Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Book of the Day: Slaughterhouse Five

Ah, Slaughterhouse Five, the first Kurt Vonnegut novel I ever read. Though I read it about four years ago it's still one of my favorite novels and some of you may have noted a page image from the novel in my side bar.
The ALA's explanation for the challenges against it is a bit long, but here it is:
Challenged in many communities, but burned in Drake, ND (1973). Banned in Rochester, MI because the novel "contains and makes references to religious matters" and thus fell within the ban of the establishment clause. An appellate court upheld its usage in the school in Todd v Rochester Community Schools, 41 Mich. App. 320, 200 N. W 2d 90 (1972). Banned in Levittown, NY (1975), North Jackson, OH (1979), and Lakeland, FL (1982) because of the "book's explicit sexual scenes, violence, and obscene language." Barred from purchase at the Washington Park High School in Racine, WI (1984) by the district administrative assistant for instructional services. Challenged at the Owensboro, KY High School library (1985) because of "foul language, a section depicting a picture of an act of bestiality, a reference to 'Magic Fingers' attached to the protagonist's bed to help him sleep, and the sentence: 'The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty."' Restricted to students who have parental permission at the four Racine, WI Unified District high school libraries (1986) because of "language used in the book depictions of torture, ethnic slurs, and negative portrayals of women:' Challenged at the LaRue County, KY High School library (1987) because "the book contains foul language and promotes deviant sexual behavior” Banned from the Fitzgerald, GA schools (1987) because it was filled with profanity and full of explicit sexual references:' Challenged in the Baton Rouge, LA public high school libraries (1988) because the book is "vulgar and offensive:' Challenged in the Monroe, MI public schools (1989) as required reading in a modem novel course for high school juniors and seniors because of the book's language and the way women are portrayed. Retained on the Round Rock, TX Independent High School reading list (1996) after a challenge that the book was too violent. Challenged as an eleventh grade summer reading option in Prince William County, VA (1998) because the book "was rife with profanity and explicit sex:" Removed as required reading for sophomores at the Coventry, RI High School (2000) after a parent complained that it contained vulgar language, violent imagery, and sexual content. Retained on the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 reading list in Arlington Heights, IL (2006), along with eight other challenged titles. A board member, elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she'd found on the internet. Challenged in the Howell, MI High School (2007) because of the book's strong sexual content. In response to a request from the president of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education, or LOVE, the county's top law enforcement official reviewed the books to see whether laws against distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors had been broken. "After reading the books in question, it is clear that the explicit passages illustrated a larger literary, artistic or political message and were not included solely to appeal to the prurient interests of minors," the county prosecutor wrote. "Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find that they are not in violation of criminal laws.

Really North Dakota? You hated it so much that you had to burn it? I'm sorry, but that's ignorant. I think the county prosecutor's comment about the "larger literary, artistic or political message" was spot on. Vonnegut makes a strong comment about the traumas of war and the holes in society, every word he chooses is for a reason. Best of all, it's bitingly funny. Too many writers pile in sex, profanity and violence just for commercial appeal or shock value. Vonnegut isn't one of those.
I consider myself a tame person, especially in terms of the content of the entertainment I choose- apparently many of the books I enjoy are wildly inappropriate. That's a surprise.


  1. Oooh, those comments make me want to read that book even more! >:)

  2. It's a very complex novel that really makes you think, I thoroughly enjoyed it.