We Still Ban Books?

It always makes me a little sad when people, especially young people, miss out on the opportunity to read quality literature.  It makes me cringe when those young people miss out on the opportunity to read quality literature because their school board treasures a certain set of values that may run contrary to a given literary text.

This is exactly what’s happening in Republic, Missouri.  A school board has decided that along with several other novels, Kurt Vonnegut’s culturally iconic novel Slaughterhouse Five ought to be banned.  To raise awareness to the school board’s controversial decision, Julia Whitehead, the Executive Director of the Vonnegut Library, made a generous donation of one free copy to each of the school’s 150 students.  Seeing as I’ve read this in several online publications, Whitehead has apparently had some success raising awareness of the situation.

Whitehead’s take on the situation according to the Huffpost article:

“All of these students will be eligible to vote, and some may be protecting our country through military service in the next year or two,” Whitehead said in a statement. “It is shocking and unfortunate that those young adults and citizens would not be considered mature enough to handle the important topics raised by Kurt Vonnegut, a decorated war veteran. Everyone can learn something from his book.”

Sounds pretty reasonable to me, but take a look at where the school board and its officials are coming from:

The objectionable material in “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Scroggins wrote, “ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”

As with all great artists, and this is often one of the reasons they’re so revered, Vonnegut touches on serious and culturally pervasive issues.  Slaughterhouse Five clearly deals with some very heavy material.  It deals with many of the same issues that face any thinking person in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Whitehead makes a pretty strong case for the importance of reading Vonnegut’s novel, and a similar case can be made for all books that have been banned for political, moral, or religious reasons.

It’s certainly an interesting issue, and one I’m that I’m sure has been and is currently played out all over the country.  It’s a classic case of progressive humanist values clashing with conservative religious values.  Strangely enough, Jesus Christ the man was one of the greatest humanists if you really want to look at it that way.

You can read the Huffpost article in its entirety HERE.

Image courtesy of jaydinitto.com

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous.  He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.   – Kurt Vonnegut

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2 Responses to We Still Ban Books?

  1. You might like to read about school boards and the law operate— and specifically, how Republic High School is within its rights— in my post, “Vonnegut and ‘The Right to Read'” at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November)

  2. Cody Deitz says:


    Very interesting article. Thanks for linking me. It’s also saddening that Republic High School also has such an apparently strong case. I suppose if they wish to stunt the intellectual growth of their students, they have the right to try. It’s just unfortunate.

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