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Stupid Is As Stupid Does - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 7th, 2013


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10:36 pm - Stupid Is As Stupid Does
I don't understand why people are stupid. Like, blatantly stupid in a professional environment. How does someone get to have to the same title as I do and demonstrate such a lack of comprehension/understanding of grammar, clinical trials, chronology, time, and reality? Why do they still have jobs? Why are they being paid for me to have to waste my own time fixing all of their fuck-ups?

These are adults! Older than I am! Presumably educated! How have they made it this far without understanding basic sentence structure and comma usage? How have they made it this far without recognizing that January 21 comes before January 27?

It is absolutely fucking mindboggling.





Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a strange book, unlike any I've read. My only previous exposure to Kurt Vonnegut was Slaughterhouse-Five back in high school, so I knew that he was an oddball, but damn.

In the beginning of the book, we learn that a Pontiac salesman named Dwayne Hoover reads a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout and, believing the book to be truth, goes on an insane rampage. That sounds like an interesting concept, right? Let's find out what happens.

...Except the book is actually about the events that lead up to that meeting. And it's not really about that either, because this book doesn't really have a plot.

Which is okay because the style is goddamn hilarious. The narrator is Vonnegut himself, an omniscient presence who explains the most basic concepts in simple terms, as if he is telling the story to the last human beings alive after Earth has been obliterated. The book is essentially an excuse for Vonnegut to riff satirically on everything from penis size to racism. It's very much a book of its time; he paints a portrait of 1970s America and then takes the piss out of it. Of course, he acknowledges that he is the author of the book and the characters are fictional, which adds a fun metafictional layer to the proceedings. That doesn't make his satirical criticisms any less relevant, however.

Stanley Tucci really captures the dry, blunt humor of Vonnegut's narration, making it even funnier than it would be on the page. Unfortunately, the print version also has Vonnegut's hand-drawn illustrations, which can't be appreciated in an audiobook.

The book kind of goes off at the rails at the end, and whatever plot there is sort of fizzles out, but it's a very entertaining, wacky journey. It's wonderful when a writer has such an unorthodox voice and gets away with it.



Cat's Cradle, considered a Kurt Vonnegut favorite by many, starts off promisingly enough. The narrator decides to write a book about what important Americans were doing at the time the atomic bomb was dropped, and he finds himself very interested in the life and family of the (fictional) man who invented the bomb, Felix Hoenikker, a man who also invented something else: ice-nine, a substance that turns water instantly into ice. There's a good story here about scientists and science, but it then shifts the action to a fictional Caribbean island that is home to a fictional religion called Bokononism, and it lost my interest.

Bokononism itself is pretty amusing, and Vonnegut makes up plenty of silly words and concepts, some of them actually rather profound in their absurdity, but most of the time, the absurdism of the novel didn't really reach me. I could enjoy the absurdism of Breakfast of Champions because it was frickin' hilarious most of the time, and I didn't care that there was barely a plot because it became clear early on that it wasn't really that kind of book. But Cat's Cradle teased me with a narrative and kept stringing me along; I wasn't sure what the story of the book was supposed to be. I enjoyed parts of it along the way, but when it was over, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.

Tony Roberts captures Vonnegut's unique authorial voice well, and he also gives distinct voices to the characters, which I always appreciate in a reader. Kurt Vonnegut is one of a kind, that's for sure: I cannot think of a single writer who writes anything like him at all. I feel like I should like him a lot more than I do.
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: The Prodigy - Break and Enter

(13 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:marzipan_pig
Date:July 8th, 2013 08:00 am (UTC)
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Stringing you along ah ha ha.

I read Cat's Cradle a while back and I liked it, though now I don't remember exactly why. The satire about religiousity really got me, I guess? Also though a friend read it around the same time and I think the same stuff I liked was why it DIDN'T work for him.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:July 8th, 2013 01:56 pm (UTC)
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:( :( :(

Bokononism is what the book is actually about, and the futility of trying to find meaning in such a cruel and terrible world...and how beautiful it is that humans try at all, and are ever able to make any kind of fragile connection with each other or express any kindness. Bokonon is Vonnegut/the universal author, telling lies and telling you that he's lying, but that's the only way to convey the truth. There's some absurdity and satire on religion intended, of course, such as how the religion survives precisely because it's outlawed, but I think Vonnegut was actually being as sincere as he ever was when he wrote those portions, and I've found them more profoundly meaningful as I got older.

Maybe reread sometime, now you know what to expect from the story? I've had books annoy me on first read because they didn't do what I thought they were doing, and then enjoyed them later for what they actually were (most notably Jonathan Strange).

And edit, I would try reading a hard copy, I feel like it's a book better read at your own pace and with pauses to think about or laugh at certain things, instead of being moved along by a narrator.

Edited at 2013-07-08 01:58 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 8th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I was thinking that a re-read on paper would help me appreciate the book more. Part of the problem was that after I lost interest, I stopped paying as much attention, and that just compounded the problem, of course. It's a book you're supposed to think about, and that doesn't work as well when you're listening to it in your car.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:July 8th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, and I was thinking about the layout, all those short chapters and those great titles, and how much punchier the lines are when you can see that they're the last line in a chapter as you're reading. I can imagine the weirdness of the book just rushing by as everything collapses if it was being read to you, especially if it felt like it was going off the rails from what you'd expected.
[User Picture]
From:prophetkristy
Date:July 8th, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
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I know, right? It makes me wonder why I work so hard, when apparently I could do 10% and still be employed.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 8th, 2013 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Some days I truly understand Toby's pain.

Do these people have no self-respect? No sense of accountability? No pride in their work? I mean come on.
[User Picture]
From:trailer_spot
Date:July 8th, 2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
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I hope you aren't referring to a person working at Amgen. ;)
[User Picture]
From:ethanvahlere
Date:July 8th, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
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I don't understand stupid people either.

How much of Vonnegut have you read besides these two novels? I only ask because my impression was Breakfast of Champions is Vonnegut basically taking everything he'd ever written up to that point, putting it in a blender, setting the controls to high, and the result was the novel. It is a strange novel, but I liked it. A word of warning, though; if you haven't seen it already, avoid the movie at all costs. You'd think a movie version with Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey, and Owen Wilson, among others, and made by one of my favorite cult directors, Alan Rudolph, would have worked, or at least have been an interesting failure, but it is truly deadening to sit through.

I concur with sophia about Cat's Cradle, especially in that you should actually sit down and read it as well. I do admit having a soft spot for the novel, not just because it's the first Vonnegut I ever read, but also because we studied it in English my junior year in high school, with the best English teacher I ever had (and one of the best teachers I ever had, period).
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 8th, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
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As I said, all I'd read was Slaughterhouse-Five before these two.

You'd think a movie version with Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey, and Owen Wilson, among others, and made by one of my favorite cult directors, Alan Rudolph, would have worked, or at least have been an interesting failure, but it is truly deadening to sit through.
I don't even understand how you would make a movie of that book. What would even be the point?

Maybe one day I will give Cat's Cradle another try. At the moment, my reading queue is basically full until the end of the year.
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:July 9th, 2013 01:27 am (UTC)
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Boy do I hear ya on the stupid people front, yo.
From:rssrss
Date:July 9th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
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I am no longer surprised by this. I expect it.
[User Picture]
From:latropita
Date:July 11th, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
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How does someone get to have to the same title as I do and demonstrate such a lack of comprehension/understanding of grammar, clinical trials, chronology, time, and reality?
I wonder this all the time at my work as well.
[User Picture]
From:iheartbridges
Date:July 12th, 2013 05:51 am (UTC)
(Link)
How does someone get to have to the same title as I do and demonstrate such a lack of comprehension/understanding of grammar, clinical trials, chronology, time, and reality? Why do they still have jobs? Why are they being paid for me to have to waste my own time fixing all of their fuck-ups?
So much word.

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