First of all, he or she (just kidding, it’ll definitely be a he) won’t actually ask you whether or not you’ve read Vonnegut. Instead, they’ll start by squeezing an obscure reference to one of Vonnegut’s books into an otherwise harmless conversation. “That guy was such a Tralfamadorian,” they’ll say, perplexingly, in response to a story about how your sister just adopted a fox terrier. “Watch out for the Pluto Gang,” they’ll warn with a wink, interrupting your explanation of quantum mechanics.
At this point, there are two ways to avoid the situation that is now hurtling towards you:
One: Proclaim very loudly that a Vonnegut reference has been made. Be as specific as possible, as more generic statements (“OH, I LOVE VONNEGUT!” or “NICE! VONNEGUT IS MY FAVE!”) tend to leave room for further questioning, such as to which Vonnegut work the speaker was referring, when it was published, and what it means — no, like, what it really means.
Two: In the more likely scenario that there will not be a pause in conversation allowing you to speak, nod emphatically, clap your hands together, and fix the speaker with a firm gaze of such undeniable comprehension and awed appreciation that there can be no doubt as to whether you understood their reference.
If for some reason you are unable to perform either of these maneuvers, steel yourself for the inevitable: “What,” they’ll say, with a half-smile of expansive bemusement, “You haven’t read Vonnegut?”
Once this phrase — which is not, though it bears a misleading resemblance to one, a question — has been uttered, you have reached a point of no return. From here on out, nothing that has heretofore existed in the conversation is as important as relaying to you the significance of Vonnegut’s work.
If you are lucky, this explanation will be limited to the specific reference made, what it means in the context of that particular book, and what was so different about the way Vonnegut wrote it.
If you are not lucky, this explanation will expand to include a detailed description of your own misinformed preconceptions about Vonnegut, and why you really ought to try him anyway.
To save you time in such a situation — in which time is infinite, but still, precious — here is an abridged list of strategies which will not save you:
1. Gently inform the speaker that you have actually read Vonnegut and that you got their reference the first time.
2. Hand them the dissertation you wrote for your Ph.D. in literature, which thoroughly details Vonnegut’s influence on the sociocultural sphere in the late 20th century.
3. Hand them two dissertations you wrote for your Ph.D. in literature, both of which thoroughly detail Vonnegut’s influence on the sociocultural sphere in the late 20th century.
4. Give them a notarized copy of the book report you wrote on Player Piano in 1952.
5. Produce the stash of unpublished Vonnegut manuscripts that you keep in your handbag at all times.
6. Pull your face off to reveal that you were really Kurt Vonnegut all along.
7. Loudly recount the plotline of the most recent three episodes of Empire while they are talking.
8. Beg them to stop.
Instead, refer to this list of effective countermeasures.
1. Knock the drink out of their hands, rip your shirt off, cry “MAKE ME YOUNG!”1 and run far, far away.
1 That was a Vonnegut reference. Just testing you.