Mental Floss

Vonnegut Reads "Breakfast of Champions," 3 Years Before Publication

Chris Higgins

Now this is a find. The 92nd Street Y Podcast (iTunes link) presents a variety of interesting lectures that have taken place at, you guessed it, the 92nd Street Y in New York. (Note that the Y is not a YMCA -- read more). Anyway, my point is they have this brilliant piece by Kurt Vonnegut. Recorded on May 4, 1970, Vonnegut reads from an early version of his seminal novel Breakfast of Champions (my favorite Vonnegut novel), three years before its publication. He drops a few "f-bombs" and talks briefly about adult topics, so don't let the little ones listen. But everyone else, please do. Vonnegut begins:

This is a world premiere of a book called Breakfast of Champions, and not even my wife has seen it; I've simply passed the rumor around that it exists. So here we go. Uh, it's a novel. [Begins reading manuscript.] My name is Dwayne Hoover and I am an experiment by the creator of the universe. I am the only creature in the entire universe who has free will. I am the only creature who has to figure out what to do next and why. Everybody else is a robot. I am pooped. I wish I were a robot too. It is perfectly exhausting having to reason all the time in a universe I never made. The experiment with me began on the planet Earth. All around me were machines who appeared to be thinking and planning and worrying as much as I was, but they were no more reasonable than the Pontiac automobiles I used to sell. No more puzzled or adaptable than the music boxes my wife Celia used to collect. Celia was a robot too...programmed to collect music boxes, among other things.

92Y Podcast: Kurt Vonnegut Reads Breakfast of Champions - 92nd Street Y - New York, NY

It goes on, beautifully, for about a half hour from there. Please listen. This is just wonderful, funny, heart-wrenching stuff. It takes me back to when I saw Vonnegut speak, along with Joseph Heller and William Styron, at Florida State in the late 90s. I asked him: "So if you were to start writing today, would you still write novels?" After asking me to repeat my question so he could hear it properly, Vonnegut replied, "Nobody reads books anymore. I'd write movies, probably. Or I don't know, maybe not. Who cares?" He looked at Heller, who nodded. "Next question." (Read a few quotes from that colloquium.)

See also: Wikipedia on Breakfast of Champions, and Wikipedia on Kilgore Trout (a character who seems pretty obviously based on the awesome sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon, who famously coined Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."). One more note: this particular download is available as an MP3 (13 MB) or if you search iTunes for "92Y Vonnegut."

(Via Kung Fu Grippe, Merlin Mann's blog.)