Slaughterhouse 1 out of 5

As a tiresome geezer-in-training, I get a kick out of sharing my musical knowledge with young people, or as I’m learning to call them, “whippersnappers.” When they show an interest or, better yet, some knowledge of ancient musical days (the eighties), I feel that the useless information I’ve collected over the years can finally be put to use as an antidote to all things Ke$ha.

Lily over at Lily in Canada consistently tickles me (not literally, Your Honour) with her appreciation for the likes of Elvis Costello, English Beat, The Housemartins even.

“Ooo, if you like that, you’ll love this,” I’ll say. Or “Did you know that [arcane fact with accompanying YouTube link]?”

It’s called musical rapport. Entire friendships can be built around it.

The other day, though, we got onto books. I recommended Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

“It sounds war-y,” she commented, not a fan of the genre. I know she wanted to accept my recommendation based on my unquestionably impeccable musical taste, but deep down we both realized that as common ground, literary terrain was far from stable.

To paraphrase Joy Division: Books. Books will tear us apart. Again.

Do you prefer hippie Van or fat Van?

Do you prefer hippie Van or fat Van?

When our musical tastes diverge, we cut our friends some slack. I’m generally forgiving if, say, someone doesn’t share my taste for Van Morrison, because, let’s be honest, the guy has essentially written the same song over and over for a good two-thirds of his career – “misty mystic morning mmblbmam shiver rain Avalon mmmbrmrm spirit God sax-solo love my love your love crazy love mwaaammmahh.” Friendships may be tested over whether Jeff Buckley was a musical visionary or insufferably pretentious (congratulations on picking “insufferably pretentious,” by the way) but the friendships will likely endure.

We connect to favourite books on a deeper level. We invest time, attention and imagination in them and they become a part of who we are. So when someone foolishly refuses to admit that a particular book is beyond wonderful or, worse, tells you, “I hated that book,” we’re forced to reassess the friendship and wonder whether this person is just plain dead inside.

One of the most beloved children’s books of all time is Charlotte’s Web. Not just “loved” but “beloved”; the “be” makes it old-timey and pure. As a child, I was enchanted by the story of Wilbur and Charlotte, and our house has always had a copy on hand.

And yet, our older girls were so caught up in books about wizards and dragons and casting spells – including, apparently, spells against reading books about altruistic spiders – they never bothered with Charlotte. As for our son, Charlotte doesn’t have Captain Underpants in it, so that counted him out.

When Abby came along, I was determined to take the talking bull by the horns and read Charlotte’s Web to her myself. It took several bedtimes to get through, me doing the voices night after night and pointing out important plot developments until finally choking back tears when Charlotte – oh, I can’t say it! It’s too sad and beautiful.

Abby, meanwhile, kept wondering when the animals were going to sing like they did in the film version. So I doubt she’ll be foisting Charlotte’s Web on her own children – Austin Powers, maybe, but not Charlotte.

everything-was-beautiful-and-nothing-hurtAs disappointing as this was, I felt sadder still last week when a Grade 11 student described Slaughterhouse Five as “Worst. Book. Ever.” His classmate concurred. What? Slaughterhouse Five is one of the great anti-war novels of the twentieth century, so wry, so devastating, so accessible with its short, declarative sentence. Plus, there’s a drawing of boobs. What’s not to love!

I don’t want to get into a critique of the novel. If you want amateurish literary criticism, log onto Goodreads. And goodness knows every revered classic novel has received its share of one-star reviews online. (I think a snappy one-star review would be “The Catcher in the Why for the Love of God!”)

But just to be sure that the book was as good as I remembered, I re-read Slaughterhouse Five over the weekend. I still love it. In fact, it speaks to me now in a geezer way that it didn’t in my twenties. I want to explain to those Grade 11 students about the author’s profound struggle to make sense of the senseless, fate versus will, satire as social commentary. I want to argue with them until they love what I love.

If not, we simply can’t be friends. If this younger generation can’t see that one of my favourite books is beyond wonderful, they are dead to me.

So it goes.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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54 Responses to Slaughterhouse 1 out of 5

  1. I had to read Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch 22 before 9th grade and didn’t appreciate them as much then as I do now. Both very good, with Catch-22 my all time favorite read ever.

  2. El Guapo says:

    I wonder if the kid just wasn’t ready to hear the questions Slaughterhouse 5 asks.
    I also wonder if it’s a sign of the dumbing down of society…
    (Or am I drawing too long a line?)

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m not sure you are. The complaints I heard were that it was that the time-jumping was too hard to follow. Really? And yet they’re all “Coooool!” about Inception?

      • ‘Inception’ is dream-within-a-dream logic, Grandpa. It allows the viewer to basically just completely dismiss however much information they find is necessary for comprehension. Time Travel, on the other hand, is far more complicated. Especially when it doesn’t really get in the way of the plot. Especially when the author EXPLICITLY TELLS YOU WHAT THE LAST WORDS OF THE BOOK ARE IN THE FIRST CHAPTER.

        And I like the short, declarative sentences, too.

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    Van is aptly named if you think about his shape, and his hippiness. One of my favorites is the over-looked TB Sheets record, and the tune “Who Drove the Red Sports Car.” I also like the Housemartins call-out. If you like them, you’ll love…
    I like how you wrap together different themes here. It’s a bit of a burrito, or a salad that’s got lots of texture. I’m going back to Bach now, as I set the tone for a peaceful morning. I can control the music for another hour, at least — and then it’s somebody else’s proverbial station.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m a burrito, I’m a burrito. Sometimes I feel like I’m a Simpson’s episode: it starts off being one thing and then ends up being completely something else. And I have blue hair. Do you know I only listened to the Veedon Fleece album for the first time the other day? Wow! Van’s people keep a pretty tight reign on the copyright, I think, so he’s hard to find on, say, Grooveshark.
      Back to work here as well. Adieu.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    That Grade 11 student has a ton of books to read that might qualify as Worst. Book. Ever. Whippersnapper(s)! They can get caught up in mindless video games that take you to all sorts of levels and throw multiple random choices at them, but can’t sit still and appreciate a good book that doesn’t involve vampires. Whippersnapper! I’d like to throw some Proust at him. That’ll give him an appreciation of a Worst. Book. Ever.

  5. Lisa Neumann says:

    “whippersnappers” now you’re talking my language
    (ps my 50th in fast approaching)

  6. Addie says:

    Having grown up during the tail end of the hippie era–you want good music? Look no further, although some of it did sound better, um, enhanced–Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch 22 were required reading in my high school English class. We talked about them out of class, we were enthralled and loved every minute of these books…except for Fred Thorne.

    The love has remained, even though my one time adoration for Atlas Shrugged is no longer alive. When I recently re-read it after 30 years, I thought a) this thing is bloody HUGE and may cut into my Breaking. Bad viewing and b) I’m ashamed I ever though this was a brilliant book. Forgive me world, I was 15.

  7. Reading and music are so incredibly subjective and I am indiscriminate in my love of both (Genres? I don’t need no stinkin’ genres!). It’s hard for me to have conversations with people about either subject. When I love something (like anything by Vonnegut), reviews and opinions can take some of that joy away. Although people who put periods between every word lose me after the first period (when did Valley Girl-speak become a thing again?).

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I think if you speak it, it’s okay; more hyphens than periods maybe. But when you write that out, it looks like robotspeak: “Worst – book – ever.”
      And you’re right: it’s no fun when one’s views are constantly and consistently validated.

  8. Amanda Fox says:

    Sadly, I’m not the biggest reader. I’m more of a movie person. Maybe we can be so different that we can be friends after all LOL.

  9. I guarantee that if they were not wearing uniforms, they’d have LOVED Vonnegut. You know you’re never going to live that down, right? EVER, ROSEMARY, NEVER, EVER.

    I don’t ever want to hear anyone say anything BAD about “1984” – EVER.

    the first time my son (age 5) watched “Charlotte’s Web” he burst into tears and wailed “I’m crying and I don’t know why!”

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Did you follow the link for one-star reviews? I think Orwell gets his in one of them.

      Because the anthropomorphic spider DIES, little dude!

      Have you ever read E.B. White’s essay “Death of a Pig”?

  10. Kids these days. What the hell do they mean, “the time-jumping was too confusing”? Take the red pill, take the blue pill, ad infinitum. Now that shit is confusing.

    You’d think they’d love Slaughterhouse Five, since its choppy, declarative style would seem to mesh perfectly with the 140-character mini-sentences of Twitter, for example. Now you’ve got me thinking–I must check with my own kids to be sure they’ve read Vonnegut.

  11. Great, now at some point during the day–and none of them can possibly be appropriate–I’m going to casually remember ‘The Catcher In The Why For The Love of God?’ Thanks a lot.

    But anyway, all I was going to waste time typing was, Slaughterhouse 5–and everything that even looks like Kurt Vonnegut–is a hunk of balderdash. So, take a fudge at a rolling doughnut, or whatever the hell the Canadian (Extra-America, for us purists) equivalent of that is.

    Good Day, Sir.

  12. Cristina says:

    I stopped trying to convince my friends why that Wuthering Heights is the best thing since silced bread. They keep going on and on about how depressing it is, blablabla. However, just the other day, I bought one of those Penguin mugs with different covers of books. And yes, mine is Wuthering Heights. I mean… if I can’t convince them it’s a great book I can just annoy them when they come over…

  13. ksbeth says:

    and – it still has the boob drawing. timeless classic.

  14. peachyteachy says:

    I watched Van’s “Caravan” performance from The Last Waltz the other night. He was kind of hippie AND chubby there, and it just delights me the stuff that only Van could pull off. Including the Mega-Van song you quote above. As for Vonnegut, that teenage dismissal gave me such a twang. My son related a hierarchy of high fives that he shared with a buddy of his in high school, the penultimate of which was the “Slaughterhouse Five”—the most painful of high fives. He’s young, he’s smart, and he loves Vonnegut.

  15. Elyse says:

    Two books I need to re-read. But I don’t need to reaquaint myself with Van. His music has been with me since the 70s and I never tire of it. Even if it is all the same.

    But I don’t know very many whippersnappers who read books anymore. What a shame.

  16. Lily says:

    My ears must have been ringing!
    I was like, “I GUESS I’ll go over to see what Ross Murray is up to” and low and behold, I’m honorably mentioned in your post. How kind. Our taste in music is divine though, really. Books on the other hand are tough.
    They affect people on a deeper, more personal level–like you said. It’s almost offensive when someone doesn’t see the beauty or the life-changing-ness of your favorite book, ya know? And I always feel dumb when I don’t catch on to the subtle nuances of classics that everyone loves but just didn’t hit home with me.
    As long as we both have love for books and music and all things cool, I think we’ll always get along swimmingly. Good post! (Mostly because it mentioned me)

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I was going to alert you but I didn’t know how without it being, “Hey, look at me!” I thought the link would somehow alert you. Pingback? Slingblade? I dunno. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration, and glad you liked it.

  17. mumblesmcjenkins says:

    I love Vonnegut and I completely agree that he’s a “gateway author.” I discovered my father’s battered old copy of Slapstick when I was 13 and it changed my life. Until then I hadn’t realized that books could be written so boldly. I’ll always be indebted to Vonnegut for that.

  18. Letizia says:

    You’re so right, Ross (as always). There are some books I won’t mention with friends for fear that our friendships will end if they tell me they didn’t like the book or the don’t like the author. I’d rather just not know!

  19. benzeknees says:

    I think sometimes people cannot understand our tastes if they don’t have the same reference points. If they don’t remember where they were when JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. or Bobby Kennedy were killed, if they don’t remember with wonder when a man stepped onto the moon or protested against the Vietnam War, they can’t possibly understand the wonder, the sadness or the power people can feel in their lives. They can’t possibly understand the fear of growing up in the cold war & how it affected whole nations or why it would inspire books & songs. They don’t know anything about Woodstock!!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Good point. Each generation has its own road markers. I was three when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, so my reference points are different. I’m Canadian, so I still get choked up thinking about Terry Fox. Younger people and the rest of the world go, “Who?” But I see your point about having that shared reality and how they reflect our tastes and perceptions. Thanks for the comment.

  20. brinkling says:

    “We connect to favourite books on a deeper level. We invest time, attention and imagination in them and they become a part of who we are. So when someone foolishly refuses to admit that a particular book is beyond wonderful or, worse, tells you, “I hated that book,” we’re forced to reassess the friendship and wonder whether this person is just plain dead inside.”

    Hear, hear! You put words to something I’ve had trouble putting words to for a long time.

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