There’s nothing so humbling as visiting the home of one of your literary heroes.
I fell in love with Vonnegut when I was a junior in high school and soon devoured all of his books one after another. So I was overjoyed when my son, who is a junior this year, suggested we visit Kurt Vonnegut’s home/library/museum while we were in Indianapolis. As we took the audio tour and meandered through the displays—I remembered what makes Vonnegut so great. His thoughts apply as profoundly today as 50 years ago when he wrote them. And call to the heart of a 16yo in 2023 as strongly as they did in 1996.
As I felt awe and garnered inspiration from his works there was also this growing feeling of intimidation. “THIS is what an author looks like,” I thought, knowing my literary efforts could never match his depth and importance.
Then we happened upon the censorship section of the exhibit. And I read a letter Vonnegut wrote to McCarthy in 1973 in response to Slaughterhouse Five being placed on the banned books list. It’s fantastic and you should read it but this section struck me in particular:
“Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own…
You should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books— books you hadn’t even read. ” (whole letter can be read here https://fs.blog/kurt-vonneguts-letter-book-burning/)
“Books are sacred to free men.”
Kurt Vonnegut’s books are sacred. Your favorite author’s books are sacred. Books you’ve read a million times. Books you’ve read once. Books you read for fun or learning. Even books you’ve never read. Books you’ve already written. Books you will one day write.
We can’t all be venerated literary masters but that’s okay. If you are reading a book, listening to one, giving a recommendation, teaching a class or writing your own masterpiece—you are a part of it, this sacred thing that people have died for. And that’s pretty amazing.
Thanks for the reminder, Kurt!