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Monday, July 20, 2009

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian

I stole a book today.

Well, sort of. Whether or not I committed literary larceny depends on your definition of two terms. The first is "stealing" and the second is "book".

Confused? Today I walked into Borders, picked up the volume pictured above, and read the whole thing before I left.

I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. It's Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite author, and the whole thing was only 79 pages of double-spaced type, and there's no way, job or no job, that I'm paying ten dollars for a book that size. I really only picked it up to see what it was all about, but before I knew it I was halfway done, and it just seemed silly not to finish.

God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian isn't much of a book, really, even allowing for its brevity. In 1998 and 1999 Vonnegut did a series of 90-second pieces for radio station WNYC (try to guess where the station is located) in which he pretended that Dr. Kevorkian helped him die "three-quarters of the way" so that he could stand outside the pearly gates and interview dead people. The book is just a printed collection of these pieces, making it a blatant cash grab, but since Vonnegut donated the money to the radio station, I suppose it's at least a noble cash grab, if such a creature can exist.

Some of the pieces are pretty funny, especially when Vonnegut interviews less famous people. Probably the best is one in which he interviews a construction worker who was killed while saving his dog from a pit-bull attack. Vonnegut asks him how it feels to have died to save a schnauzer, and the man responds that it feels better than it would to have died for nothing in the Viet Nam War.

That's Vonnegut's black humor, which is frequently on display in this narrow volume, along with his intense distrust of governments and institutions, and his playful but deadly serious mockery of religion.

Definitely only for committed fans of Vonnegut, but an enjoyable way to cheat Borders out of my money.

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