When I was growing up, my dad had every single Vonnegut paperback published before the mid-nineties. I read them all when I was young, focused on the fact that I was so precocious for reading Vonnegut, but not understanding a damn thing. This collection of speeches — primarily given at graduations, but also one for an award — makes me want to reread them all again, now that I might actually appreciate his words.
“My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
That’s the basic theme of this collection of speeches, several of which overlap on certain topics or advice. He mentions “If this isn’t nice, what is?” in just about every one, in addition to repeated mentions of the importance of books, community and art. I also love that he kept repeating, “Whenever my children complain about the planet to me, I say ‘Shut up, I just got here myself’.” He talks a lot of about being an atheist, but also places a lot of importance on The Sermon at the Mount, and extolls Jesus Christ on multiple occasions. The speeches are funny and touching but not sentimental, and make me so jealous that he didn’t attend my college graduation.