Saturday, April 14, 2007

So It Goes

We lost Kurt Vonnegut this week. He lived to the ripe old age of 84 and his sharp wit was with him until almost the end. I saw him on The Daily Show a year or so ago, swapping quips with Jon Stewart. His trademark "Einstein" hair had turned completely white and he was a little feeble, but the mind was still there.

I first discovered Vonnegut's writings during the summer before my senior year in high school. I first picked up one of his books because a guy I had a crush on really liked Vonnegut, and what better excuse to talk to a guy than to fake an interest in something he's interested in too? But after the first few pages of the first book, I liked Vonnegut for himself and not just because of some skinny teenaged boy whose name I can't even remember thought his books were cool. The first book I read (strictly by chance) was Breakfast of Champions. I knew I had found someone I could relate to when I saw Vonnegut's drawing of an asshole right there on the page in black and white. This was clearly a guy who had a sense of humor and did not take himself too seriously. (Does anybody besides me remember his cameo in Back to School?)

Vonnegut's most famous book is probably Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel is partially set during WWII in Dresden, during the Allied fire-bombing of the city. It is part sci-fi and part history, but the Dresden pieces are based on fact. Vonnegut was actually in Dresden during the fire-bombing and its aftermath. He was an American POW held by Germany. He, his fellow prisoners and their guards survived the bombing and resulting firestorm in an underground meat-packing cellar, hence the title of the book. After the destroyed city had cooled enough for them to come out of the cellar, the German guards put the American prisoners to work pulling corpses from the rubble. I'm sure he saw far worse things during that time than any of us can imagine.

Slaughterhouse-Five has been a frequently banned book in the years since it was published. Various groups of concerned citizens have tried to remove the book from library shelves and class curriculum for decades. Self-appointed do-gooders dislike the book for being "rife with profanity and explicit sex" and "vulgar and offensive" and for "depictions of torture, ethnic slurs, and negative portrayals of women." They don't think the book should be available for just anyone who wants to read it. They're sure that if it weren't for all those vile books, we could go on pretending that nothing "vulgar and offensive" exists, as the good lord intended us to do. They can't sit by and allow those depraved writers to corrupt the minds of American youth by telling them that there is more to the world than the street they live on or the church they attend. And they certainly can't have anyone hearing things that they don't agree with, or, god forbid, encouraging children to THINK. Civilization would surely crumble down around us.

In the couple of interviews I've heard with Vonnegut, he never seemed to be concerned about the book-banners. After all, Slaughterhouse-Five has probably received more press for being banned than it would have if the do-gooders had just ignored it. Sometimes do-gooders aren't very smart.

So long Mr. Vonnegut, and thanks for writing all that "vulgar and offensive" stuff. We'll miss you.

P.S. Read a banned book every chance you get. A little thinking never hurt anybody.

9 Comments:

Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

And producing almost until the end. I haven't read A Man Without A Country Yet but Slaughterhouse Five was unforgettable.

He will be much missed.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

I'm sticking with "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"

8:08 PM  
Blogger Whippersnapper said...

They played an old interview with him on CBC radio two days ago. He was very much in mourning for your country.

He once said (something like) you had two choices in life: Get really, really angry, or laugh. I agree, and that's why I like reading your blog.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Gardener Greg said...

I too read some of his works while I was in highschool and loved his writing. We need more people that are not afraid to express themselves. Thanks for the post, I was comtemplating making a similar post.

10:25 AM  
Blogger nic said...

Hey, thanks for posting that. I'll miss Vonnegut, too. And as a middle school librarian, thanks for the plug for banned books. That's great.

On a flip side story, I put up a bulletin board that says "You are not allowed to read these books" and put up pictures of tons of banned and challenged books we have in our media center. Then I put up a banner about banned books. Parents were calling and coming in, absolutely furious, thinking we were the ones banning the books.

First of all, I'm amazed the kids noticed the bulletin board, and it caught their attention enough that the message went home.
Second, I was glad to see that some parents stand up for stuff that other parents want gone.

I think so long as there is an open discussion between a kid and his/her parents about the topics in controversial books, it's okay to let them read it.

Someone once said, "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home. But unlike charity, it should end there." (I think her name was Booth)

However, I admit I'm guilty of censorship: I cringe at the idea of putting The Anarchist's Cookbook on my middle school shelves... Like these kids need to know how to make bombs.

Anyway, I'm off my soap box. :)
Again, Thanks for the post!

4:20 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

I'm such a fan of old-school assholes. Hunter S. Thompson...Vonnegut...and the like.

Can you be my new Vonnegut, Jill?

9:46 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

I have some books I'd like to ban:

1. Confessions of an Heiress - Paris Hilton
2. The Truth About Diamonds - Nicole Richie
3. Godless: The Church of Liberalism - Ann Coulter
4. Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic Tranquility - Judith Martin
5. The Yearling - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

I freakin' hate The Yearling. Anyway, those are banned from my home. You wanna call me an evil censoring whore? Well...you may, but I challenge you to read any of those without wanting to gauge out your own eyes. I'm doing mankind a favor.

3:18 PM  
Blogger nic said...

In that case, kara, can I add any book by Lurlene McDaniel. The Gossip Girls series, as well as the Clique series. And most popular television. I don't care if it isn't a book.

Mindless Drivel. Where's my copy of Nineteen Eighty Four?!

:D

9:25 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

sam, I haven't kept with everything he's written lately. This si the perfect excuse to catch up.

stucco, Yes, definitely another great one.

whippersnapper, Yeah, laughing is better than spending your whole life pissed off.

greg, Hi Greg! Thanks for stopping by.

nic, I have very mixed feelings about stuff like The Anarchist's Cookbook too. It's a very fine line. It's good to know that most parents were mad about books being banned in their school. In an old interview, I heard Vonnegut say that book banning have always happened throughout history. It's only just lately that people have been opposing the bannings, and that's why we hear about it more now.

jocelyn, Those are some mighty big shoes to fill. I don't have the talent or the productivity to manage it.

kara, Totally agree. In fact, I think Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Anne Coulter should be banned from breathing air. I've never read The Yearling, but I'll take your word for it. As for Miss Manners, well...it's MISS MANNERS. That says it all.

nic, Hmm, maybe there's another post on tis topic brewing somewhere. I think I'll add movies that should be banned too.

2:14 PM  

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