As someone who studied literature in college, I often feel that I ought to have elevated reading tastes. Just like musicians who can’t profess any great love for Wagner or Pachelbel’s Canon in D, whenever I (in a rather apologetic tone) tell people I think both Jane Austen and Shakespeare are a bit over rated and that I have a weakness for a good science-fiction novel, I brace myself for the inevitable disagreements.
I’ve been reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle recently at the recommendation of a friend. I decided after the last book I read, a novel I only finished because I mistakenly believed the author would redeem himself in the end, I needed something a little more “meat and potatoes” and less “candy bar fluff.”
My first attempt at a more scholarly work now sits on my bookself, a slip of paper halfway through to mark where I left off. Undeterred by the impossibility of pronouncing his name right, I tried the Russian classic The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Despite my best efforts and my brother assuring me that it was worth it in the end, I have yet to finish wading through the first half of the book, let alone reach the ending.
Throughout my reading career, I’ve stayed out of the vast pool of Russian literature, only dipping my toes in to read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, a tragic tale that ends in the heroine’s . . . well, I won’t tell you it ends — only the worst sort of friends spoil the ending without express permission first.
Regardless, the story was tragic enough for me to swiftly return to my regular diet of 1900th century British authors where the good guy always wins and the bad guy suddenly dies in the last chapter. Of course there are exceptions, with the early gothic novels gaining popularity around that time, but for the most part, a little bit of Dickens, or Gaskell with some Yeats on the side is sure to be an enjoyable read.
So I picked up Cat’s Cradle, knowing little about the plot, genre or author. Satirizing the arms race and exploring issues of science, technology, and religion, it’s one of those books that make me suspect that the author has hidden a deep message under the plot and if only I were a bit cleverer, I could be able to understand it. Unfortunately, it continues to elude me.
A bit ironically, the story is developing distinctive science fiction tones and I’m not sure if I like it yet or not. At the time of its release, one review described the book as “appalling, hilarious, shocking and infuriating. This is an annoying book and you must read it.”
I’m afraid with a review like that, Cat’s Cradle probably won’t elevate my reading to more sophisticated levels. Perhaps I’ll return to The Brothers Karamazov next or maybe I’ll embrace the pure enjoyment of reading and pull out Harry Potter again.