I finished reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut yesterday. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage it. Some passages are so spot on that one must immediately reread them to make certain such truths actually made it to print. I read my wife’s copy and the book had evidently had a previous owner as well. I don’t know them, but after reading all their notes and seeing the words they underlined, I feel as if I know one thing about them- they really missed the point of the book. Mostly they had underlined words, presumably so they could look them up in the dictionary. The underlined words were either SAT words or words with less relevance outside their time, geography, and experience than within them. The passages that were underlined seemed to be sentences that would’ve agreed the grand old American objectivist Ayn Rand, a woman whose philosophies run counter with the book’s Hamletesque protagonist Eliot Rosewater. The book looks critically at the class system of the United States, both as an institution and in everyday practice. It is particularly sympathetic to the poor, victims of economic turmoil beyond their control and becoming less relevant with the advent of machines. Eliot’s father makes a lot of statements against welfare assistance, social programs, and “obscenity”- these were the statements that the previous reader decorated with meaningless notes like “Well-stated!” Perhaps the saddest part is a little note they wrote to themselves saying “I think Kilgore Trout may have helped write this book. There’s a sentence on the back of book.” As readers of Vonnegut well know, Kilgore Trout is a reoccurring character in his books, a science fiction writer who tells heavy truths in his work, much like the author in Saga. That’s a great comic, Saga. Anyway, it was fun to read this book alongside such an innocent reader that I’ve never met. I’ve consumed a lot of used textbooks, mostly history and philosophy- nonfiction – and I could understand why people underlined and took notes. Nonfiction is much easier to untie than fiction- when you read along with a stranger with a nonfiction work, you can start to see the argument they’re putting together or at least pieces of it. With fiction, you often get people underlining for more sentimental reasons. Sure, they could be literature scholars, but you can tell the difference between a scholar and a sentimental reader. You don’t feel like a peeping tom when you’re sharing research with a scholar- that’ s the transparency that gives our knowledge value. However, reading fiction with a stranger’s notes feels a bit perverted and sparks the engines of imagination and totally unsolicited judgement on the person’s entire being. It’s a love/hate relationship- maybe other people fantasize about meeting that person, sharing their intellectual insights, falling in love, etc. but I just think “What a fucking idiot” every time I see what they underline or read the notes they write. I take those little clues out of context, build an unflattering context around them, and then rule that whoever read the book before me is exactly what’s destroying civilization. It’s worse if you borrow a friend’s book and they’ve underlined all these sappy emotional passages and your imagination forces you to apply it to things in your friend’s life. Or what your mom underlined in 50 Shades of Grey.

Anyway, here are a few different covers that have been used for God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. Who wore it better?

To Give Eliot Rosewater is twice the lunatic you'll ever be

god bless you winston smith

Fly Hunter god bless you mr rosewater and forget bill murray

V for Vendetta

Stuff My Piggy Bank

Title Page Rave Til Dawn

Three Books One Cup

Sylvia is Ophelia

When I'm An Old Baby

Pigs on wheels Dresden Copy

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