Sunday, December 08, 2013

Let Us Give Thanks to the Censors

...for they point the way to the Good Stuff!

I was at the tail end of eighth grade in 1975 when I read in the paper that parents in South Dakota were burning copies of Slaughterhouse Five because some high school cheerleader complained to her mom about having to read it for class. So I snagged a copy with my lawnmowing money on my next trip out to Waldenbooks in the mall, and blazed through the entire novel in one day of stolen minutes at school. 

I’ve always been a slow, leisurely kind of reader, so this alone was shocking. The way I so easily fell into the groove of the “unstuck in time” motif was another shocker. I’ve never been a fan of most literary gimmicks, but my cool new best bud Kurt not only made his non-chronological approach to telling the story seem perfectly natural, but the only way to explain his memories of surviving the Battle of the Bulge, starving in a German POW camp, and the firebombing of Dresden. 

Shocker #3 was learning that veterans of the Last Good War weren’t entirely sold on the idea of it being a particularly Good War. I picked up quickly that the people who were most high on war (like, say, the then-recently wrapped Vietnam debacle) were the blowhards who never served — or if they did, they were in the rear with the gear, and well out of harm’s way. 

Slaughterhouse Five turned out to be quite the gateway drug. One of my favorite memories of the Summer of ‘75 was reading a friend’s dad’s hardcover edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier novel, Cat’s Cradle. Until then, I’d mostly read throwaway science fiction, and studiously avoided anything an adult said was “good” for me. Now I knew there was such a thing as Outlaw Literature. (Hell, Outlaw Science Fiction. Thanks to Vonnegut, I was good and ready for meeting Harlan Ellison.) As Dr. Thompson would put it, I’ve been riding for the Gonzo Brand ever since. 

All this, because of a book-burning mob in South Dakota. Thanks, book-burning mob of South Dakota! If you've read this far I encourage you to click this link and see how many these banned books you have read. Fill in the gaps. I can’t say you’ll find anything to change your life as Slaughterhouse Five did mine—but you’re sure to annoy a controlling busybody who’s certain she knows what’s Best for You. As such people seem to really like raging at other people for not toeing their peculiar political line, you’ll be doing them a kindness. It’s a win-win all around.