When I dropped off my latest batch of library books, I noticed yellow crime-scene tape stretched across a corner of the familiar building. As I drew closer I read in big block letters of something not out of a CSI series, but just as criminal: “Banned Book Week.” Clever display.
During the week of September 24, 2012, the American Library Association celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Banned Book Week, a memorial to books and materials once—and sometimes still—considered offensive to the point of prohibition.
Censored novels included Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. What was the big deal? The first book was about an adolescent, potty-mouthed teenage rebel trying to find his way through life. I saw (and lived) through worse growing up in Los Angeles. The second was about a future American society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. I remember reading those titles in school and in my opinion both were good stories.
The public display of “bad” literature made me wonder what other good, controversial stories I missed out on. In the spirit of the Well-Read Man and the rebel inside me, I’ve decided to read Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, a favorite author whose novel I told myself I’d read one day. In the story, Billy Pilgrim, a former prisoner of war in Germany, is taken prisoner once again, this time by little green men from another planet who toss Billy into a zoo.
In 1972, a Michigan circuit judge called the book, “depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian.” That same year, Levittown, New York’s school board added, “anti-American, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy” to the list of reasons for the ban. I look forward to scratching it off my bucket list.
Michael Varma is an award-winning instructor, professional magician, and writer. He has authored the book Tasteful Toasts, developed a series of educational puzzle books (Mental Blocks), and created games (Arithmesticks). Michael frequently performs at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California; email him for a free guest pass. Find out more at his web site, michaelvarma.com, or subscribe to his funny and informational blog.