BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guest Review of a Banned Book: SlaughterHouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Genre: Fiction
Publisher (this edition):  Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reissue edition 
Publication Date (this edition):  January 12, 1999
Reasons given for banning: depictions of sex, profanity
Buy Links: Amazon     The Book Depository
Book Blurb (from Amazon): 

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. 

Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy--and humor. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

 Our Guest Reviewer:

Author and performer Jillian Lauren grew up in suburban New Jersey and fled across the water to New York City. She attended New York University for three minutes before dropping out to work in downtown theater, where she performed with Richard Foreman’s Ontological Hysteric Theater, among others.

She is the author of the novel, PRETTY, and of the New York Times bestselling memoir, SOME GIRLS: My Life in a Harem, both published by Plume/Penguin. SOME GIRLS has since been translated into fourteen different languages.

Jillian has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Flaunt Magazine, Opium Magazine, Society, Pale House: A Collective and in the anthologies My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories and Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost.

She has performed at spoken word and storytelling events across the country and has been interviewed on such television programs as The View, Good Morning America and Howard Stern. She was a featured dancer with the infamous Velvet Hammer Burlesque. As a performer, she has recently worked with directors as diverse as Robert Cucuzza, Steve Balderson, Lynne Breedlove, Austin Young, Michelle Carr and Margaret Cho. 

Jillian recently premiered her solo performance piece, Mother Tongue, at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles.

She regularly blogs at TODAY Moms and at her site. Jillian is married to musician Scott Shriner. They live in Los Angeles with their son.

Jillian's Thoughts: 

I have rarely been quite so tickled as when I learned that my memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, had been banned. It seemed glamorous to me, placing me in the illustrious company of the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Some Girls has been banned in at lease two countries- Brunei and Dubai. I only know this because of the emails I’ve received from readers who live there and managed to get their hands on a copy anyway. 

Reading those emails filled me with a sense of gratitude. I wrote my sometimes-scandalous book without a second thought because we live in a country that has freedom of the press. But perhaps that sense of gratitude is misplaced. I escape censorship because my book flies under the radar by dealing with such obviously taboo subjects as teenage prostitution. No one is suggesting that my memoir go on the shelf of a school library. But if the recent publication of the altered version of Huckleberry Finn is any indicator, censorship is still very much a relevant issue in this country, First Amendment or no. 

This week is Banned Books Week. Here’s an excerpt of what the American Library Association website has to say about it.
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

In celebration, I decided to revisit an old fave of mine from this list of the Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.

Because so many of the challenges happen through the public school system, I chose an author who was deeply influential to me in high school. I was rather surprised to learn that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has been challenged as recently as 2007, because from my recollection, Slaughterhouse Five wasn’t exactly Naked Lunch or Story of the Eye

I reread the book and STILL couldn’t figure out what was so controversial about it. So I looked it up. Slaughterhouse Five has been repeatedly challenged, banned and even burned for such crimes as irreverence (which is apparently inherently offensive), profanity and the depiction of sex.

Slaughterhouse Five is about the life of a man named Billy Pilgrim, whose defining experience is surviving the WW2 bombing of Dresden. The structure of the book is organized around the idea of time travel. The non-linear juxtaposition of moments creates a sense of absurdity and fatalism that form the book’s central themes.

As I watch my three-year-old son begin to sort through the complexities of what makes up a joke, I’m reminded of the essential place of humor in organizing the human experience. Vonnegut was perhaps my first real exposure to the use of satire in addressing complex existential quandries. Satire was an important tool for me in learning to think about otherwise unthinkable atrocities. 

After 20-odd years, it was a pleasure to revisit Vonnegut. His unique voice was transformative for me as a young reader and has remained influential to me as a writer.


  1. Posted on Murder She Writes but reposting where I can, to say thank you for raising this issue.

    Went to American Library Association website for list of banned/challenged books.

    Happy to say, I’ve read most of the classics, or consciously chose not to read a few, but was floored to see To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; 1984, by George Orwell; A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway; Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell; and Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, to name a few on the short list.

    A commenter there pointed out that the Bible often is banned.

  2. I have never read this particular book myself so I've no opinion of it...hence why i love your blog and your guests so much. Excellent post! :)

  3. I haven't read this one either, it doesn't actually sound like something I'd enjoy but I may give it a try someday.

    Liz, I am frequently amazed at the books that get challenged or banned. I'm just too naive I guess.

  4. SlaughterHouse is banned for all the right reasons: it's depiction of time-travel is disheartening and does not give a good example to any youth attemping to break the time-space continuum.

    If you want to learn more, please check my article on the topic at


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