An esteemed writer best known for his novels that blend satire, humor, and science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut would have turned 91 yesterday. To celebrate his birthday, this Analogue Reader installment looks back at some of his unforgettable words of wisdom. Read on to see if your favorite Vonnegut quote has made it to this compilation!
Cat’s Cradle, Slaugtherhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions may seem a bit heavy or serious for casual readers, but for Kurt Vonnegut fans and hardcore bibliophiles, they’re among the American writer’s most influential works. Years after his prime and passing, Vonnegut’s novels remain to be sources of witty words of wisdom that one will find either inspirational, awesome, humorous, witty — or all of them and more.
In celebration of what would have been his 91st birthday yesterday, November 11, we’ve put together some of the best lines and quotes from his novels and speeches:
Player Piano (1952)
I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.
If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.
The Sirens of Titan (1959)
A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.
The more pain I train myself to stand, the more I learn. You are afraid of pain now, but you won’t learn anything if you don’t invite the pain. And the more you learn, the gladder you will be to stand the pain.
Mother Night (1961)
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
I can’t think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can’t believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’
So it goes.
Here we are, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.
I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.
Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.
If you can do no good, at least do no harm.
Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?
Time is liquid. One moment is no more important than any other and all moments quickly run away.
Hocus Pocus (1990)
Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
Many people need desperately to receive this message: “I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.”
A Man Without a Country (2005)
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
You know, the truth can be really powerful stuff. You’re not expecting it.
The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
From Speeches and Addresses
About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm. – Bennington College address (1970)
What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. – “Thoughts of a Free Thinker”, commencement address, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (1974)
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward — and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner. – “Palm Sunday”, a sermon delivered at St. Clement’s Church, New York City
I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ —“Knowing What’s Nice”, an essay from In These Times (2003)