The last week in September is the week set aside by readers in the US to emphasize and even celebrate those books that have been “banned” or challenged in the US. While the First Amendment of our US Constitution, soon to be a useless piece of paper that is no longer relevant thanks to the new SCOTUS, does not allow for the outright banning of books, there are challenges each year to withhold books from school and community libraries throughout the US – and the world. Although, let’s face it, the First Amendment certainly isn’t what it used to be in the US and schools are effectively banning books when they willingly no longer have their students read them and when Boards of Education vote to delete important information from their textbooks ala Thomas Jefferson and The Enlightenment as was done in Texas. Banning by omission is alive and well in the good ole USA. In my home town the local librarian selects books solely based on the local “readership,” meaning that subversive, challenging, thought provoking books never will see the light of day in her library. But hey, if you want a good Amish romance you will be in luck!
So, let’s look at some of the most “banned” or challenged books for 2020, shall we? Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is always in the Top Ten as is “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. I read all of Steinbeck’s books and short stories in junior high, age 13-15. He still is my favorite writer, most likely always will be, and, Of Mice and Men is my most recommended book to those who rarely read. It’s quick, easy and profound. To ban a work like this is disgraceful. No, it’s ignorance. It should be no surprise that 1984, Brave New World and Animal Farm made the list this year. After all, we wouldn’t want to see any resemblances to the current administration, now would we? And it goes without saying that the majority of school boards no longer allow books like Albert Camus’ The Stranger, anything by Kurt Vonnegut or ever A People’s History of Us by Howard Zinn to see the light of day in our precious public or parochial schools. Hell, is it any wonder that I homeschooled all of children? I couldn’t bear the thought of them being culturally or politically illiterate which is exactly what we are facing in today’s version of “America.”
With that said, I had the pleasure of re-reading several banned books and adding a few new ones to my collection. I’ll share my thoughts about them this week beginning with Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
Because I absolutely adore Kurt Vonnegut and always have, I’ve been teased that I moved to Indianapolis simply because that is where Vonnegut was from. His family played an integral part in the development of the Indianapolis area and their contributions were intelligent and long-lasting. However, from the moment I first read Breakfast of Champions – for literature class in HIGH SCHOOL – I’ve been hooked on his pacifism, brilliance and humor.
Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war novel that withstands the test of time. The narrator is Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran who survived the bombing of Dresden (ask how many high school graduates in the US know what the bombing of Dresden was – you’ll be amazed at their ignorance.) Billy becomes “unstuck in time” and travels to another planet where he finds peace. While the earth wants Billy to talk about Dresden, all he wants to do is talk about Tralfamadore. Brutalism meets Sci-Fi in this cult classic which allows readers of nearly all ages to read and comprehend the horrors that Billy witnessed and understand that it is those horrors that must be avoided at all cost. It is a MUST READ for everyone.
This book has been challenged in many communities and in most schools but it was actually BURNED in Drake, ND. And you thought only the Nazis burned books…well, yes, they still do.
Oh, and for the record, I am writing this review because I want to. No publisher has given me a book and no media consultant is telling me I cannot speak about religion or politics or drugs or war or anything else which might offend. If you ARE offended by this, well, I won’t apologize. There is too much at stake in today’s world to continue to remain silent!