My friend Stefan Hagemann writes:
On another note, I just finished rereading Slaughterhouse Five. I think it sort of counts towards your suggestion to reread a "crucial book from childhood," though I didn't read it for that reason. Rather, I was talking politics with a neighbor who is also an avid reader and somehow our conversation came around to Vonnegut. We'd both read it in high school, and while I probably remembered it a bit better (maybe because I'm a little younger), our memories were pretty fuzzy, so we both revisited it. It was a good experience and I'm looking forward to discussing it with her. There were entire scenes that I'd forgotten. My favorite is when Billy Pilgrim is time traveling/hallucinating and he encounters a war movie in reverse:
"The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. The used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new....The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby."
Now I'm rereading Paradise Lost in preparation for the fall semester. Like Slaughterhouse Five, it's a much easier go this time than the last, but unlike Slaughterhouse Five, there aren't a lot of laughs. Lots of infinite wrath and infinite despair, however. So it goes.