By Kurt Vonnegut

Banned Books Week 2012Book cover: Slaughterhouse-FiveWhen I decided to read Slaughterhouse-Five for this year’s Banned Books Week (and the couple weeks following, as well, apparently), I was a little baffled that I hadn’t already read any of Vonnegut’s books because I like science fiction and I’ve had Vonnegut recommended to me multiple times. I even vaguely recalled meaning to read some books but never getting around to it.

Then, I got a couple of chapters in, and remembered that I hadn’t just meant to read his books before, I’ve actually started several of his books in the past, and put them down again. I just cannot get started into Vonnegut’s books, which is so frustrating because I really enjoy both sci-fi and social satire, and he is a king of both. So, I bring you this review in three Acts: Dismissiveness, Grudging Respect, Zealous Appreciation.

Act I: Dismissiveness

I spent roughly the first half of the book trying to put my finger on the problem. It isn’t as though I especially disliked it or thought it was a bad book; I just felt that I didn’t totally get what he was trying to say and that his writing style wasn’t one that speaks to me. When Tom asked if I was enjoying it, I had to admit that I wasn’t, and when he looked a bit disappointed, I followed up by saying that I thought it was a little too philosophical for me, like Vonnegut is communicating a theory about life, instead of sharing a concrete facet of life, and I get impatient with that. Tom nodded, because he has despaired of my disinterest in philosophy before, but I continued to mull over my answer.

And I think it was something even further, that his people weren’t interesting to me as characters. That they seem more like placeholders in his philosophical argument; their actions only serve to augment the message of the book. So, I didn’t have any vested interest in the future of the characters, which is especially true in this non-chronologically-linear novel where the future is all spelled out early on, and even the characters in the book don’t have much interest in it, either.

Acts II and III with spoilers and excerpt after the break…

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The Anastasia series by Lois Lowry

When Anna suggested that we each write something for Banned Books Week, she sent me to the ALA site that lists the most-frequently challenged books. Those lists are topped by the expected things (Harry Potter, Judy Blume, etc.) but number 75 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009 shocked me: the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry. I LOVE Anastasia Krupnik! I wanted to BE Anastasia Krumpnik! How could anyone object to Anastasia! I could not remember a single thing about any Anastasia book that I could imagine anyone objecting to. But it had been quite a while since I had read them so, while I didn’t have time to reread all six of the Anastasia books that I own, I did pull them all out and glance through them. (This was harder than it should have been, since a couple of years ago I followed an Internet trend and arranged all the books in my bookcase by color. People always ask me if it makes it hard to find my books and I always say no, but this is a lie. It does. Did you know that each of the Anastasia books is a different color? Assembling them all took a while. Take my advice and don’t arrange your books by color, no matter how cool it looks.)

As a quick overview, the Anastasia series consists of nine books that follow the adventures of a girl named Anastasia Krupnik, who lives in Boston with her parents and her little brother Sam. And when I say “adventures,” I mean things like having to do a science fair project and having her best friend go away to summer camp. These are low-drama books. However, looking through them, I was reminded of what I loved so much as a child about the books: Anastasia was smart. She wasn’t always right, but she was always thinking and planning and having ideas, and her (slightly neurotic) inner life seemed to more closely resemble my own than that of most kids’ book characters. Looking through them now as an adult, I can also see more clearly that while Anastasia is smart, she is still a kid and is still making some of the crazy of leaps of logic and wild decisions that kids make. In my favorite of the books, Anastasia On Her Own, thirteen-year-old Anastasia is in charge of the house while her mother is away on business and decides (for a variety of reasons) to cook a dinner that includes Ragout de Veau aux Champignons (I like to imagine this was a Julia Child recipe). Anastasia uses some fairly creative problem-solving and does manage to successfully cook the dish, but the dinner itself turns into a disaster. The whole situation ends up being absurd, in the way that a thirteen-year-old’s decisions are absurd. And yet, I can also see myself ending up in the same situation at that age.

According to Wikipedia, these books have been challenged because of “references to beer, Playboy Magazine, and a casual reference to a character wanting to kill herself.” This makes me wonder if the people who are apparently out there complaining about these books today have read ANY of the dark young adult fiction that has come out in the last ten years. Which is not to say that I think that books that actually show children DRINKING beer, rather than just referencing it, should be banned. (I think it’s safe to say that I am against book banning in general.)  I actually think that the fact that books as innocent as these end up on the list makes it easy to dismiss people who try to get books pulled. They come off seeming like crackpots for complaining about nothing and I don’t even bother taking them seriously. But, we should take them seriously, because sometimes they succeed. And it make me sad to think that some smart, neurotic girl out there might not get to read an Anastasia Krupnik book because one of the characters has the nerve to discuss a Playboy magazine.

So, in conclusion, banning books is bad and Anastasia Krupnik is awesome, and it is ridiculous to me that the two even have to be in the same sentence. Also, Wikipedia tells me that an Anastasia book came out in 1995. Considering that I was 20 in 1995, I’m fairly sure that I haven’t read that one yet, and will need to make a trip to my library soon. Yay for more Anastasia!