Banned Books Week: Cat's Cradle
September 24th through October 1st is Banned Books Week. Last year, I blogged my thoughts on book banning. This year, I’ve picked seven books from the ALA’s list of frequently challenged classics, and will explain over the week why those books are awesome. Also, I have a copy of each book, and will be giving them away to seven lucky winners! Read to the bottom for details.
If you’ve been living under a rock: I suppose it is slightly less surprising if you’re not familiar with this book. It is not Vonnegut’s most well-known work. But, for my money, it is his best. It is ostensibly the chronicle of a writer’s quest to write a book documenting what various Important People were doing the day the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In the process, the writer (who is known only as “John") travels to interesting places, meets interesting people, and encounters interesting ideas. And witnesses ... well, I could tell you but that would be a spoiler.
Why it has been banned: Cat’s Cradle was banned in 1972 by an Ohio school district board, along with three other titles. This decision was later overturned by the 1976 court decision in Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District. Information on why this book was targeted by the school district is sparse, but my entirely non-expert reading of the court case suggests that it was thrown out along with another Vonnegut title, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, which one of the board members’ secretary read for half an hour and found to be “completely sick,” and “GARBAGE.” There is no particular indication that anyone on the school board, nor anyone who reported to the school board, ever even looked at Cat’s Cradle. I can only surmise that this particular baby was thrown out along with Rosewater’s bath.
Had they actually looked at it, I can guess that they might have taken offense at the depictions of sex in the book, laughably tame though they are. From a certain humorless, avidly pro-America / pro-military-industrial-complex perspective, I can also imagine that one might take offense at Vonnegut’s clearly anti-war stance.
Why that’s dumb: Banning a book you haven’t even looked at? Do I really need to explain why that’s dumb? And if it was banned for descriptions of sex that consist of people touching the soles of their feet together, then I can only ask “what, exactly, are you hoping to achieve there?”
Why this book is awesome: This is my favorite of Vonnegut’s works because, at least to my eye, its philosophy is the most interesting. The book posits a fictional religion, Bokononism, based on the sayings of its prophet, Bokonon. These sayings are savagely funny, in a way that the word “wry” can only dream of hinting at, and are self-contradictory to a nearly Zen degree. Yet, buried within them are both lovely and tragic insights into people, how people treat one another, and the deep hypocrisies therein. I have to love a book which pokes society in its collective eye with its own double-standards.
The book is also a fabulous example of the minor-character narrator technique, in as much as John does not strongly interact with the course of events in the plot. He is a witness. A chronicler. A vehicle for observations about life. In this, John stands alongside Moby Dick’s Ishmael and The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway.
Win this book! Besides pontificating, what could be a more fitting response to Banned Books Week than to give away copies of these books? I’m giving these seven books, one per winner, to randomly selected people who share this post on Twitter. Just click the Tweet this! link at the bottom of the post. I will announce the winners on Monday, October 3rd.
If you’re just joining us, here’s the rest of the posts:
Tuesday: Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov, 1955)
Wednesday: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960)
Today: Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut, 1963)
Friday: Go Ask Alice (Anonymous, 1971)
September 29, 2011 17:10 UTC
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