Great Depression. When he was in basic training, he came home for a break , and he and his sister found their mother dead of an overdose on Mother’s Day. After this tragedy he went on to be taken prisoner of war. Then, in later adulthood, his sister died of cancer two days after her husband died in a train crash, leaving behind four boys, three of whom Vonnegut and his wife raised along with their own three kids. As an older adult and writing teacher Vonnegut noted that writers get to treat their mental illnesses every day. Writers also need “a demented kind of patience,” he said, to get enough of their thoughts out to produce a coherent story. For my own pleasure, I kept notes of my favorite pearls of wisdom from this wonderful book: • Write for just one person. • If you keep writing, your concerns will sneak up again and again in various forms. • Make a commitment. • Tell the truth. • Surrender perfection. • Writers are in the entertainment business first; if what we write does not entertain, no one will read it. • Don’t be predictable. End your sentences with something unexpected. Keep me awake. • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. • Throw out the first two pages (all the silly build-up many of us write before getting to our point). • Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water. • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of. • Give the reader at least one character to root for. • Read your dialogue out loud so you know what it sounds like and whether the words are easily spoken. • Writing is a visual art; thus we should write short, urgent paragraphs. • Do not use semi-colons… All they do is show you’ve been to college. (This is sad news for me, as I love the semi-colon.) • Laughing or crying is what people do when there is nothing else they can do. … Laughter is a response to frustration, just as tears are… (This is followed by a story of how Vonnegut got the largest easiest laughs ever giving a speech two days after Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, when “there was an enormous need to either laugh or cry…”) McConnell notes that the current administration has also led to the bests SNL sketches of her lifetime. • Joking is a response to misery one can’t do anything about. (Vonnegut, with trademark dark humor, wrote of touring a famine-ravaged area in Nigeria where starving children clutched at his fingers, “It was like a free trip to Auschwitz when the ovens were still going full blast.”) • [Revision] “allows mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem sane.” • And some advice from McConnell on revision: Put aside the newborn draft (for as long as it takes to be able to see it anew). Then: Read with fresh eyes, as if it’s not your own child. Assess. Revise. Do these three steps again and again until you’ve got the piece as ready as you can. • In a short story, “every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” • Keep your drafts! What you decide is utter dreck one night, you may realize the next morning is beautifully eloquent. • And finally, You do not have to take anyone’s suggestions. YOU are your final editor. I hadn’t known much about Vonnegut and am not sure I remember reading any of his novels. (Slaughterhouse Five seems like something I would have read somewhere along the way, but I don’t like satire and I thought he relied heavily on it, so perhaps I avoided him.) This book makes me want to go back and take a fresh look at him and everything he’s written. Certainly his lucid, direct advice as it is gathered here has made me appreciate him and the student who captured his spirit so well here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Houle

    One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was from Kurt Vonnegut. I forget where I read it — perhaps a book of writerly advice in the form of letters to other writers — but it has stuck with me. It goes something like this: Don’t wait until page 17 or your story or novel to divulge an important detail, do it right up front on page 1. That bit has stayed with me, as I don’t know how many novels I’ve read that breaks that rule, much to my frustration. While Vonnegut was clearly a writer One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was from Kurt Vonnegut. I forget where I read it — perhaps a book of writerly advice in the form of letters to other writers — but it has stuck with me. It goes something like this: Don’t wait until page 17 or your story or novel to divulge an important detail, do it right up front on page 1. That bit has stayed with me, as I don’t know how many novels I’ve read that breaks that rule, much to my frustration. While Vonnegut was clearly a writer of the 20th century, some things of his have staying power. He much wasn’t one for fancy writing, or writing that was hard to read for the sake of making the author look intelligent and the work said author has produced as being important. Vonnegut was, it seems, a pretty down-to-earth writer and person. We need that more than ever. While it has been more than a decade since Vonnegut passed on to the life beyond this life, people still want to read him — or publishers think so. I recall reading and reviewing a set of his complete short stories bound into one volume a couple of years back. Other posthumous collections have come and gone, and, now, we get a collection of his writing advice to other writers co-authored by one of his former students, Suzanne McConnell, who was taught writing by Vonnegut in an MFA program in Iowa in the mid-‘60s. Pulled from novels, drafts, speeches, interviews and more, Pity the Reader is a compendium of no-fuss advice put together into 37 different chapters — a feat that took four years to complete. Read the rest of the review here: https://medium.com/@zachary_houle/a-r...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason Bergman

    This book is sincere and heartfelt, but that doesn't make it a worthwhile read. The unfortunate truth is that Vonnegut was pretty straightforward in his advice for writers. It doesn't take long to get that across - his exact words on the subject are in fact printed on the inside covers of the book! So McConnell is forced to pad out the other 380+ pages with filler, quoting heavily from his novels, interviews and personal stories. Some of the anecdotes are worthwhile, but much felt like padding. This book is sincere and heartfelt, but that doesn't make it a worthwhile read. The unfortunate truth is that Vonnegut was pretty straightforward in his advice for writers. It doesn't take long to get that across - his exact words on the subject are in fact printed on the inside covers of the book! So McConnell is forced to pad out the other 380+ pages with filler, quoting heavily from his novels, interviews and personal stories. Some of the anecdotes are worthwhile, but much felt like padding. And I couldn't believe it when she resorted to "Webster's dictionary defines...". She does it several times! My biggest takeaway from Pity the Reader is that everything Vonnegut wanted to say on pretty much every subject is already contained in his work. He held nothing back. Thus making this book only useful to someone who hasn't read much by him already. I love Vonnegut. Every now and then I consider myself a writer. I would not recommend this book. Read his novels and his essays. It's all there already.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    Makes me want to re-read all of Vonnegut. I was bothered by the lack of context in some parts, and in the earlier chapters I thought some threads/snippets from various sources were connected only tenuously (and forcibly). The final chapters were actually my favorite, and they probably had the least to do with actual writing; they were about other prevalent Vonnegut themes, and Collins's ideas really helped me notice how there are SO MANY important, valuable themes that permeate his work (not jus Makes me want to re-read all of Vonnegut. I was bothered by the lack of context in some parts, and in the earlier chapters I thought some threads/snippets from various sources were connected only tenuously (and forcibly). The final chapters were actually my favorite, and they probably had the least to do with actual writing; they were about other prevalent Vonnegut themes, and Collins's ideas really helped me notice how there are SO MANY important, valuable themes that permeate his work (not just the more obvious ones like importance of extended family, finding purpose/meaningful work, (in)sanity, etc.). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You can learn everything you need to know about life by reading the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. p.s. This inspired me to try teach my "Novels of Vonnegut" class again in spring 2021.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    I can see where some of the lower stars come in because I feel like McConnell was running out of things to say or unsure of how to make her point or use Kurt’s work as examples (She mostly refers to the same books over and over again which leads me to believe she’s not overly familiar with a lot of his books). But I do give it 5 stars because I learned a lot about Kurt’s history and I feel like I learned a lot of valuable lessons about writing and the life of a writer, I also found myself to be i I can see where some of the lower stars come in because I feel like McConnell was running out of things to say or unsure of how to make her point or use Kurt’s work as examples (She mostly refers to the same books over and over again which leads me to believe she’s not overly familiar with a lot of his books). But I do give it 5 stars because I learned a lot about Kurt’s history and I feel like I learned a lot of valuable lessons about writing and the life of a writer, I also found myself to be inspired for my own writing while reading this book which is the most I can ask for any book to do.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Brown

    (I don't do star ratings.) This is a lovely book, pretty much a valentine to that magical alchemy that binds readers and writers in appreciation if story. McConnell was a student and long time friend of Vonnegut. Perfect person to combine his teachings, his fiction and non fiction, and life experience into helpful advice for writers and insight for his many readers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mallory Lacy

    If any part of you is interested in writing, this book is not to be missed. It is an exploration of the soul while also guiding you through the teachings of Vonnegut. Highly recommend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Annarella

    A well written, well research and informative book about an author I love. There were great insight and it's well researched and full of food for thought. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Marie

    This is a great book for a fan of Vonnegut. Unfortunately, it can't decide what kind of book it wants to be: biography, academic study, or writing advice. The result is a muddled product. I had trouble staying interested, and it felt like the author jumped around in their stories and points they were trying to make. The tone was also inconsistent, sometimes being overly casual, others very rigid and academic. I'd recommend this for someone interested in Vonnegut's life and work, but not as much f This is a great book for a fan of Vonnegut. Unfortunately, it can't decide what kind of book it wants to be: biography, academic study, or writing advice. The result is a muddled product. I had trouble staying interested, and it felt like the author jumped around in their stories and points they were trying to make. The tone was also inconsistent, sometimes being overly casual, others very rigid and academic. I'd recommend this for someone interested in Vonnegut's life and work, but not as much for the average writer looking for advice. I received an ARC from the publisher, and it was clear that it was before final formatting. There were many issues reading on Kindle, but because it was an early copy, I tried not to take that into consideration with my rating, but it's worth noting how confusing the order and style was.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dick Cummins

    Conversations with the Ghost of Kurt Vonnegut on Writing and More by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell - http://suzannemcconnell.com/ Fifty years ago a reviewer of Slaughterhouse-Five said: “Kurt Vonnegut is the only writer in America over forty that readers under thirty can trust.” Those readers are probably in their seventies now and will love Pity the Reader, On Writing With Style by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell. Full disclosure, Suzanne and I were classmates in Vonnegut’s section at Conversations with the Ghost of Kurt Vonnegut on Writing and More by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell - http://suzannemcconnell.com/ Fifty years ago a reviewer of Slaughterhouse-Five said: “Kurt Vonnegut is the only writer in America over forty that readers under thirty can trust.” Those readers are probably in their seventies now and will love Pity the Reader, On Writing With Style by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell. Full disclosure, Suzanne and I were classmates in Vonnegut’s section at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the mid-60’s, although, like many classmates, we didn’t know each other well. Pity the Reader is nearly 400 pages of massively researched material with hundreds of Vonnegut quotes, on writing, life, death and even the mental illness that tortured his creative life and family. Suzanne supplements KV’s advice on writing with her own also as she’s a pro, having written and taught word craft for years, a chip off our old ‘Selectrics’ Iowa gang. The Vonnegut we knew was a victim of his ideals. We were too, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, protesting the war in Viet Nam, the draft, some even considered moving to Canada. This to avoid being trained to use state-of-the-art lethal technologies to kill whole villages full of small brown people we didn’t even know. (And yes, KV rubbed off on me.) I recommend any past, present and possibly future Vonnegut fan to pick up Pity the Reader. It’s full of first person present KV soliloquies about his writing, life and the writing of others and amounts to fine character sketches of America’s favorite uncle. He was our Nietzsche with a funny bone, a teacher of the unteachable, eccentric, lovable and tortured. K’s best advice for wanna-be writers, aspiring musicians or dabbling graphic artists is from his short story The Boy Nobody Could Handle – “Love yourself and let your instrument sing about it,” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922 – 2007. And so it goes, remembered kindly by his friends and through his books... Dick Cummins, IWW Class of ‘70

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    The author is Suzanne McConnell not Kurt Vonnegut. The author was commissioned by the Vonnegut foundation to write this book on condition that 50% of the text would be from Vonnegut's oeuvre. McConnell was a student in two classes that Vonnegut taught and occasionally met him a few times over the years. Although it is clear that she is a fan of Vonnegut's work and personally admired him, her exposition does not seem that of an expert on his work. A good deal of the text seems forced in order to The author is Suzanne McConnell not Kurt Vonnegut. The author was commissioned by the Vonnegut foundation to write this book on condition that 50% of the text would be from Vonnegut's oeuvre. McConnell was a student in two classes that Vonnegut taught and occasionally met him a few times over the years. Although it is clear that she is a fan of Vonnegut's work and personally admired him, her exposition does not seem that of an expert on his work. A good deal of the text seems forced in order to comply with the foundation's requirement. Sadly, the book is not helpful on the subject of "writing with style"--unless you want to imitate Vonnegut. I found two things Vonnegut said about writing to be true and important (although he was not the first or only author to say them): "Writing is hard if you don't have anything to say or if you don't care." And, "To be a writer you must care terribly about something." These self-evident truths did find their way into the book. Maybe it is just one thing? I did find one extensive quote noteworthy that I had not encountered before: "By its nature, literary fiction 'teaches': it shows how people feel, think, respond, and vary; how circumstances affect them; how their brains, personalities, surroundings and culture make them tick. How an experience strikes a particular person a certain way, and another differently. How a person feels inside as opposed to how they act or are perceived"(134). This is important to remember when someone asks what is the difference between "literary fiction" and consumer fiction. It is also something important to keep in mind as you read and discuss literary fiction.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris DiLeo

    We've all gone through our Vonnegut phase—usually when we're teenagers and we carry around our copy of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE or BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, marveling at the wit, at the sardonic and sometimes cynical view of life that appeals to the teenage mind—but Vonnegut is worth much more time, reading, and consideration than those teenage years offered. His style and his tone may not be for every reader, and even I can get tired of his narrative tactics, but Vonnegut's work is genius: it reveals t We've all gone through our Vonnegut phase—usually when we're teenagers and we carry around our copy of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE or BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, marveling at the wit, at the sardonic and sometimes cynical view of life that appeals to the teenage mind—but Vonnegut is worth much more time, reading, and consideration than those teenage years offered. His style and his tone may not be for every reader, and even I can get tired of his narrative tactics, but Vonnegut's work is genius: it reveals the absurdity of our world, of the bureaucratic machine, and it appeals to the better angels of our nature, not souring in the cynicism I loved as a teen but espousing a belief in humanity's potential for goodness and genuine empathy. This book is a wonderful collection of Vonnegut's insight on writing and on living. McConnell, who was a student of Vonnegut's, adores and admires Vonnegut and what she has created here is nothing short of impressive—an organized tome of how to write and how to live, as if McConnell performed a detailed autopsy on Vonnegut's mind. It's almost 400 pages, filled with quotes from interviews, excerpts from his novels, and even reprints of rejection letters. My copy bulges with my underlining and marginalia, two dozen Post-Its jutting from the pages. This book is essential reading for writers and Vonnegut fans, though you need not be both to appreciate the wisdom.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    "So a writer is someone who is willing to be uncomfortable enough--or is uncomfortable enough by nature--to wonder where people are, where they're going, and why they're going there. A writer is willing to take risks for that wondering. A writer cares that much about his or her subject" (49). BACCALAUREATE "A show of hands, please: How many of you have had a teacher at any stage of your education, from the first grade until this day in May,who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive, tha "So a writer is someone who is willing to be uncomfortable enough--or is uncomfortable enough by nature--to wonder where people are, where they're going, and why they're going there. A writer is willing to take risks for that wondering. A writer cares that much about his or her subject" (49). BACCALAUREATE "A show of hands, please: How many of you have had a teacher at any stage of your education, from the first grade until this day in May,who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive, than you had previously believed possible? Good! Now say the name of that teacher to someone sitting or standing near you. All done? Thank you, and drive home safely, and God bless you all" (156). **McConnell prefaces this speech by suggesting one also "consider naming a book as well as naming a teacher." What splendid ideas, both. --I love the inclusion (pp. 164-165) of Michelangelo's description of how awful it was to be painting the Sistine Chapel. One--or at least I--forgets those details when contemplating such beauty. "These were soul-scouring experiences" (189). "'This country has made one tremendous contribution to "gallows" humor," and it took place in Cook County Jail.' Kurt reported that Nelson Algren told him this incident. 'A man was strapped into the electric chair, and he said to witnesses, "This will certainly teach me a lesson"'" (269). *Is that the right amount of quotation marks? "Dearest of all possible Suzannes--" (293). *What a beautiful opening to a letter. I should like to receive such a one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Scott Oglesby

    Half Vonnegut and half McConnell (the author), this combo writing manual/memoir digs deep into the writer, Kurt Vonnegut. Suzanne McConnell was a Iowa workshop student of his and they became lifelong friends. This gave her special insights into Vonnegut, the man, the writer and quirky legend. The beauty of her book is the format which examines Vonnegut's style, humor and writing, along with his human qualities, a lovely person that after this book, you will wish you had known personally. McConne Half Vonnegut and half McConnell (the author), this combo writing manual/memoir digs deep into the writer, Kurt Vonnegut. Suzanne McConnell was a Iowa workshop student of his and they became lifelong friends. This gave her special insights into Vonnegut, the man, the writer and quirky legend. The beauty of her book is the format which examines Vonnegut's style, humor and writing, along with his human qualities, a lovely person that after this book, you will wish you had known personally. McConnell scatters his pearls of wisdom like she's feeding chickens, mixing in her own observations seamlessly in most cases. She also dishes out Kurt's superb but simple writing advice and provides varied snippets and explanatory examples that are great fun to read. You'll be primed to read more of Vonnegut after this book, without pity I assure you, and probably more from McConnell as well.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Geggis

    I've read a several books on writing and this is definitely my favorite. I'm perhaps a tad biased because Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. I think anyone looking for a great book on writing would enjoy it. Suzanne McConnell does an absolutely incredible job of pulling together Vonnegut's thoughts on writing to the reader. She is clearly a talented writer herself and her own thoughts on writing are invaluable as well. I especially enjoyed her recollections of her own personal interactions wit I've read a several books on writing and this is definitely my favorite. I'm perhaps a tad biased because Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. I think anyone looking for a great book on writing would enjoy it. Suzanne McConnell does an absolutely incredible job of pulling together Vonnegut's thoughts on writing to the reader. She is clearly a talented writer herself and her own thoughts on writing are invaluable as well. I especially enjoyed her recollections of her own personal interactions with Kurt. I enjoyed it so much that I took some time to read through the acknowledgements. There is a great easter egg at the end of the acknowledgements, which presumably involves Kurt Vonnegut's "favorite joke." If you're looking for a great book on writing, this is it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    A good companion book to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I didn’t realize that Vonnegut was working out his neuroses in his books...figuring out the rhythms of life and not life. His relegation to his eldest daughter that he was no more capable of responding to the death of their pet dog than she was as a child was enlightening...he was maybe a half second ahead of her in understanding life’s mystery. I enjoyed this book as a tour of Vonnegut’s life and times, especially in Iowa City teaching at t A good companion book to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I didn’t realize that Vonnegut was working out his neuroses in his books...figuring out the rhythms of life and not life. His relegation to his eldest daughter that he was no more capable of responding to the death of their pet dog than she was as a child was enlightening...he was maybe a half second ahead of her in understanding life’s mystery. I enjoyed this book as a tour of Vonnegut’s life and times, especially in Iowa City teaching at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in the mid 1960s.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joel Mathis

    The first book I've read beginning to finish since the pandemic forced us into lockdown. It's structured as a kind of primer to good writing, using Kurt Vonnegut as a guide, but it's really better read as a "quotable Vonnegut," drawing from his fiction,nonfiction, letters and other archival material to give us a sense of his overall outlook. Being able to pluck Vonnegut gems from this book over the last two weeks has functioned as a kind of devotional for me, a place to find wisdom in a time whe The first book I've read beginning to finish since the pandemic forced us into lockdown. It's structured as a kind of primer to good writing, using Kurt Vonnegut as a guide, but it's really better read as a "quotable Vonnegut," drawing from his fiction,nonfiction, letters and other archival material to give us a sense of his overall outlook. Being able to pluck Vonnegut gems from this book over the last two weeks has functioned as a kind of devotional for me, a place to find wisdom in a time when it seems in short supply.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark Schaefer

    Pity the Reader is written the way Kurt Vonnegut challenged his students to write: Dare to a create a story more luminescent than all the other pearls out there. Write with passion and humor. Take the reader on a hell of ride—and above all, don’t forget that in the end, they’re not going to find the message in your work if they’re not enjoying themselves along the way. Pity is a book on writing for those who want to learn the craft and enjoy the experience along the way. Suzanne McConnell takes Pity the Reader is written the way Kurt Vonnegut challenged his students to write: Dare to a create a story more luminescent than all the other pearls out there. Write with passion and humor. Take the reader on a hell of ride—and above all, don’t forget that in the end, they’re not going to find the message in your work if they’re not enjoying themselves along the way. Pity is a book on writing for those who want to learn the craft and enjoy the experience along the way. Suzanne McConnell takes us on a wild ride using all the skill and heart Vonnegut employed to create Slaughterhouse-Five.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    As both a Vonnegut fan and a wannabe writer, this book was perfect for me. Good insights into the life and work of my favorite author, deeper dives into his advice for writers, written and compiled with the same type of humanity and humor KV himself would have appreciated. If you are looking solely for a good writing book, or a good book about Kurt, you might find this a bit lacking. If you, too, find yourself in the center of these two interests, then I think you will enjoy this very much.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ann Stoney

    Suzanne McConnell effortlessly weaves together her personal experiences as a friend and student of Vonnegut's, with his writings, and his steely and practical advice for writers, in a style that is enjoyable, inspirational, and easy to read. Clearly, they are both great teachers and writers. A must-have for anyone who has an interest in Vonnegut's life and work, and for writers seeking inspiration and advice about craft.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Dietz

    A charming companion to Vonnegut’s bibliography, and a compelling collection of writerly advice. It’s a dense text, stuffed with anecdotes and reproductions and excerpts. Aspiring writers could find worse models to guide their process. Vonnegut was absolutely the man, and I need to invest some more of my time in his fiction very soon.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael Beanland

    An excellent book full of practical...and real...advice and insight into living the writing life and, for that matter, living the creative life no matter what direction your creativity takes you. I should plan on reading it again in the future. I doubt I’ve absorbed as much knowledge from it as it offers. Kurt V comes across as another interesting man that I wish I could have known.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    A well-done look into Kurt Vonnegut both from a writing and personal perspective. Think this would be both a great introduction for those who don't know much about Kurt Vonnegut as well as those (like myself) who are big fans and have read everything he has published. Some terrific writing tips in there as well!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Shaffer

    This is NOT a book by Vonnegut “with” a co-author. It is an academic analysis of Vonnegut’s work and life by the co-author, albeit one with a large amount of excerpts from Vonnegut’s novels (50% of the book, apparently). Well-intentioned but not cohesive. You’re better off reading Vonnegut’s books, and checking out a biography or two instead.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I write intimate and not for public consumption, so I never considered myself a 'real' writer; but Pity the Reader gave me a sense of dignity in what I write and the process itself. Thank you! It’s a wonderful resource for everyone. So much of the wisdom in the book is about navigating life’s path and how to creatively engage.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Actually written by Vonnegut’s friend and student Suzanne McConnell, this book is probably best suited for fiction writers who are also avid Vonnegut readers. McConnell amplifies and explains Vonnegut’s words and works to inspire writers and enlighten readers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Quinn da Matta

    A perfect companion to Vonnegut fans, and a great source of inspiration to all writers, artists, and creators. The book gives insight to all his works while, also, offering wisdom to all of us hoping to follow in the footsteps of the great writers who have come before us.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Blake Palmer

    Was so disappointed that I quit about 1/3 of the way through. It's not by Kurt Vonnegut. Mostly it's just block quotes followed by filler text about Suzanne McConnell's memories of him. It's just an excuse to sell a book with his name on the cover.

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