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So it Goes: Our 20 Favorite Vonnegut-isms

Today marks the release of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, the first official biography of the great American writer and counterculture icon. Vonnegut is known not only for his writing but also for his strong ideas, witty remarks, and delightful irreverence, both in his novels and in speeches and commentary. To celebrate the occasion of his first biography, whose title itself is quoted from the repeated refrain in Vonnegut classic Slaughterhouse Five, we’ve compiled a list of the twenty best things Kurt Vonnegut has ever said — according to us, at least. Since the choice quotes from his novels and short stories verge on endless, we’ve limited ourselves to declarations made in nonfiction essays, interviews, and speeches. Click through to read some hilarious, deep, and snarky missives from one of the greatest writers of all time, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favorite quotables in the comments.

“I keep losing and regaining my equilibrium, which is the basic plot of all popular fiction. And I myself am a work of fiction.” — Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, 1974 (and the dedication to And So It Goes, 2011)

“I apologize because of the terrible mess the planet is in. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any ‘Good Old Days,’ there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, ‘Don’t look at me. I just got here myself.'” — Syracuse University Commencement speech, 1994

“I had a friend who was a heavy drinker. If somebody asked him if he’d been drunk the night before, he would always answer offhandedly, ‘Oh, I imagine.’ I’ve always liked that answer. It acknowledges life as a dream.” — a “composite self-interview” in The Paris Review, 1977

“All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.” — The epigram of Timequake, 1997

“I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.” — Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, 1974

“I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival.” — as quoted in The Observer, 1987

“Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible, and The Charge of the Light Brigade…” — “Cold Turkey,” In These Times, 2004

“One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.” — “Cold Turkey,” In These Times, 2004

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” — A Man Without a Country, 2005

“I don’t know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment.'” — A Man Without a Country, 2005

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — A Man Without a Country, 2005

“If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.” — a “composite self-interview” in The Paris Review, 1977

“We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” — A Man Without a Country, 2005

“Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward — and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.” — “Palm Sunday”, a sermon delivered at St. Clement’s Church, New York City, originally published in The Nation as “Hypocrites You Always Have With You”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — the introduction to Mother Night, 1961

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” — “Knowing What’s Nice,” In These Times, 2003

“I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. I can’t help thinking that. And this engineer knows exactly what he or she is doing and why, and where evolution is headed. That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami and the clap.” — interview on the Daily Show, 2005

“Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization.” — Backwards City Review, 2004

“I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.” — a “composite self-interview” in The Paris Review, 1977

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” — quoted in “Kurt Vonnegut: In His Own Words,” London Times Online, 2007

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