“The drama of any air raid on a civilian population, a gesture in diplomacy to a man like Henry Kissinger, is about the inhumanity of many of man’s inventions to man. That is the dominant theme of what I have written during the past forty-five years or so.” So says Kurt Vonnegut in a special preface to Slaughterhouse-Five, a preface that is now in the final section of an excellent new Library of America collection of Vonnegut’s early novels and writings.
The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher that has, since 1982, been releasing a canon of our nation’s finest fiction and prettiest poetry, our most serious speeches and most legitimate journalism. LoA books are hardbound, printed on Bible paper, and contain a sewn-in ribbon bookmark and calligraphy on the cover. Many editions top 1,000 pages in length. The texts are edited by scholars and feature notes, a chronology of the author’s life, and corrections to the errors of earlier editions. What they lack in the scholarship of a Norton Critical Edition they make up for in elegance, in providing at a reasonable price the pleasures of a solidly bound, densely packed, good old book.
The most recent LoA release is Kurt Vonnegut: Novels and Stories 1963-1973. The bulk of the volume consists of four of Vonnegut’s better novels: Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. Also included are short stories, speeches, addenda to Slaughterhouse-Five, as well as a very haunting and dear letter Vonnegut wrote to his family in 1945 after surviving the fire bombing of Dresden.