Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style

Rate this book
The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and readers co-written by Kurt Vonnegut's former student.

Here is an entirely new side of Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut as a teacher of writing. Of course he's given us glimpses before, with aphorisms and short essays and articles and in his speeches. But never before has an entire book been devoted to Kurt Vonnegut the teacher. Here is pretty much everything Vonnegut ever said or wrote having to do with the writing art and craft, altogether a healing, a nourishing expedition. McConnell has outfitted us for the journey, and in these 37 chapters covers the waterfront of how one American writer brought himself to the pinnacle of the writing art, and we can all benefit as a result.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few grandmasters of American literature, whose novels continue to influence new generations about the ways in which our imaginations can help us to live. Few aspects of his contribution have not been plumbed--fourteen novels, collections of his speeches, his essays, his letters, his plays--so this fresh view of him, written by a former student, is a bonanza for writers and readers and Vonnegut fans everywhere.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published November 5, 2019

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

522 books32k followers
Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
343 (32%)
4 stars
419 (40%)
3 stars
214 (20%)
2 stars
58 (5%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 186 reviews
Profile Image for Jason Bergman.
706 reviews29 followers
January 4, 2020
This book is sincere and heartfelt, but that doesn't make it a worthwhile read. The unfortunate truth is that Vonnegut was pretty straightforward in his advice for writers. It doesn't take long to get that across - his exact words on the subject are in fact printed on the inside covers of the book! So McConnell is forced to pad out the other 380+ pages with filler, quoting heavily from his novels, interviews and personal stories. Some of the anecdotes are worthwhile, but much felt like padding. And I couldn't believe it when she resorted to "Webster's dictionary defines...". She does it several times!

My biggest takeaway from Pity the Reader is that everything Vonnegut wanted to say on pretty much every subject is already contained in his work. He held nothing back. Thus making this book only useful to someone who hasn't read much by him already.

I love Vonnegut. Every now and then I consider myself a writer. I would not recommend this book. Read his novels and his essays. It's all there already.
Profile Image for Dona.
535 reviews89 followers
July 19, 2022
"Sometimes I don’t consider myself very good at life, so I hide in my profession." p356

I know I can relate to this statement from Kurt Vonnegut, and I know many writers who also can. But the truth is, Vonnegut was intuitively brilliant "at life" -- he was insightful, empathetic, resolute. Again, I know many writers who are -- these traits aid them in their work, as they did Vonnegut. PITY THE READER explores in depth how Vonnegut's approach to life translates into an approach to writing, which produced fiction that changed the world.

As an actual style guide, this book is not very useful, unless your goal is to write like Kurt Vonnegut. But PITY THE READER is a fascinating stand-in for the writing memoir Vonnegut never wrote. It delves deeply into Vonnegut's impetus to write, and his process.

From his scattered notes, talks, and letters, McConnell manages to gather several pieces of advice, some mundane, a few personal to Vonnegut. Taken together, however, these suggestions can't really be called a style guide -- perhaps a cheat sheet. What is of more interest and value to the writer are the life lessons, such as the chapter about mental illness. Writers' mental illness, their families' mental illness, their depictions of mental illness in their writing, Vonneguts own process of understanding mental illness in his life, in Chapter 34: Caring for Your Piece in the Game. There's a chapter about presenting your humor, which seems given, seeing that Vonnegut favored dark, dry humor.

There are also surprising, invaluable gems like this, from p362: My wife [Jill] said to me the other day, after a knock-down-drag-out fight about interior decoration, “I don’t love you anymore.” And I said to her, “So what else is new?” She really didn’t love me then, which was perfectly normal. She will love me some other time—I think, I hope. It’s possible. If she had wanted to terminate the marriage, to carry it past the point of no return, she would have had to say, “I don’t respect you anymore.” Now—that would be terminal.

I read the Kindle version of this book, which has some real organization issues. The information seemed lumped together to me, and I yearned for some sort of headings or at least more compartmentalization. Still, PITY THE READER is a really excellent read if you love Vonnegut and want to know more about his process or style.

But if you want a good style manual, I would recommend something different, like Steven Pinker's THE SENSE OF STYLE or Ben Yagoda's THE SOUND ON THE PAGE.

Rating 3.5 stars rounded up
Finished July 2022
Recommended to Kurt Vonnegut fans, students of style, fans of writing memoirs
Profile Image for Jeanne.
962 reviews67 followers
May 17, 2021
Published well after Kurt Vonnegut's death (in 2005), Pity the Reader was collected and collated by Suzanne McConnell, a former student from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, using considerable original material from Vonnegut's fiction, letters, and interviews. Pity the Reader is not a typical writing manual. It is also writing coach, with a dab of memoir/biography thrown in for good measure. This combination would be deeply satisfying for some, while irritating others. I was satisfied.

First, the writing manual was characterized by these pieces of advice first published in 1980 in a New York Times column:
1. Find a subject you care about.
2. Do not ramble.
3. Keep it simple.
4. Have the guts to cut.
5. Sound like yourself.
6. Say what you mean to say.
7. Pity the readers.
McConnell expanded on these themes, drawing on his writing, exemplars from others (including his daughter's letter to a disgruntled customer complaining about the service received from another waitress), and some of his and others' revisions of his work. It can be dispiriting for aspirants who believe that their gods have always been successful.

Vonnegut's goals in teaching young writers was broader than helping young writers learn to string words together. As McConnell observed:

Vonnegut’s assignments at the Writers’ Workshop now, I see that more importantly than the craft of writing, they were designed to teach us to do our own thinking, to find out who we were, what we loved, abhorred, what set off our trip wires, what tripped up our hearts. (p. 19)

Vonnegut believed that teaching young writers should be thought of holistically, that writers should know themselves to help others change. Kilgore Trout responded to the question, "What is the purpose of life?" with the following poem:
To be
the eyes
and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the Universe,
you fool.
(from Breakfast of Champions)
All of the above offered a very human and humane view of Vonnegut. We read what he said when teaching, including his advice to and mentoring of aspiring writers (McConnell and others). He also shared the difficulties, as very few writers only get good news from the get go.

Image: From Vonnegut & McConnell (2019)

Pity the Reader was an engaging read – and makes me consider going back to reread Vonnegut. I mostly read him (obsessively) in high school/college, and lately have set him aside as something to have read early in life. The Vonnegut I read in Pity the Reader is still a writer for when I need a fun and cheering read, but I also now see that he is a writer who inspires, who raises and responds to difficult questions.
Profile Image for Niklas Pivic.
Author 3 books63 followers
July 17, 2019
Kurt Vonnegut was not only a prolific writer and a highly respected human being but one who made rules and mostly broke them.

Suzanne McConnell is one of Vonnegut’s former students from his period of teaching at Iowa Writer’s Workshop. They remained friends until his death.

Until this book came along, only small fragments of Vonnegut’s teaching—including his philosophies and other worlds of thought—were available, mainly as short stories which were fragmented throughout time and different publishers.

Here, McConnell does not only collate the entire experience that is his writing on writing but also brings to life his oeuvre as a teacher and a human being.

One of the main boons of this book is McConnell’s exquisite, funny, and daring way to comment on everything throughout the book. Her comments often provide valuable insights into Vonnegut’s process for thinking, mashing, drafting, and finalising his material. I believe that 60% of the book is Vonnegut and 40% McConnell.

From the book:

You probably met Vonnegut also through reading his books, assigned in high school or college or read independently, depending on your age. If you read Slaughterhouse-Five, the most well known, you also know the experience that drove him to write that book because he introduces it in the opening chapter: as a twenty-year-old American of German ancestry in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden, which was then firebombed by the British and Americans. He and his fellow prisoners, taken to an underground slaughterhouse, survived. Not many other people, animals, or vegetation did.

It’s easy to see how Vonnegut’s dry and black humour has either mixed with or matched that of McConnell’s; I adore it, and cannot count the number of times that I laughed while reading this book.

The book is littered with insight into how knowledgeable, scholarly and also transformable Vonnegut was. He seems to often have provided gleaming trinkets of truth that upended a lot that was fashionable then and still is today. Imagine switching the names Keruouac and Hemingway for Franzen and…well, Kardashian in the following paragraph:

“We’ve come to the point where we’re more interested in looking at the scrolls of Kerouac than reading Kerouac. The same with Hemingway’s home in Key West.” Fetishism of famous writers, he suggested, occurs because “it’s such heavy-lifting to actually read books.”

There are quite a lot of interesting bits here, where both Vonnegut, McConnell, and other interesting people are thrown into the mix.

Some reviewers dismissed Kurt Vonnegut’s writing for being too simple. John Irving criticized Vonnegut’s critics. They think, Irving wrote, that “if the work is tortured and a ghastly effort to read, it must be serious,” whereas “if the work is lucid and sharp and the narrative flows like water, we should suspect the work of being simplistic, and as light and as lacking in seriousness as fluff. This is simplistic criticism, of course; it is easy criticism too. “Why is ‘readable’ such a bad thing to be these days?” Some people “are gratified by the struggle to make sense of what they read . . . I am more often gratified by a writer who has accepted the enormous effort necessary to make writing clear.”

Vonnegut criticized lit critics too. They wrote “rococo argle-bargle,” he once said.

That’s one of the best insights, in regards to reviewers, that I’ve ever seen.

It seems that Vonnegut spent quite some thought and action on trying to get his students—and anybody, really—to know that their writing, their action, their thoughts, were as valid as anybody else’s:

Novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.

There are short bursts of beauty:

Kurt advised John Irving, who was working on his first novel, “that I was interested in a certain young woman’s underwear to an excess of what my readers would be.” Irving revised it accordingly, but “Not to the degree that I probably should have . . . But he also said I wrote with so much enthusiasm. He told me, Never lose that enthusiasm. So many writers are unenthusiastic about their work.

McConnell calls Vonnegut out on his sexism; he wasn’t intentionally sexist or harmful, she writes, but learned from being called out back in the day:

Such blind spots, to phrase it most benignly, occur in every culture. You may harbor some yourself. Sexism, racism, ageism, nationalism. Homophobia. Political and regional prejudices. Your teachers, being human, will have such blind spots. They may not, as Vonnegut’s own mentor did not, recognize your value, remember you, or care about you. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It doesn’t mean they themselves are evil. The blind spot itself, though, is. An insidious, damaging wrongdoing, undermining confidence and selfhood. one upside: consciousness soars with obvious abuse. Four pieces of advice: recognize the blind spot. Call it out. Keep your eyes on your own prize. expect change.

People and times do change. raggedly, incrementally. Vonnegut changed too. “The women’s liberation movement of today in America,” Vonnegut wrote in 1981, “in its most oceanic sense, is a wish by women to be liked for something other than their reproductive abilities. . . . And the rejection of the equal rights Amendment by male state legislators is this clear statement by men, in my opinion: ‘We’re sorry, girls, but your reproductive abilities are about all we can really like you for.’”

Late in his life Kurt sent me postcards and clippings about women’s issues.

Vonnegut’s playfulness shone through everything, even though he was able to stay on the ball with his acute sense of worth.

Throughout his work, Vonnegut conjured and indicated words. [dr. ed Brown] coined a new word for Sylvia’s disease, “Samaritrophia,” which he said meant, “hysterical indifference to the troubles of those less fortunate than oneself.”

Vonnegut comes alive through this book, and in spite of being such an intense ride, I just feel like reading more and more of his written words. We all have a lot to learn from his pathos, methods, and, mainly, the ways through which he always broke all rules.

There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers.

This book is wonderful. I suggest that you purchase a copy at once.
Profile Image for Rachel.
131 reviews
December 22, 2019
The author is Suzanne McConnell not Kurt Vonnegut. The author was commissioned by the Vonnegut foundation to write this book on condition that 50% of the text would be from Vonnegut's oeuvre. McConnell was a student in two classes that Vonnegut taught and occasionally met him a few times over the years. Although it is clear that she is a fan of Vonnegut's work and personally admired him, her exposition does not seem that of an expert on his work. A good deal of the text seems forced in order to comply with the foundation's requirement.

Sadly, the book is not helpful on the subject of "writing with style"--unless you want to imitate Vonnegut.

I found two things Vonnegut said about writing to be true and important (although he was not the first or only author to say them): "Writing is hard if you don't have anything to say or if you don't care." And, "To be a writer you must care terribly about something." These self-evident truths did find their way into the book. Maybe it is just one thing?

I did find one extensive quote noteworthy that I had not encountered before:

"By its nature, literary fiction 'teaches': it shows how people feel, think, respond, and vary; how circumstances affect them; how their brains, personalities, surroundings and culture make them tick. How an experience strikes a particular person a certain way, and another differently. How a person feels inside as opposed to how they act or are perceived"(134).

This is important to remember when someone asks what is the difference between "literary fiction" and consumer fiction. It is also something important to keep in mind as you read and discuss literary fiction.
Profile Image for Ville Verkkapuro.
Author 1 book106 followers
February 8, 2022
What a treat! I've adored the works and the persona of Kurt Vonnegut since I read Slaughterhouse-Five twelve years ago. I fell deep into him very quickly and enjoyed very much his other works too, proceeded to Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Man Without a Country and Timequake, if I recall correctly. And what I loved the most about Vonnegut was Vonnegut, his whole persona. I think I actually read his first writing tips right after finishing Slaughterhouse.
This was familiar in many parts, but there was much new even for me. And my perspective on writing changed, in many ways. That's not a common feeling to have after reading books on writing.
I've been writing for most of my life, "professionally" for around ten years (if you can call journalism and advertising that) and been working with prose for maybe five years now, which two of I have been doing it "professionally", too. The debut is coming soon, you've been warned!
And so I've thought I knew a thing or two about writing. I had opinions about what writing MEANS. But after reading this I feel like I have a deeper appreciation of writing as a profession and as a way to be a good citizen. And reading, what a privilege that is. Holy, like Vonnegut says. And that's what I feel like I am: a reader, before everything. Also, my views on fiction have changed a little with this book, understanding deeper it's uses (especially with "Slaughterhouse" as example), on how writing fiction is always writing about your own life but just now knowing you do. And what good it does for the imagination for the writer and the reader. So: my first one is going to be (mostly) non-fiction, but the next one is going to be "fiction".
This had great tips on writing, but to me it had better tips on how to live a life. How to be a human being. So many great stories and insights, I found great comfort in this book.
Yes: write like a human being. Write like a writer.
Also, like Vonnegut said; all great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kurt Vonnegut is my favourite philosopher. I'm exactly that guy who has tattooed Kurt Vonnegut quotes on them and I ain't even ashamed to admit it. (Spoiler: it's "To be kind" from the "Hello Babies, Welcome to Earth...").
What a treasure Vonnegut was. A true human being. So much to learn from him.
I could write about Vonnegut and this book for days, but I'll stop now. Better that you read it yourself, whoever you are.
Profile Image for Scott Constantine.
56 reviews8 followers
March 21, 2021
This book is not what you think it will be. It's not Vonnegut's guide to writing. That substantive content is exhausted in the first few pages, and you can find it all in a two-page essay written by Vonnegut himself that is all over the internet. After that, all you'll find are paeans to the art of writing (which are conspicuously lacking in writing advice), mostly irrelevant personal stories of the author McConnell, and accounts of brief brushes with Vonnegut himself.

I grew frustrated with how much McConnell inserts herself into the book. Like, I'm glad your husband had some fancy gala thrown in his honour at the Liechtenstein Museum. But how is that relevant to Vonnegut? I found showy stuff like this, which abounds, to be very off-putting because Vonnegut was the very opposite of a highbrow literary figure. He saw himself as a regular guy of average intelligence from Indianapolis, repeatedly said as much, and strove for simplicity, straightforwardness, and ruthless concision in his writing. That's what made his books great. That's what this book did not do.
Profile Image for Ava Foj.
69 reviews3 followers
August 17, 2021
This book could have been 350 pages shorter. The entire work is hinged upon a 2000 word article that Vonnegut wrote on the writing process. McDonnell elaborates on this article until she is blue in the face. I found the quotes from Vonnegut’s novels insulting, as well-anyone who would pick up this 400 page bear is already familiar with the plot of Slaughterhouse Five.

This article turned term paper turned master’s thesis turned money grab is simply a waste of time. Vonnegut’s “How to Write with Style” is great though, and available online for free.
Profile Image for Clifford.
Author 13 books332 followers
May 31, 2021
I've never considered myself a huge Vonnegut fan, but I have often enjoyed reading him and about him. What I like about this book "co-written" and curated by Suzanne McConnell is that it is both a glimpse into Vonnegut's life and work and, at the same time, a comprehensive book about the craft of writing. I wish I could assemble a group of writing friends to meet once a week to discuss a chapter because I think by discussing we could absorb it better. Mostly for writers, but potentially entertaining for non-writers also.
Profile Image for Lanette Sweeney.
Author 1 book10 followers
April 9, 2020
I highly recommend this delightful new book of writing advice from dead author Kurt Vonnegut. How is it that we are able to receive advice from a dead man? His advice has been gathered together and extrapolated upon by one of his former students, Suzanne McConnell, who has quoted his novels, essays, teaching tapes, and interviews to compile all the advice he has given on what it means to be a good writer.

McConnell studied with Vonnegut starting the year I was born, 1966, at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and then developed a friendship with him that lasted until his death. The Vonnegut Trust asked her to write this book. She begins by referring to a piece Vonnegut had in the NYTimes about how to be a writer that she had copied and given to her own students at Hunter College every year. The advice begins: “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.” Vonnegut notes that this advice needn’t only be applied to novel writing but also to “a petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door.”

McConnell then offers many samples of Vonnegut’s work to demonstrate how he followed each rule himself, including: “Do not ramble.” “Keep it simple.” “Have the guts to cut.” “Sound like yourself.” “Say what you mean to say.” And finally, “Pity the reader.”

The main insight I gained from the book is contained in Vonnegut’s first instruction: that writers have to care deeply about communicating something in order to write anything worth reading. This may seem obvious, but I have never heard it asserted quite this plainly. McConnell includes advice from herself and many other writers, too, including her first creative writing teacher, who helped her and all her fellow students write their “first twenty bad stories.”

Vonnegut himself tried for 23 years to write about the period of his life during which he was taken prisoner by the Germans during WWII and survived the American bombing and destruction of Dresden. He wanted desperately to tell that story, but he had to write four other novels first while continuing to work on that one, the one he cared most about. He was only able to finally get it done when “he got old enough, distant enough from the actual events, and experienced enough as a writer.” (p. 75)

Vonnegut also wrote extensively about using fiction as a means of processing trauma. His parents lost their fortune by investing in a Ponzi scheme during the Great Depression. When he was in basic training, he came home for a break , and he and his sister found their mother dead of an overdose on Mother’s Day. After this tragedy he went on to be taken prisoner of war. Then, in later adulthood, his sister died of cancer two days after her husband died in a train crash, leaving behind four boys, three of whom Vonnegut and his wife raised along with their own three kids. As an older adult and writing teacher Vonnegut noted that writers get to treat their mental illnesses every day. Writers also need “a demented kind of patience,” he said, to get enough of their thoughts out to produce a coherent story.

For my own pleasure, I kept notes of my favorite pearls of wisdom from this wonderful book:
• Write for just one person.
• If you keep writing, your concerns will sneak up again and again in various forms.
• Make a commitment.
• Tell the truth.
• Surrender perfection.
• Writers are in the entertainment business first; if what we write does not entertain, no one will read it.
• Don’t be predictable. End your sentences with something unexpected. Keep me awake.
• Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.
• Throw out the first two pages (all the silly build-up many of us write before getting to our point).
• Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.
• Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
• Give the reader at least one character to root for.
• Read your dialogue out loud so you know what it sounds like and whether the words are easily spoken.
• Writing is a visual art; thus we should write short, urgent paragraphs.
• Do not use semi-colons… All they do is show you’ve been to college. (This is sad news for me, as I love the semi-colon.)
• Laughing or crying is what people do when there is nothing else they can do. … Laughter is a response to frustration, just as tears are… (This is followed by a story of how Vonnegut got the largest easiest laughs ever giving a speech two days after Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, when “there was an enormous need to either laugh or cry…”) McConnell notes that the current administration has also led to the bests SNL sketches of her lifetime.
• Joking is a response to misery one can’t do anything about. (Vonnegut, with trademark dark humor, wrote of touring a famine-ravaged area in Nigeria where starving children clutched at his fingers, “It was like a free trip to Auschwitz when the ovens were still going full blast.”)
• [Revision] “allows mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem sane.”
• And some advice from McConnell on revision: Put aside the newborn draft (for as long as it takes to be able to see it anew). Then: Read with fresh eyes, as if it’s not your own child. Assess. Revise. Do these three steps again and again until you’ve got the piece as ready as you can.
• In a short story, “every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”
• Keep your drafts! What you decide is utter dreck one night, you may realize the next morning is beautifully eloquent.
• And finally, You do not have to take anyone’s suggestions. YOU are your final editor.

I hadn’t known much about Vonnegut and am not sure I remember reading any of his novels. (Slaughterhouse Five seems like something I would have read somewhere along the way, but I don’t like satire and I thought he relied heavily on it, so perhaps I avoided him.) This book makes me want to go back and take a fresh look at him and everything he’s written. Certainly his lucid, direct advice as it is gathered here has made me appreciate him and the student who captured his spirit so well here.
Profile Image for Daniel.
41 reviews5 followers
May 6, 2021
Just read Vonnegut’s nonfiction work. It’ll be more enjoyable overall.

Disclaimer: I think the audiobook narrator had a lot to do with my dislike; I’m finding that the narrator has begun having an outsized impact on how I feel about things lately.
Profile Image for Sam.
25 reviews
August 23, 2022
I didn't know much about Vonnegut before I read this book, but Suzanne McConnell has successfully made me want to read everything Vonnegut has ever written. What a funny, cool dude.
Profile Image for Papracz.
52 reviews
April 3, 2023
fenomenalne cacko, uginające się od moich znaczników

książka o pisaniu, Vonnegucie i sztuce jako takiej. Jedna z lepszych, jakie przeczytałam w życiu
Profile Image for Zachary Houle.
394 reviews20 followers
November 10, 2019
One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was from Kurt Vonnegut. I forget where I read it — perhaps a book of writerly advice in the form of letters to other writers — but it has stuck with me. It goes something like this: Don’t wait until page 17 or your story or novel to divulge an important detail, do it right up front on page 1. That bit has stayed with me, as I don’t know how many novels I’ve read that breaks that rule, much to my frustration. While Vonnegut was clearly a writer of the 20th century, some things of his have staying power. He much wasn’t one for fancy writing, or writing that was hard to read for the sake of making the author look intelligent and the work said author has produced as being important. Vonnegut was, it seems, a pretty down-to-earth writer and person. We need that more than ever.

While it has been more than a decade since Vonnegut passed on to the life beyond this life, people still want to read him — or publishers think so. I recall reading and reviewing a set of his complete short stories bound into one volume a couple of years back. Other posthumous collections have come and gone, and, now, we get a collection of his writing advice to other writers co-authored by one of his former students, Suzanne McConnell, who was taught writing by Vonnegut in an MFA program in Iowa in the mid-‘60s. Pulled from novels, drafts, speeches, interviews and more, Pity the Reader is a compendium of no-fuss advice put together into 37 different chapters — a feat that took four years to complete.

Read the rest of the review here: https://medium.com/@zachary_houle/a-r...
Profile Image for GONZA.
6,366 reviews107 followers
November 5, 2019
This book could be summed up as if "On Writing" had been written by Groucho Marx. Jokes aside, I do not know Kurt Vonnegut so much, I read some of his books but he is not one of my favorite author, still his student Suzanne McConnell gave us such a deep knowledge of her teacher, that it seems like he is a friend of mine right now. I am not so interested in writing a book right now, but if you are, this good is one of the best place to start.

Se dovessi riassumere in breve questo libro, direi che sembra quasi "On writing" scritto da Groucho Marx. A parte gli scherzi non sono una grande esperta di Vonnegutt, ma la sua studentessa (ed autrice del libro) Suzanne McConnell ci fornisce uno spaccato cosí intenso della vita del suo professore, che mi sembra quasi sia un amico ora. Inoltre, in questo momento scrivere un libro non mi interessa particolarmente, ma se dovessi farlo, questo volume é un ottimo punto di partenza.

Profile Image for Peter Staadecker.
Author 5 books15 followers
October 5, 2021
I have three gripes about this book and how it's marketed:

1. Despite the (mis)labeling, this book was actually written several years after Vonnegut's death by Suzanne McConnell, a former student of Vonnegut's.

2. My copy of this book runs to 418 pages. The internet, on the other hand, provides a concise, witty, half-page set of eight Vonnegut rules for good writing. IMO a much better read.

3. Vonnegut's second rule of writing, at least as quoted by this book, is "Do not ramble." Did I mention 418 pages? Enough said.
Profile Image for Andrew Shaffer.
Author 44 books1,350 followers
January 8, 2021
This is NOT a book by Vonnegut “with” a co-author. It is an academic analysis of Vonnegut’s work and life by the co-author, albeit one with a large amount of excerpts from Vonnegut’s novels (50% of the book, apparently). Well-intentioned but not cohesive. You’re better off reading Vonnegut’s books, and checking out a biography or two instead.
Profile Image for Kathy Brown.
Author 9 books18 followers
April 19, 2020
(I don't do star ratings.) This is a lovely book, pretty much a valentine to that magical alchemy that binds readers and writers in appreciation if story. McConnell was a student and long time friend of Vonnegut. Perfect person to combine his teachings, his fiction and non fiction, and life experience into helpful advice for writers and insight for his many readers.
Profile Image for Hillary roberts.
242 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2022
To start with, I just want to profess my undying love for Vonnegut. If nothing else, I am thankful for my college professor for introducing me to a world beyond ( think of something). After reading Vonnegut for the first time, I fell in love with his tale of writing. Yes, I read Vonnegut for fun….laugh if you must, but you have to admit that he is a master storyteller.

I admit that I am not as acquainted with his son’s work. However, it WAS a book about Vonnegut and writing, and I love books that give me insight into my favorite authors. It’s like I can experience the whole vibe without figuring out a way to bring a beloved author back from death.


This book is not about the art of writing per se but rather a look into the innermost parts of Vonnegut’s mind. To be honest, I have always wondered how he got his ideas. I remember reading Slaughter-house 5, and I read it while I was in college, so that was 25 years ago, so my memory is not what it used to be, but I DO remember how I felt. Even then, I thought Vonnegut was brilliant. It was only later that I learned he had been in Dresden when the USA bombed Dresden and that he was struck with the idea for Slaughter House Five. I like to think that it served as a cathartic exercise for him.

The author, a Vonnegut student at Iowa Writers Workshop, weaves a story that showed just how Vonnegut helped students to see the world differently during her time in Iowa. That is one of the best parts of Pity the Reader. While it is impossible for all of VONNEGUT’s admirers to take a class under him, this book is the next best thing. I would have loved to be his student to pick at his brain. Unfortunately, time and circumstances were not on my side, so…I can live viscously through his student.

However, if you are looking for a writing guide that will explain the plot and structure among those things, you will not find them here. This is more like a tribute to Vonnegut than anything else. Vonnegut 100 percent deserves all the respect he gets. It is hard to believe that Vonnegut will never again write another story, but his work will always be here to remember him. And based on Pity the Reader, I am not the only one that came to admire his genius deeply. While most people would turn on the sarcasm about me reading Vonnegut for fun, I have also met people who like me read all they can on Vonnegut’s works and about him. It makes me sad that we will never have more writing projects from Vonnegut himself, but we can always read his works.

Profile Image for Adam Floridia.
583 reviews30 followers
April 3, 2020
Makes me want to re-read all of Vonnegut. I was bothered by the lack of context in some parts, and in the earlier chapters I thought some threads/snippets from various sources were connected only tenuously (and forcibly). The final chapters were actually my favorite, and they probably had the least to do with actual writing; they were about other prevalent Vonnegut themes, and Collins's ideas really helped me notice how there are SO MANY important, valuable themes that permeate his work (not just the more obvious ones like importance of extended family, finding purpose/meaningful work, (in)sanity, etc.).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You can learn everything you need to know about life by reading the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.

p.s. This inspired me to try teach my "Novels of Vonnegut" class again in spring 2021.
Profile Image for Matt.
81 reviews
December 11, 2021
An interesting experiment to be sure.
Suzanne McConnell’s friendship with and knowledge of Vonnegut makes this book feel like more than a bunch of relevant quotes falling under their related topics ranging from writing, well being, and more.
If you have an interest in Vonnegut but aren’t an avid fan, this is a good place to get a sense of him as a whole without making the investment of reading the entirety of his works. For anyone who has read more than a few of his books, it can feel like a lot of retreading with a few interesting detours and anecdotes to keep you engaged.
Profile Image for Amelia Harrell.
35 reviews
January 19, 2023
The actual author of this book is Suzanne McConnell, which isn't made obvious by Vonnegut's name in large bright letters. There are many great nuggets of advice, anecdotes from Vonnegut's life, and lovely quotes plucked from his oeuvre gathered in not too many pages. I docked the content because it was organized into a kind of rambly, shapeless way that didn't seem to maintain focus on the chapter topic. Overall, McConnell is a good writer and the advice is solid. I wish the book was more concise.
Profile Image for Igne.
225 reviews9 followers
October 2, 2021
Su tokiomis knygomis lengva peržengti ribą tarp garsaus rašytojo gyvenimiškos ir kūrybinės patirties apibendrinimo ir paprasčiausio pataikavimo jam. Čia autorei beveik pavyksta – jei ne ištisomis pastraipomis su susižavėjimu cituojami Voneguto laiškai ir kiti raštai.
Ir vis tiek knyga man patiko, nors nesu nei Voneguto gerbėja, nei didelė žinovė. Yra čia naudingų patarimų pradedantiems rašytojams, pradedant siužeto planavimu ir baigiant rūpinimusi kūnu ir dvasia. Yra ir paguodos teikian��io patvirtinimo: net patyrę ir žinomi rašytojai pradėdami kiekvieną naują knygą jaučiasi it naujagimiai, nežinantys, ką daro.
Profile Image for Grace.
23 reviews
May 22, 2022
This craft book was harder for me to get through than other recent reads. There is good writing advice inside but you have to sift through a lot of personal anecdotes and novel excerpts to get to it, which I found to be distracting rather than enlightening. Maybe I just need to read more Vonnegut to appreciate this book.
Profile Image for Mallory Lacy.
17 reviews17 followers
May 22, 2020
If any part of you is interested in writing, this book is not to be missed. It is an exploration of the soul while also guiding you through the teachings of Vonnegut. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Shelley.
56 reviews19 followers
October 7, 2020
Kurt Vonnegut's work is everything we need as a survival guide to this world we live in. And this guide comes with a nice funny, dark humor touch from Vonnegut.
Profile Image for Alex Robinson.
Author 33 books202 followers
July 7, 2021
A bit misleading since it’s more a book about Vonnegut’s tips for writers than a proper book by him, but still an entertaining and thoughtful read.
Profile Image for Yehuda.
306 reviews6 followers
June 4, 2023
Loved both the writing advice and the exploration of Vonnegut's life and ideas.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 186 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.