Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hocus Pocus

Despite my enthusiasm for the digital realm, one of the reasons I want to become a librarian is quite simple.

I love books.

So I think I might include as part of this blog, comments or reviews of the books I am reading.

I just finished Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus. I didn't really know anything about it before I started reading; just that it had been sitting on my bookcase for probably more than a year. I finally got around to opening it last week. In high school, tenth grade I think, I read Cat's Cradle, so I wasn't a stranger to Vonnegut's dark humor and fondness for the depressing. The story of Hocus Pocus is about a man named Eugene Debs Hartke who serves in Vietnam and afterwards becomes a teacher at a small college in Scipio, New York, before going on to teach in a prison, then serve as warden of a prison, and finally be committed to prison himself. One of the most interesting things about the book is the style of narration; Vonnegut begins by introducing the protagonist as the author, while labeling himself as the "editor." The story, he tells us, was written down on many small scraps of paper, which he has put together in the order in which they were labeled. The book itself is very choppy, mirroring this idea that it was composed in sections over time and on whatever bit of paper the narrator could find.

Eugene Hartke's life is a sad one, between Vietnam and the violence that follows a mass prison break-out, he sees a lot of horrible crime that people commit against each other. But he manages to find much humor in dark times, and he is a refreshingly human narrator. He periodically records the stories and advice of those whose lives have come into contact with his own. In one such moment he recalls his grandfather's opinion "that profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you." Hartke/Vonnegut uphold this tenet throughout the book, and I think it really is worth thinking about. The difference between what sort of language people consider "acceptable" seems to be very generational today, and Vonnegut's message here is probably one the youth of today could stand to hear and, if possible, consider.

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