Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No 67: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse Five appears at number 67 of the American Library Association's list of Most Challenged Books (1990-2000) and holds a special place in my heart. It was assigned summer reading by Miami University (college old and grand) for all entering students my freshman year. I thought it was strange and wonderful. I was, of course, right.

Slaughterhouse Five has been the subject of MANY attempts at censorship since its publication in 1969. In fact, Slaughterhouse was challenged all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1982, (Island Trees School District v. Pico). In case you’re wondering, the Supreme Court upheld the right of students to read it and teachers to teach it. Its critics have called it "dangerous" because of violent, irreverent, profane, sexually explicit and anti-American content.

I could break each of those criticisms down one by one but that might be boring. Here’s the gist of it... Slaughterhouse is set during WWII. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is an American POW who survives the bombing of Dresden. That it doesn’t shy away from describing the civilian casualties of the attack (read: Americans who are supposed to be the good guys attacking a city and killing innocent people) has made its critics cranky for years. Toss in Vonnegut’s general irreverence, Sci-Fi themes, swearing soldiers, sex, and bashing of free will and you get a lot of pissed off people.

What can I say? Vonnegut is not for everyone but if you like your reading thought provoking and irreverent, you should check it out. It's worth noting that Slaughterhouse is one of the first literary acknowledgments that the Nazi Holocaust also targeted homosexual men.

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