Friday, August 5, 2011

And So It Goes...

I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five when I was in school; but then, I didn’t attend Republic High School. Republic High is in Missouri, the “show me” state, unless what you’re showing is certain literature, in which case I suppose it becomes the don’t show me that! state. You see, the school board there banned  (yes, they still ban books in 2011) the Vonnegut classic, as well as two other books.

Actually, after a vote, the good village elders, oops, I mean school board, decided to let one book slip through. Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, an award-winning book about date rape, made the cut because, in the words of School Superintendent Vern Minor, only one page was used to “tastefully” describe the rape.

Now, I have not read Speak, so I cannot say how Ms. Anderson described it, but I have never before heard of any rape described by anyone as “tasteful”. Never.

On the other hand, I have read Slaughterhouse Five. As a reader and future author, it changed the way I (and others) looked at storytelling. Vonnegut’s nonlinear approach was groundbreaking. But, according to Superintendent Minor, “The language is just really, really intense. I don't think it has any place in high school ... I'm not saying it's a bad book.”

Perhaps Superintendent Minor has never overheard Republic high school students talking in the school parking lot, or the locker rooms, or maybe he hasn’t heard the lyrics of the music they listen to, or seen what they watch on HBO. But he’s right about it not being a bad book: Slaughterhouse-Five was ranked 19th on Modern Library's list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century and Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. I read it in the 20th century too. Guess those poor Republic High kids are just growing up in the wrong century.

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