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The Vonnegut Encyclopedia
Revised and Updated Edition,
by Marc Leeds
Delacourte Press, 2016, HB $40.00, 755 pages
Published: October 2016

This compendium provides descriptions of one-shots and cross-references for the recurring characters of Vonnegut’s writings, as well as topics and themes that the prodigious writer addressed in interviews and essays.  Much of the content is Leeds’ summarizations of material, but there are plenty of direct quotes. For example, Vonnegut was interviewed for a Playboy issue after the publication of Breakfast of Champions, in which a number of characters contemplate committing suicide. Here is part of what he said:

“I want to start believing in things that have shapeliness and harmony. Breakfast of Champions isn’t a threat to commit suicide, incidentally. It’s my promise that I’m beyond that now. Which is something for me. I used to think of it as a perfectly reasonable way to avoid delivering a lecture, or avoid a deadline, to not pay a bill, to not go to a cocktail party.”

I find such gentle, self-deprecating levity truly refreshing.

Leeds’ scholarship and genuine love for his subject matter render this Encyclopedia a treasure trove for Vonnegut readers. He uncovers the occasional repetition and rare inconsistency, and he thoughtfully provides definitions for Vonnegut’s neologisms, like wrang-wrang.  He shows how Vonnegut’s war experiences shaped his narratives, and how personal experiences, such as a coach’s gift of a Charles Atlas body-building program, found their way into stories.

This expanded version of The Vonnegut Encyclopedia incorporates the 13 years of writings that followed the 1994 first edition.  Those late-in-life publications include Timequake, A Man Without a Country, and Armageddon in Retrospect– Chris Wozney

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