So it goes.

November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007

One of my favorite writers (and humans) ever, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., died six years ago yesterday.

If you know me personally, you would know how much I love Kurt Vonnegut. He has been a monumental literary hero in my life. I read my first book by him (Cat’s Cradle) on a boring summer day, in front of my computer, not knowing what to expect. I fell in love with his words and his dark, dark, dark humor and humanity always resonated with me.

I went on to read more of his works (pirated, on my slow PC), then started building up a humble legit Vonnegut collection on my shelves. I still remember the first time I saw a Kurt Vonnegut paperback. It was in Fullybooked and when I saw five of his books lined up in a shelf, I stifled a scream. I have to buy those books! And I did, eventually, after painstakingly saving up for it. There are so many things you will do for love.

It’s rare to find a hero that speaks so well to you, and very wonderfully tells the things you wanted to say, but couldn’t. Or don’t know how. I related so well with him through his works. He was my spirit animal – Kurt Vonnegut was cynical (as I was), but he was also hopeful (as I came to be). He taught me that you can be both. To paraphrase a fellow fan, Steve Almond,

Vonnegut has seen the worst of human conduct, and refused to lie about it. But he has not allowed his doubt against humanity curdle into cynicism… With his books, Kurt Vonnegut converted grief into laughter by means of courageous imagination. Like any decent parent, he had made the astonishing sorrow of the examined life bearable.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”  Alackday, and fuck my luck – that became the method to my madness in dealing with horrifics and my occasionally joyless life. We are all fucked and are going to die, but things are still funny.

We’re all part of a granfalloon, Mr. Vonnegut! I never knew you, but I miss you. Thanks for all the stories.

Iain Menzies Banks

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You must’ve heard the news. Scottish author Iain Banks has been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer, and he has informed everyone that he may be taken from us in a matter of months. This announcement came to me a few hours after I knew of a dear friend’s passing – Mommy Sylvia has gone into the good night last week, also from cancer. The pain that cancer brings hits very close to home. The grief of knowing the impending loss of someone you love is very real to me, and this early grief can sometimes be more terrifying and disabling than the pain of finally losing your beloved.

I am gutted to hear about Mr. Banks’s diagnosis to an almost embarrassing degree. It’s odd to be so distressed over a stranger’s health but Iain’s works have been a great consolation to me on my darkest days. I picked up my first Banks novel (The Crow Road) while I was beside my mother’s hospital bed. There are still many things I do not understand about death, but Prentice McHoan taught me the universality of loss – that there is nothing unfair about death, and people dying is merely part of how the universe works. The great side effect of growing old is outliving people, and I was glad to have Iain’s Prentice teach me about things I couldn’t, or refuse to understand while my brain was muddled with angst and anxiety.  

The Crow Road‘s darkly comedic take on heart-rending grief was the first book last year that really, truly healed me. Under wonderfully woven words is a writer who looks through you and understands you. He sees the world and brings it to you with his works.

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Right after The Crow Road, I picked up The Wasp Factory which is a novel of a different and darker caliber. This man has a way with words that will have lasting effect on you. I was making my way to some of this other mainstream novels (I have Complicity and The Steep Approach to Garbadale on my shelves), and finally on his works as Iain M. Banks (novels I have not read but have placed on pedestals), when this happens.

But Iain Banks also taught me that there really is no finality in death. There is no final page. The characters he has brought to life will stay with me for a long, long time and his legacy of outstanding literature will outlive every one of us.

Thank you so much for the stories, Iain. I will try to do you some of the honor you deserve by retelling them.

We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash. Death was change; it led to new chances, new vacancies, new niches and opportunities; it was not all loss.

Banksophilia: Friends of Iain Banks for updates and best wishes.