I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to say I love Kurt Vonnegut. I won’t say that all of his books are literary masterpieces (mostly because I haven’t read them all and also because no one is that good). But my love of Kurt Vonnegut extends beyond the many many books he’s written. The bits and pieces I’ve learned and discovered about the way he lived his life and how he saw the world endear me to him even more than his fantastic and bizarre stories.
There aren’t many books I’ll read over again but Vonnegut is one who’s works I’ve made a note of picking up again later in life. It’s been true for his novels and it is true for this collection of speeches.
After I finished If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? and reflected on it for a bit, I found myself thinking that Vonnegut has some qualities similar to Douglas Adams. (This thinking was likely brought about by my recent reading of Dirk Gently’s adventures.) In many of his speeches, Vonnegut starts off in one place and then meanders down a path of tangents and side notes that at the same time distract and still build on the story he started out with. And in the end, the reader is still left feeling like they learned something. But, in my case at least, the reader is also left scratching their head wondering if they really did learn something, and if they did, what is it?
That’s why I say I’ve made a note to re-read Vonnegut’s books later in my life. On the first read I took what I could from the story but I was left feeling like there were things I hadn’t quite grasped, that I had missed or not been made aware of yet.
The clear theme in this collection is the question posed in the title, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Vonnegut mentions it in several of the speeches, attributing the line to his uncle Alex.
“My uncle Alex Vonnegut…taught me something very important. He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to NOTICE it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories.
Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
I think this is such a lovely idea. Cliche as it might seem, often people do spend too much time waiting for big things to happen, life-changing events that make you feel on top of the world, things that turn your whole life around. And those are great moments, but they don’t come along very often. Life is made up of the smaller moments, the ones we often take for granted. That’s where our happiness really comes from and more often than not we forget that.
Like Uncle Alex did a young Kurt Vonnegut, I would urge you to notice those moments in life, those simple occasions, and when you do, say to yourself, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”