Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by…

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

by Charles J. Shields

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2143454,496 (3.96)11



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
"What a biographer is looking for is patterns of behavior."
Charles J. Shields, "And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life"

That may be true, but it is the exceptions to those patterns, the inconsistencies, that make a life interesting.Charles J. Shields, whose "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee" was such a fine literary biography, equals that with "And So It Goes," his 2011 portrait of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And for all the clear patterns of behavior in Vonnegut's life, the inconsistencies prove just as important.

Shields makes much of the fact that Vonnegut, while the darling of the Left from the time he became a major literary figure in the 1960s, was in many ways a conservative at heart. Like a reactionary, says Shields, he longed for the good old days. He hated the way his world was changing. Vonnegut may have spoken out against Big Business, yet he invested heavily in the stock market and counted on Big Business to protect his fortune. Vonnegut wrote and spoke often about the importance of family and old-time values, yet his own family life was a mess. He preached the value of friendship and cooperation, yet he betrayed many of his own friends and the people he did business with.

Vonnegut was one of many novelists to come out of World War II, yet it took him decades to write the war novel that would make his reputation, "Slaughterhouse-Five." A prisoner of war, he had been in Dresden during the fire bombing that destroyed the city in 1944. He survived by being underground at the time, in Slaughterhouse-Five, yet being underground he wasn't actually a witness to the bombing, so he didn't know how to tell the story. Finally he found a way using science fiction, time travel and aliens from space to create one of the most unique novels of the 20th century.

He continued to write, but none of his subsequent books measured up to his masterpiece, although some of his earlier novels, virtually ignored when first published, later became admired. His shrinking reputation frustrated Vonnegut. He now had fame and fortune, yet with each new novel, critics took him less and less seriously. Many of his books were bestsellers, but he hated being thought a literary fraud.

Had Vonnegut been true to his values; been faithful to Jane, his first and best wife; been a better father and a better friend, he most likely would have had a happier life than he had. But his biography, if anyone even bothered to write one, would have been much less interesting. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Feb 23, 2015 |
All in all a very informative overview of Kurt Vonnegut's life. I enjoyed learning so much about one of my favorite authors but I was dissatisfied with the very abrupt ending without any kind of epilogue or afterward about events that transpired after Vonnegut's death. The last sentence of the book is simply: "Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007." Not a very unique way to end a biography, but whatever. It's still a good read for any Vonnegut fan interested in the personal life and development of the author behind so many great works of literature. ( )
  zenslave | Jan 13, 2015 |
I have read very few biographies, so I find it difficult to review a book in the genre. For all I know, any biography I come across could be a standout in the field, or it could be a pedestrian effort that covers little more than the basics. It would be hard for me to tell in many cases, but in short I enjoyed this biography of Kurt Vonnegut immensely. In part, I think it was well researched and thoughtfully written. It also benefits from being the only full biography of Vonnegut out there, so it has no competitors for top spot.

I can imagine a Vonnegut bio that would have been more engaging on some points, wider ranging in sources and opinions, more analytical in critiquing all of his works, but of course the writer always has to make choices. In biography especially, he is restricted by the material and people he can use in building his profile. People say no, you may not interview me. People say no, you may not use those unpublished letters or that diary, because I own the rights. And in the case of Vonnegut himself, people sometimes say okay, but you picked a bad time to get my assent, because unfortunately I won't be around much longer to answer your questions.

And so it goes, indeed. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
Still trying to formulate what I want to say here. I enjoyed the window into Kurt Vonnegut's life -- he's always been kind of furniture-like in my reading life, a major gateway to more sophisticated reading when I was in my early teens but not anyone I had a sense of past his books, so that was interesting and enlightening.

But I had a very strong sense that I wasn't reading the book that showed up on the shelves in the middle of November. Mine was a galley and really thick with copy editing errors, notably more than just about any pre-pub version of a book I can remember reading. I'm sure there was a push to get it out on time for Vonnegut's birthday, and hence to push the galleys along, but it was like no one had even read page proofs. And while that kind of thing is eminently forgivable, I have to wonder how much line editing was done on the book as well before final publication. It was enormously full of detail -- Shields' research was exhaustive -- to the point where some paring down would have streamlined and helped. And hey, if I can see that, I imagine the good editors at Henry Holt would have picked up on it as well, and I'm not going to feel comfortable quibbling with anything stylistic about the book until I can check out a finish copy. My criticisms aren't huge, really, but they definitely exist as far as the version I read.

But as a biography, and as far as the subject matter goes, it's good stuff. What a sad fellow Vonnegut was. And Jill Krementz, his second wife, comes off as the world's worst harpy. ( )
  lisapeet | Jan 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Haiku summary
Never did a man,

Expect an initial plan,

Ever go so wrong.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805086935, Hardcover)

An Interview with Amazon

Charles ShieldsCharles Shields is a writer who writes about writers. He previously penned a bestselling biography of Harper Lee, and now he's written the definitive portrait of Kurt Vonnegut, chronicling Vonnegut's slow and often difficult path to the upper ranks of American literature.

It's not always a pretty portrait. "Kurt wanted to be a writer from the time he was a teenager," Shields told me. But after serving in the military, getting married and having kids, he faced a dreary life behind a desk "which is not the kind of artistic one that he thought he'd have."

Yet the truth about writers is just that: they don't often live the exciting, public lifestyles of a Hemmingway or a Mailer. Most toil in solitary exclusion. It's a desk job in an office of one. It's sedentary, quiet, and often dull. Still, Shields is fascinated by the process of writing, and by the power and reach of the written word, which he discovered at age 15 upon earning a byline for his first high school newspaper story. "That was a magical moment for me," he said.

Shields has worked since to grow and change, to learn from others. That desire led him to study other writers and eventually to become a biographer, joining a group he admiringly refers to as "snoops" and "gossips." (Shields is co-founder of Biographers International Organization.)

When he learned Vonnegut was miffed that no one had tried to write his biography, Shields reached out. He was rebuffed, persisted, and finally received a postcard on which Vonnegut had sketched a self-portrait, smoking a cigarette. The card contained two letters: "OK."

Shields began working with Vonnegut in 2006. A year later, after a two-hour interview session at Vonnegut's Manhattan brownstone, Shields left, returning the next day to learn from the housekeeper that Vonnegut was in a coma. He had gotten tangled in his dog's leash and fell off his front steps, hitting his head. He died a month later at age 84.

"It's too trite to say that it was a shock," Shields said. "I felt a kind of… I felt sort of separate from myself for a little bit. Because I had invested a lot in this, and I had come to like him. And now suddenly, after dubbing me his biographer, he was gone."

Shields’s biography was saved by the discovery of 1,500 letters to or from Vonnegut, which had been presumed lost. "So, going on my interviews with him, and all of these long, intimate letters that he wrote, I was able to construct what I felt was a very authentic, personal portrait of this man as writer, father, struggling freelancer, suddenly famous man, divorced parent, divorced husband, over the course of more than fifty years," Shields said.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:27 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An authorized portrait of the influential twentieth-century American writer draws on first-person accounts and Vonnegut's private letters while offering insight into his youth, the inspirations for his work, and his enduring literary impact.

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
76 wanted1 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.96)
2.5 2
3 4
3.5 6
4 18
4.5 7
5 5

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alumn

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields was made available through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Sign up to possibly get pre-publication copies of books.

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 97,282,810 books! | Top bar: Always visible