Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's Bust a Recap : Slaughterhouse-Five

Ok. Let's just get this over with. I haven't been this sorry for reading a book since Of Mice and Men. In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (also called "The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death"....I know), we meet Billy Pilgrim, a World War II vet who has come "unstuck" in time and constantly travels to different scenes of his life with his main storyline being his experience in the war. In the first chapter of this short, ten chapter book, we hear the author's excuse or explanation for the book--more like a preface than a chapter, really--and throughout the novel, Vonnegut acts as narrator and even inserts himself into the story on a few different occasions. 

Billy Pilgrim, the main character, is captured in Germany and taken as a prisoner of war to Dresden and remained there until the infamous bombing of it a few months prior to the end of the war. During his capture and imprisonment, he frequently "comes unstuck" in time and visits scenes of his life including a few scenes from his unhappy childhood, several from his marriage and time as a widower, and many depicting his abduction by alien creatures called Tralfamadorians and the subsequent time he spent living in a Tralfamadorian zoo. 

Yes. You heard that right. Billy Pilgrim was abducted by aliens and put in their zoo for their amusement. This book was so weird. 

Slaughterhouse-Five has been on my Life List for some time due to its fame and also because of the controversy surrounding it. It has been ranked as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century (it was written in 1969), but it has also been ranked as one of the most frequently challenged books and has been the subject of censorship and controversy even to this day.

After reading it for myself I have to say: I didn't like it, and I wouldn't recommend it. From a literary standpoint, it was scattered and ventured into the science fiction realm which is not my personal cup of tea. From a historical standpoint, it certainly blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Because Vonnegut was a POW at Dresden himself and inserts himself in this novel speaking from his personal experiences there, many consider Slaughterhouse-Five to be semi-autobiographical which can be a little misleading if you don't do your research. For instance, he claims several times in the book that 135,000 people were killed during the firebombings of Dresden making it more deadly than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Realistically, the number killed at Dresden was probably closer to 30,000. From a moral standpoint, it was cynical and caustic and crude. Anytime death was mentioned, the author famously followed it up with the fatalistic phrase "So it goes" using that phrase over 100 times in this 215-page book. And with the foul language and coarse sexual references throughout the book, it's no wonder the book has been such an object of controversy. I personally stand for freedom of speech and am against censorship, but I get why school libraries would want to ban this book. 

Ultimately, I'm glad we only spent a quarter on this book (we picked it up in a used bookstore right before heading to Sarah's commissioning and graduation), and even though I can now check that one off my Life List, I don't feel any better for having read it. It was disturbing and yucky and I was pretty much over it by the end of the second chapter. This will definitely be my first and last experience with Vonnegut. 

Have you read any of Vonnegut's work? What are your thoughts on censorship? Do you think there's a distinction between school libraries and public libraries? If not, why? If so, do you think it's okay for a school to ban a book from its library?


  1. Interesting. This book has always been on my life list, too. However, after reading your review I don't plan on reading it anytime soon, but I'm not going to say I'll never read it. Some people have interpreted the craziness of this book by saying the main character suffers from a schizophrenia-type disorder. This makes sense given your account of the delusions the main character suffers in the book. Anyways, I'm glad you read it first. ;)

  2. This book sounds gross and awful. Don't worry,I will never read it. Lol it doesn't sound like the kind of Sci-Fi I'm into. Sorry you had to go through this, although I'm proud of you for finishing the book.

    If you hated it so much after chapter 2, what was the reason you pushed toward the finish line?

    I'm just asking because I tried to read "A Handmaid's Tale" recently (it's a book that's been adapted to a TV show on Hulu), but I stopped about 4 or 5 chapters in. I tried though, I really tried.

    And yes, I believe schools should ban certain books. They should only allow age-appropriate reading. Just like public libraries should make sure the children's section of the library only carries age-appropriate reading.

    My question is this - if a child under the age of 13 tried to check out an adult book from the library, would they be able to?

    1. Oh boy. So much to unpack with those questions.

      First of all, I wouldn't say I hated the book. "Hate" is a very strong word. I didn't like it, and I disagreed with a lot of the author's premises. For example, Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians that life is perpetual. Every single moment in time has always existed and continues to exist and there can be no other outcome. So the reason Billy continues to visit different scenes in his life is because those scenes are still happening and they will always happen in the exact same way. This idea precludes the existence of Heaven and Hell and rids man of any responsibility for his actions.

      The book is overall very anti-war and while I understand that sentiment--especially coming from an author who experienced one of the most horrific wars firsthand--I also understand that war is always going to be something we deal with in this world as long as we are waiting for Christ's return. So it's not really fair to demonize leaders who are trying to make hard decisions during wars. We have to figure out a way to cope and try to behave in wartime with dignity and honor. I'm not saying those are easy things to pull off, but it's reality.

      So the reasons I continued reading after chapter 2 are:
      1) this book is on my Life List. Books on my List List are there because I believe that reading them will make me a more well-rounded, well-read human being, and I think that's worthwhile, 2) as I mentioned in my recap, it was 10 chapters and only 215 pages. Part of the reason I kept going is because it wasn't that much of an investment of my time to just power through and finish, and 3) with a book like Slaughterhouse-Five, I wanted to understand what all the hype was about. I kept waiting for some big moment, but it's definitely a big-picture book. There's not one big moment, it's all of it together, if that makes sense.

      Also, there's that factor of once you get so far, you kind of just want to finish it anyway.

      Another blogger friend of mine is really into that Handmaid's Tale show right now. I don't know if she's read the book or not though. Actually she might have mentioned trying to read it but not really liking it, too. I can't remember.

      As for the library question, if your question is "would" they be able to: I don't really know. As much as I love to read, I'm not a big library person. I haven't checked out a book from the library since I was a kid myself. If I want a book, I usually just buy it. True story. If your question is "should" they be able to: I would hope that children under the age of 13 would have parents involved enough to know what books their kids are trying to check out of a public library. I would say that's more on the parents than on the librarians.

    2. P.S. My bloggy friend has never read the book. 'Cause I'm sure you were dying to know. lol

    3. Actually, when I was in middle school, I would go to the public library after school and read adult books. My mom never knew. I know this blog post isn't specifically a debate on censorship in public or school libraries, but I love Jessica's idea about a book rating system.

    4. But if you knew what the book rating was, would that have stopped you from reading it? I like the rating idea too, but I think it'd be more for the parents than the kids.

    5. No, but I'd like it as an adult. Lol that way I know what I'm getting myself into. And I was just thinking, it's hard enough trying to get kids to read, so maybe there shouldn't be any censorship. Haha Obviously, there are limits. Like, no Playboy magazines or anything... Do libraries carry magazines? I don't even know...

  3. When I saw the picture, my first thought was "She's not going to like that one." I do applaud you for making it through though as that is one that I could never finish.

    Honestly as far as censorship, I wish that there were a book rating system similar to what we have for movies. Then it would be easier for parents to monitor the content that their kids are exposed to. But that's as far as my views on censorship go. I don't feel that the schools or libraries should censor books because I don't like the thought of the government controlling ideas. At all.

    1. First of all, thank you. I feel like that book should have only taken me 2 or 3 hours, but it ended up taking me a week and a half. lol

      It would be great if there was some sort of rating system, and I basically agree with you about censorship as far as not liking the thought of governments controlling ideas. However, I do think there is a difference between a school library and a public one. I just don't see the point of school libraries having books that aren't pertaining to the education of children. I should also clarify that I'm talking about primary school--not colleges or universities. I guess I've just always equated going to the library at school to study for a specific paper or project and not checking out books for pleasure or entertainment. If I wanted to check out books for fun, I always went to the local public library. In Bartow, specifically. :)