Cover image for Bagombo snuff box : uncollected short fiction
Bagombo snuff box : uncollected short fiction
Vonnegut, Kurt.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [1999]

Physical Description:
295 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Before the Golden Age of magazines drew to a close half a century ago -- soon to be beaten at the entertainment game by the new little boxes with moving images that were finding their way into the homes of more and more Americans -- a young PR man at General Electric sold his first short story to one of the doomed publications. By the time he'd sold his third, he decided to quit GE and join the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Faulkner. and try to make a living at fifteen hundred dollars a pop. With four major magazines running five stories each week and smaller ones scouting as well, it was a seller's market, and Kurt Vonnegut was delighted -- and comfortable -- being published regularly by The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Argosy, and others.

Author Notes

The appeal of Kurt Vonnegut, especially to bright younger readers of the past few decades, may be attributed partly to the fact that he is one of the few writers who have successfully straddled the imaginary line between science-fiction/fantasy and "real literature." He was born in Indianapolis and attended Cornell University, but his college education was interrupted by World War II. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned in Dresden, he received a Purple Heart for what he calls a "ludicrously negligible wound." After the war he returned to Cornell and then earned his M.A. at the University of Chicago.He worked as a police reporter and in public relations before placing several short stories in the popular magazines and beginning his career as a novelist.

His first novel, Player Piano (1952), is a highly credible account of a future mechanistic society in which people count for little and machines for much. The Sirens of Titan (1959), is the story of a playboy whisked off to Mars and outer space in order to learn some humbling lessons about Earth's modest function in the total scheme of things. Mother Night (1962) satirizes the Nazi mentality in its narrative about an American writer who broadcasts propaganda in Germany during the war as an Allied agent. Cat's Cradle (1963) makes use of some of Vonnegut's experiences in General Electric laboratories in its story about the discovery of a special kind of ice that destroys the world. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) satirizes a benevolent foundation set up to foster the salvation of the world through love, an endeavor with, of course, disastrous results. Slaughterhouse-Five; or The Children's Crusade (1969) is the book that marked a turning point in Vonnegut's career. Based on his experiences in Dresden, it is the story of another Vonnegut surrogate named Billy Pilgrim who travels back and forth in time and becomes a kind of modern-day Everyman. The novel was something of a cult book during the Vietnam era for its antiwar sentiments. Breakfast of Champions (1973), the story of a Pontiac dealer who goes crazy after reading a science fiction novel by "Kilgore Trout," received generally unfavorable reviews but was a commercial success. Slapstick (1976), dedicated to the memory of Laurel and Hardy, is the somewhat wacky memoir of a 100-year-old ex-president who thinks he can solve society's problems by giving everyone a new middle name. In addition to his fiction, Vonnegut has published nonfiction on social problems and other topics, some of which is collected in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974).

He died from head injuries sustained in a fall on April 11, 2007.

(Bowker Author Biography) Kurt Vonnegut is among the few grandmasters of 20th century American letters. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922. Vonnegut lives in New York City.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Vonnegut said that his last book, Timequake (1997), would be his last, but no one as imaginative and in love with language and story can resist the lure of the page, and it's obvious that he had a grand time working on this collection of his vintage stories. Welcome to the Monkey House (1968), his first story collection, contains 23 tales, and so does this volume, which also resurrects Vonnegut's earliest efforts, stories written during the fifties and sixties for such popular venues as the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. In his engagingly autobiographical introduction, Vonnegut describes his stints as a Chicago journalist and PR man for General Electric in Schenectady, New York; his decision to supplement his income by writing; and his rapid success and evolution into a full-time writer. So, here are his literary roots, a set of stories that reflects their era's eagerness to turn the horrors of war into anecdote and to equate technology with progress. Unabashedly fablelike, they can be either sly or sweet, sentimental or vaudevillian, but all are quietly subversive. In "Thanasphere," Vonnegut imagines an early space flight in which an astronaut hears the voices of the dead. Elsewhere he mocks the rah-rah attitude of emerging corporate culture. In "Custom-Made Bride," he contrasts an earnest investment counselor with an obsessive artist, and several ebullient stories feature a small-town high-school bandleader. Rich in low-key humor and good old-fashioned morality, Vonnegut's stories are both wily and tender. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Any new book by Vonnegut, especially since he has vowed to retire from literature, will be welcomed by his fans. But as the author himself says in his introduction, these 23 apprenticeship stories "were expected to be among the living about as long as individual lightning bugs," and they will be of most interest to completists and scholars. Vonnegut's best short stories from the '50s were collected in Welcome to the Monkey House. Those in this collection for the most part work humbly with formulas dear to mid-century middlebrow magazines like Colliers. Included are tales like "The No-Talent Kid" and "The Boy Who Hated Girls," both featuring a genial bandmaster named George Helmholtz, who has to deal with misfit high school boys while dreaming of owning a seven-foot-tall drum. In "Thanasphere," Vonnegut tries out a sci-fi themeÄa man is sent into space in a rocket and discovers that space is full of the voices of the dead. In a short, ironic piece, "Der Arme Dolmetscher," a soldier who recites a line from Heine's "Die Lorelei" that he has learned by rote is assumed to "talk Kraut" by a bungling officer. Pressed into service as a translator, he acquires just enough of the language to help his detachment surrender in the Battle of the Bulge. The title story concerns a man who visits his ex-wife and feeds her a cock-and-bull story about being an adventurer. In "Runaways," two teenagers realize that love is not enough to get married on, gently deflating the myth of the then-incipient youth culture long before the Summer of Love. Vonnegut's afterword, "Coda to My Career as a Writer for Periodicals," comments in his trademark style about his midwestern origins and the vagaries of writing for magazines. BOMC featured alternate. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Last year Vonnegut distressed his fans by saying that Timequake was his final book. The unexpected appearance of Bagombo Snuff Box this year is therefore a welcome surprise. However, it should be understood that this book contains no new fiction; it's a collection of stories that haven't seen the light of day since Vonnegut published them in early 1950s magazines. Their not being reprinted sooner says something about them--most simply aren't very good. When they start to develop interesting ideas, they tend to end abruptly and pointlessly. As a group, they're little more than curious relics revealing little of what makes Vonnegut's later work special. If anyone other than Vonnegut had written them, this book wouldn't draw flies. However, he did write them, and that means the book will draw library patrons aplenty. Alexander Marshall's reading is service able, but the real treat in this abridged audio edition is the author himself; he narrates his own lengthy, and often revealing, introduction and afterword. His reading alone is worth the price of admission, and it makes this an almost obligatory purchase for libraries catering to his readers.--R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Peter Reed
Prefacep. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Thanaspherep. 13
Mnemonicsp. 29
Any Reasonable Offerp. 33
The Packagep. 45
The No-Talent Kidp. 63
Poor Little Rich Townp. 75
Souvenirp. 89
The Cruise of The Jolly Rogerp. 99
Custom-Made Bridep. 109
Ambitious Sophomorep. 123
Bagombo Snuff Boxp. 135
The Powder-Blue Dragonp. 147
A Present for Big Saint Nickp. 159
Unpaid Consultantp. 171
Der Arme Dolmetscherp. 183
The Boy Who Hated Girlsp. 189
This Son of Minep. 201
A Night for Lovep. 217
Find Me a Dreamp. 233
Runawaysp. 243
2BR02Bp. 259
Lovers Anonymousp. 269
Hal Irwin's Magic Lampp. 281
Coda to My Career as a Writer for Periodicalsp. 289

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