Your Saturday Book Review: Breakfast of Champions

Since I committed to writing a weekly book review, or at least mini-review, I have not been reading a book a week. I’m currently slogging through Wool – First Shift, Legacy. It’s much slower than the silo stories, but I can’t quite abandon it. There are other things in my Kindle that I’m looking at, but they haven’t grabbed me. It’s not like I’m not reading. Getting through more than 50% of The New Yorker each week is an accomplishment in and of itself.

The book reviews I’ve been writing are for books I’ve read, but maybe not recently. There are a books I love that I probably should re-read, so I could review them properly, Breakfast of Champions fits that category, but since I’m not going to re-read it, I’ll just review it anyway because this is my blog and one of advantage of not being paid is I can do whatever I want.

Breakfast of Champions was the first Vonnegut book I read. My father and sister had both read it and were talking about how fantastic it was. I was a child, or maybe a precocious tween or teen (do the math yourself damn it). In any case, it was a glimpse into the adult world that scared and fascinated me more than any Updike-adultery, or Cheeverian angst. Here was an indication that maybe it doesn’t get better, that ultimately adults were just as powerless as children. Yet, it wasn’t depressing. Why not? Because it was funny, but more than funny, it was funny because it was true.

I learned things. First and foremost, I learned a whole new way of telling a story. Not only could you play with words and language, but you could play with the idea of playing with words and language. There were also many new words and associations. Never before had I heard anything about beavers looking like vaginas. Certainly I had never read the phrase “wide-open beavers.” And here was an author admitting that in America there were “bad chemicals” in our brains, that America was racist – always had been, that there were places in this country where until recently black people hadn’t been allowed to spend the night. This may seem like common knowledge, but when I was 13 it was more stuff I only suspected. What I didn’t suspect or understand was the whole mortality thing. Sure as a neurotic young Jewess I got that death happens, and knew it would happen to me one day, unless I got abducted by the good aliens first or turned into a vampire or they found a cure. But here was a book that made me begin to ponder what it might be like to be 50 and know that youth was over and there was nothing left to look forward to except further decay.

After that I devoured the Vonnegut cannon in a matter of months. I don’t think I could re-read Breakfast of Champions now. Vonnegut’s dead and I’m older than he was when he wrote it. The last line, which I still remember, and won’t repeat as a spoiler here, would kill me. But if you are young, read it. Consider it a cautionary tale.

3 thoughts on “Your Saturday Book Review: Breakfast of Champions

  1. Vonnegut remains one of my favourite authors. For some reason though I can’t remember much about Breakfast of Champions. I read it about 10 years ago. Mother Night is probably my absolute favourite. Great great author though.

  2. Vonnegut was a genius. There’s something of Robert Sheckley to him, something of Douglas Adams, but he was er… uniquer.

    You’ve sent me back to Breakfast of Champions, which I also read multitudinous years ago. Oddly enough, I find that I can still read it.

    Did you at least glance at Vonnegut’s work again before writing this? Maybe it’s because I’ve just been reading him, but I seem to catch echoes of Vonnegut’s style here and there. But then again, I’m old.

    P.S. Voltaire, Swift, Kafka. (Always throw in a few A-list names, relevant or not, when talking of any book. It draws gratifying hoots of derision from the stupid, who think that only really famous people could possess the brain-power to read such incomprehensible genius.)

  3. I had come across a line from one of his shorts a couple of weeks ago which inspired the choice of the review here, so just thinking about him, I may have unconsciously attempted to mimic the style.

    I will endeavor to throw in more high-class names and explicit references in the future though I thought the opera critique already made me insufferable enough.

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