Hear John Malkovich Read From Breakfast of Champions, Then Hear Kurt Vonnegut Do the Same

In high school when I was try­ing to write sur­re­al­is­tic short sto­ries in the vein of Richard Brauti­gan, despite not real­ly under­stand­ing 90 per­cent of Richard Brauti­gan, my Eng­lish teacher rec­om­mend­ed I start read­ing Kurt Von­negut, so lat­er that day I went down to our city’s sci-fi book/comic book store and bought on her rec­om­men­da­tion Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons. A com­ic nov­el, it was breezy and fun, and by gum, had car­toons in it! (One was of a cat’s but­t­hole, the effect of which on a high schooler’s mind can­not be over­stat­ed.)

But, I admit, I haven’t read it since–the world and my tsun­doku is too big for rereadings–and maybe you haven’t read it at all, or per­haps it’s your favorite book. It was the nov­el Von­negut pub­lished four years after his best known work Slaugh­ter­house Five. When he grad­ed his nov­els in his 1981 “Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Col­lage” Palm Sun­day he gave Break­fast a C. It’s cer­tain­ly one of his most ram­bling nov­els, where he brings back Slaugh­ter­house Five’s sci-fi author Kil­go­re Trout and pairs him with the delu­sion­al Dwayne Hoover, and unpacks all the dark parts of Amer­i­can his­to­ry, from racism to cap­i­tal­ism to envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in pas­sages both sober and bleak­ly com­ic.

John Malkovich does­n’t seem like the obvi­ous choice to read Von­negut for this audio­book, a short excerpt of which can be heard above. (Note: you can down­load the com­plete Malkovich read­ing for free via Audi­ble’s Free Tri­al pro­gram.) But the pas­sage is key in that it intro­duces the mar­ti­ni cock­tail lounge ori­gins of the book’s title, and Malkovich brings out the droll irony of Vonnegut’s writ­ing, espe­cial­ly the way he rolls the word “schiz­o­phre­nia” off his tongue. There’s a bit of the schizoid in every author, let­ting a world of char­ac­ters speak through them like a medi­um.

For com­par­i­son, check out this ear­li­er Open Cul­ture post about Von­negut read­ing a long sec­tion from Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons in 1970. The author chuck­les at some of his more com­ic pas­sages, and the audi­ence roars along. The tim­ing is that of a standup rou­tine, but this opening—one assumes its the opening—would go on to be furi­ous­ly rewrit­ten, drop­ping the first per­son style. It’s an alter­na­tive uni­verse Break­fast that can only leave one to won­der how the rest of the nov­el might have been han­dled.

h/t Ayun

Relat­ed con­tent:

Richard Brautigan’s Sto­ry, ‘One After­noon in 1939,’ Read From a Wood­en Spool

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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