Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Slaughter-House-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Well, think a big part of what makes this an important, powerful classic was the time in which it was written, during the Vietnam War  when the anti-war message was big news, although according to this book, time does not really matter, especially to those familiar with the planet Tralfamadore. 

I am aware that this book used to be taught in high schools, probably due to the political climate and relevance and controversy at that time.
The fact that the book reads like the author was on drugs when he wrote it may also have been part of it's appeal since that was also a time period when drug usage was seen as a cool, anti-establishment, popular cult phenomenon.

Sometimes I wonder how and why certain books are chosen to be taught in schools and why they keep on teaching them.  Is it just because someone decided to teach the book and created teaching materials for it so everyone else just uses it and follows suit because someone else liked it and it is easy since there is already created teaching material to go with it?   Some books have been required reading in schools for years and kids hate them and don't read them; they just watch the movies and read the Spark Notes.  I once substitute taught in a high school class that was reading Frankenstein.  I asked them if any of them had actually read the book and if they liked it.  Not one student had read it and they all hated it.  I taught them how to B.S. their way through writing a paper about a book they had not read and how to skim through and find important sounding quotes from the book for the assignment they were completing.  I learned that was possible from my daughter who was in high school at the time and made excellent grades in English class and never read novels that she did not like, but wrote very well about then nevertheless. 

Slaughterhouse Five is about Billy Pilgrim who travels in time between WWII and other points in time, having been abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians who taught him that time always exists and they travel around in it. The nonsense part of this book is very descriptive and well written and reminds me a bit of the writing of Daniel Pinkwater.  Vonnegut really did witness and survive the bombing of Dresden and he does manage to showcase it's horrors in a unique way in this book.

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