CLOSE
Original image

Vonnegut Reads "Breakfast of Champions," 3 Years Before Publication

Original image

Now this is a find. The 92nd Street Y Podcast (iTunes link) presents a variety of interesting lectures that have taken place at, you guessed it, the 92nd Street Y in New York. (Note that the Y is not a YMCA -- read more). Anyway, my point is they have this brilliant piece by Kurt Vonnegut. Recorded on May 4, 1970, Vonnegut reads from an early version of his seminal novel Breakfast of Champions (my favorite Vonnegut novel), three years before its publication. He drops a few "f-bombs" and talks briefly about adult topics, so don't let the little ones listen. But everyone else, please do. Vonnegut begins:

This is a world premiere of a book called Breakfast of Champions, and not even my wife has seen it; I've simply passed the rumor around that it exists. So here we go. Uh, it's a novel. [Begins reading manuscript.]

My name is Dwayne Hoover and I am an experiment by the creator of the universe. I am the only creature in the entire universe who has free will. I am the only creature who has to figure out what to do next and why. Everybody else is a robot.

I am pooped. I wish I were a robot too. It is perfectly exhausting having to reason all the time in a universe I never made.

The experiment with me began on the planet Earth. All around me were machines who appeared to be thinking and planning and worrying as much as I was, but they were no more reasonable than the Pontiac automobiles I used to sell. No more puzzled or adaptable than the music boxes my wife Celia used to collect. Celia was a robot too...programmed to collect music boxes, among other things.


92Y Podcast: Kurt Vonnegut Reads Breakfast of Champions - 92nd Street Y - New York, NY

It goes on, beautifully, for about a half hour from there. Please listen. This is just wonderful, funny, heart-wrenching stuff. It takes me back to when I saw Vonnegut speak, along with Joseph Heller and William Styron, at Florida State in the late 90s. I asked him: "So if you were to start writing today, would you still write novels?" After asking me to repeat my question so he could hear it properly, Vonnegut replied, "Nobody reads books anymore. I'd write movies, probably. Or I don't know, maybe not. Who cares?" He looked at Heller, who nodded. "Next question." (Read a few quotes from that colloquium.)

See also: Wikipedia on Breakfast of Champions, and Wikipedia on Kilgore Trout (a character who seems pretty obviously based on the awesome sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon, who famously coined Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."). One more note: this particular download is available as an MP3 (13 MB) or if you search iTunes for "92Y Vonnegut."

(Via Kung Fu Grippe, Merlin Mann's blog.)

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Original image
iStock
arrow
fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
Original image
iStock

If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios