Vonnegut on the dangers of reading

A stealth addition to the reauthorized Patriot Act allows the Justice Department to boot U.S. Attorneys and appoint new ones without seeking confirmation from the Senate or the courts. The DOJ hasn’t wasted any time. Eight attorneys got the axe recently. They were replaced, as Dahlia Lithwick observes, “with folks more willing to dance to the White House pipes.”

Michigan U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy has already mastered the party jig, evidently. Not only did he keep his job, he’s up for appointment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. And last week he made the news by forwarding the FBI a complaint that teachers engage in the distribution of pornography to minors when they assign books by Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Kurt Vonnegut, and Augusten Burroughs.

The county prosecutor is also investigating the books and says bookstores and libraries could face charges, too. “If it’s determined that these printed materials are sexually explicit matter as defined in the statue, and the distribution of which to minors constitutes a criminal offense, whether it would be a school officer or a library or bookstore person wouldn’t make a difference,” he told the Daily Press & Argus.

Now seems like a good time for an excerpt from Vonnegut’s Fates Worse Than Death.

[A]gain and again in debates with representatives of the Moral Majority and the like, and some of the angrier Women Against Pornography, I find myself charged with being an encourager of violence against women and kiddie porn.

When I was new at such discussions I insouciantly asked a fundamentalist Christian opponent (“Oh, come on now, Reverend”) if he knew of anyone who had been ruined by a book. (Mark Twain claimed to have been ruined by salacious parts of the Bible.)

The Reverend was glad I asked. He said that a man out in Oregon had read a pornographic book and then raped a teenage maiden on the way home from the grocery store, and then mutilated her with a broken Coke bottle. (I am sure it really happened.) We were there to discuss the efforts of some parents to get certain books eliminated from school libraries and curricula on the grounds that they were offensive or morally harmful — quite mild and honorable books in any case. But my dumb question gave the Reverend the opportunity to link the books in question to the most hideous sexual crimes.

The books he and his supporters wanted out of the schools, one of mine among them, were not pornographic, although he would have liked our audience to think so. (There is the word “motherfucker” one time in my Slaughterhouse Five, as in “Get out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.” Ever since that word was published, way back in 1969, children have been attempting to have intercourse with their mothers. When it will stop no one knows.)

Image taken from Vonnegut’s art site.

Update: Sanity prevails at the county level; the federal decision comes later this month.


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