"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Slaughterhouse-Five---reading a banned book for Banned Books Week

It is Banned Books Week. Every year at this time I like to exert my freedom-to-read-what-I-want by selecting a book which has been, at one time or another, a banned or challenged book. This year I selected Kurt Vonnegut's famous anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. This is one of the great ironies of life---the book which is around 250 pages long, is actually a very short audiobook. It was only 6 hours long which I was able to complete in a just few trips back and forth to see my new grandson. What took be so long to listen to this classic, identified as one of Modern Library Top 100 novels of the 20th Century?

Whenever I read a book which has been identified as a banned book, I find myself contemplating this question as I read, "Why would anyone want to ban this book?" The answer was very apparent to me with this one.  Published in 1969, at the height of both the anti-war and the hippie movements, Slaughterhouse-Five is very trippy. In typical Vonnegut style, the book is often vulgar and unconventional.  He doesn't even try to make it acceptable to prudes and over-protective parents who think they can save their children and society in general by not allowing their children, or anyone's children, from reading the book. Yet, Slaughterhouse-Five begs to be discussed and taught in a classroom setting. As soon as someone says to children that they have to read something, out come the folks who want to ban the book.

If you don't know anything about Slaughterhouse-Five, I encourage you to read the summary of it. Here is a pretty good summary at Goodreads. Vonnegut served in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the fire-bombing of the city by the Allies. Though not autobiographical, one gets the distinct impression that Vonnegut knew what he was talking about as we see the events as they unfold for Billy Pilgrim. Pilgrim becomes completely unstuck from time as he travels back and forth from the events in 1944 in Dresden and 1967 when he is abducted to the planet Tralfamadore by aliens, and points of time in between. The reader is never quite sure if Billy is just crazy or if he really was abducted because the story, like Billy's life is so fractured.

This absurdist novel was immediately embraced by a country in the midst of another war, Vietnam, in 1970. War is absurd and the little guy, who is the one who fights and dies, is truly the pawn of those in power who sit back and make their moves. This message rang true to America's counter-culturalists, and I suspect it would ring true today as people contemplate the bluster we are hearing from Trump and President of North Korea. But, unfortunately, I don't think the book is read or taught often anymore. This is one of the big problems for a banned or challenged book---school boards are much less likely to approve books which will draw criticism from parents (tax-payers.)

Since I listened to the audiobook I had no idea that the first chapter wasn't actually a preface. In the first chapter Vonnegut talks as himself about the writing process and how he finally decided how to put his story of the fire-bombing of Dresden forward. Unlike most novels the reader is always aware of Vonnegut in this one since he is the narrator. About the book Vonnegut said, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."  The novel, as absurd and humorous as it is, seems extremely impactful and, I suspect, memorable. It may have taken me forty-seven years to get to it, but I am glad I finally read it and will recommend it to others to do the same.

Read a banned book! Words have power! Here is a list of Top Ten Challenged books last year:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your turn. Please comment below.