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Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  285 ratings  ·  59 reviews
The art and craft of writing by one of the few grandmasters of American literature, a bonanza for writers and listeners 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 has given us glimpses in his aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches. But, never before has an entire book bee
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published November 5th 2019 by Seven Stories Press
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Niklas Pivic
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 publishe
Jason Bergman
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: from-heather
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. ...more
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Lanette Sweeney
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 Wo
Zachary Houle
Nov 10, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Adam Floridia
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
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 jus ...more
Kathy Brown
(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.
Mallory Lacy
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A well written, well research and informative book about an author I love.
There were great insight and it's well researched and full of food for thought.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Bonnie Schroeder
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This book’s subtitle, “On Writing with Style,” is misleading. There is very little information in here about how to write with style, or even how Vonnegut did it. There is a lot of fascinating information about the celebrated writer, with many quotations from his work, but the over-arching theme seems to be McConnell’s friendship with Vonnegut, both as a student and fellow writer.
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Kyle Marie
This is a great book for a fan of Vonnegut. Unfortunately, it can't decide what kind of book it wants to be: biography, academic study, or writing advice. The result is a muddled product. I had trouble staying interested, and it felt like the author jumped around in their stories and points they were trying to make. The tone was also inconsistent, sometimes being overly casual, others very rigid and academic.

I'd recommend this for someone interested in Vonnegut's life and work, but not as much f
Andrew Shaffer
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
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.
Dick Cummins
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Conversations with the Ghost of Kurt Vonnegut on Writing and More
by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell -

Fifty years ago a reviewer of Slaughterhouse-Five said: “Kurt Vonnegut is the only writer in America over forty that readers under thirty can trust.” Those readers are probably in their seventies now and will love Pity the Reader, On Writing With Style by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell.
Full disclosure, Suzanne and I were classmates in Vonnegut’s section at
Chris DiLeo
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We've all gone through our Vonnegut phase—usually when we're teenagers and we carry around our copy of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE or BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, marveling at the wit, at the sardonic and sometimes cynical view of life that appeals to the teenage mind—but Vonnegut is worth much more time, reading, and consideration than those teenage years offered.

His style and his tone may not be for every reader, and even I can get tired of his narrative tactics, but Vonnegut's work is genius: it reveals t
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"So a writer is someone who is willing to be uncomfortable enough--or is uncomfortable enough by nature--to wonder where people are, where they're going, and why they're going there. A writer is willing to take risks for that wondering. A writer cares that much about his or her subject" (49).
"A show of hands, please: How many of you have had a teacher at any stage of your education, from the first grade until this day in May,who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive, tha
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a weird book. It's either a memoir disguised as a book on the craft of writing, or a book on the craft of writing disguised as a memoir. I'm still not sure. It was written by a former student and friend of Vonnegut, Suzanne McConnell, but really contains his thoughts on writing and the writing life--with some commentary by the McConnell. I was an extremely late-comer to Vonnegut, and what I loved about this book was how much I learned about his life and his voice outside the novels. It m ...more
Scott Oglesby
Half Vonnegut and half McConnell (the author), this combo writing manual/memoir digs deep into the writer, Kurt Vonnegut. Suzanne McConnell was a Iowa workshop student of his and they became lifelong friends. This gave her special insights into Vonnegut, the man, the writer and quirky legend. The beauty of her book is the format which examines Vonnegut's style, humor and writing, along with his human qualities, a lovely person that after this book, you will wish you had known personally. McConne ...more
Chris Geggis
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've read a several books on writing and this is definitely my favorite. I'm perhaps a tad biased because Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. I think anyone looking for a great book on writing would enjoy it. Suzanne McConnell does an absolutely incredible job of pulling together Vonnegut's thoughts on writing to the reader. She is clearly a talented writer herself and her own thoughts on writing are invaluable as well. I especially enjoyed her recollections of her own personal interactions wit ...more
Brenna Crosby
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
One sentence synopsis... Part memoir, part guidebook this is a page-turning compilation of stories and tips from the mind of one of the most humorous, intelligent writers in American history. .

Read it if you like... learning about the lives of great artists. Looking behind the curtain to get an idea of how much hard work actually went into producing such classics as ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ and ‘Breakfast of Champions’. .

Further reading... this book is full of great behind the scene stories about t
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good companion book to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I didn’t realize that Vonnegut was working out his neuroses in his books...figuring out the rhythms of life and not life. His relegation to his eldest daughter that he was no more capable of responding to the death of their pet dog than she was as a child was enlightening...he was maybe a half second ahead of her in understanding life’s mystery.

I enjoyed this book as a tour of Vonnegut’s life and times, especially in Iowa City teaching at t
Joel Mathis
Apr 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The first book I've read beginning to finish since the pandemic forced us into lockdown. It's structured as a kind of primer to good writing, using Kurt Vonnegut as a guide, but it's really better read as a "quotable Vonnegut," drawing from his fiction,nonfiction, letters and other archival material to give us a sense of his overall outlook. Being able to pluck Vonnegut gems from this book over the last two weeks has functioned as a kind of devotional for me, a place to find wisdom in a time whe ...more
Mark Schaefer
May 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pity the Reader is written the way Kurt Vonnegut challenged his students to write: Dare to a create a story more luminescent than all the other pearls out there. Write with passion and humor. Take the reader on a hell of ride—and above all, don’t forget that in the end, they’re not going to find the message in your work if they’re not enjoying themselves along the way. Pity is a book on writing for those who want to learn the craft and enjoy the experience along the way. Suzanne McConnell takes ...more
Anna Macomber
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
May, 2020 - DNF/H 4/5

I started reading this for my senior capstone but was unable to finish it before the deadline. So I put it aside in favor of finishing other class work and graduating.

That said I did enjoy this book and the insights it provided. So while technically this is DNF, I think it would be more accurate to describe it as a hiatus. Currently the book it sitting on my shelves back home, on the other side of the country. It’s very likely I will be picking it back up when I come home, l
Sep 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
I got very excited by the idea of a writer's guide written by dear Mr. Vonnegut. But he died in 2007 and this is no such thing; it is written by someone who lacks the late Kurt's credibilty but who apparently felt attending his workshops entitled her to claim this book as part of his canon, putting his name as lead author. If you want an actual writing guide from the master, google, "vonnegut how to write with style" for his two page essay which was used as the underpinning structure for this 40 ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As both a Vonnegut fan and a wannabe writer, this book was perfect for me. Good insights into the life and work of my favorite author, deeper dives into his advice for writers, written and compiled with the same type of humanity and humor KV himself would have appreciated. If you are looking solely for a good writing book, or a good book about Kurt, you might find this a bit lacking. If you, too, find yourself in the center of these two interests, then I think you will enjoy this very much.
Ann Stoney
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Suzanne McConnell effortlessly weaves together her personal experiences as a friend and student of Vonnegut's, with his writings, and his steely and practical advice for writers, in a style that is enjoyable, inspirational, and easy to read. Clearly, they are both great teachers and writers. A must-have for anyone who has an interest in Vonnegut's life and work, and for writers seeking inspiration and advice about craft.

Mr. Dietz
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A charming companion to Vonnegut’s bibliography, and a compelling collection of writerly advice. It’s a dense text, stuffed with anecdotes and reproductions and excerpts. Aspiring writers could find worse models to guide their process. Vonnegut was absolutely the man, and I need to invest some more of my time in his fiction very soon.
Michael Beanland
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book full of practical...and real...advice and insight into living the writing life and, for that matter, living the creative life no matter what direction your creativity takes you.

I should plan on reading it again in the future. I doubt I’ve absorbed as much knowledge from it as it offers.

Kurt V comes across as another interesting man that I wish I could have known.
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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 journali

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