My love for Vonnegut was started in a likely place, high school. In our high school, however, it wasn't assigned as reading in any of our classes--I guess we were too conservative for that (when we ran "Grease" my senior year, we had to replace VD with TB, and Rizzo didn't have a pregnancy scare, she just wasn't feeling well for a little while). My junior year English teacher suggested I read Vonnegut for my book report. Now, mind you, my junior year English teacher was the sort of woman that a teenage boy would do things for, especially if asked personally by her. She also respected the fact that I was bored by much of what was going on in class, knew I was a bit of a class clown, and correctly surmised that that was a manifestation of a rapidly developing sense of the absurd. I had also given her some grief about having to analyze some stupid poem in an essay where I was supposed to analyze the poem, for which I got a well-deserved F, but she understood she had to give me a reason to want to do this work.
So, I told my mom my teacher suggested I read Vonnegut, and she stopped at the library on the way home from work one day. She got me Deadeye Dick which was his most recent at the time (Galapagos would come out later that year). I read it in a few hours--the rush of emotion and incredibly interesting writing style gripped me completely. I spent the next month or so reading any Vonnegut book I could get my hands on, just amazed at how good the writing was and the sense of the absurd he had.
It came down to having to actually write a book report. I told my teacher about my newfound interest in the absurd and she also had me read some Camus. I ended up doing a paper comparing Breakfast of Champions to Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, comparing and contrasting the fundamental absurdist question (if life is meaningless, why not just kill yourself) as it's covered in both book. My opening was one quote from each book where the question of suicide is contemplated. It was a good paper (I think it got an A-) but more importantly it got me into Vonnegut, for which I will always appreciate my English teacher. She also told me to read Joseph Heller and John Barth (which I did, and liked, but Vonnegut is still the best.)
I've read all of Vonnegut's novels at this point, and I like them all in their unique way. I think on the occasion of his passing, I shall divert from my usual diet of non-fiction books from the new book shelf of the library and go back over his canon of novels. In order this time. I've read most several times already, and they always reveal new wisdom each time. My favorite Vonnegut short story is The Big Space Fuck.
I made the suggestion on angryjonny's journal that Vonnegut was the greatest American novelist of the last half of the 20th century. He certainly is for me. He will be missed. So it goes.
And, this is damn funny.
(I gratuitously stole the icon from jenniever.)