The Birss Committee selected Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five for the 19th annual John H. Birss Memorial program. The novel recounts the author's real experiences as a World War II prisoner of war who survived the horrific firebombing of the city of Dresden, one of the darkest chapters of a very dark war. Readers of Vonnegut cannot help but note his natural gift for humor, his flights of inspired imagination, and his world-weary love of humanity, with all its faults and foibles. First published in 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five has remained a perennial read for college students because of its masterful mix of humor, pathos, outrage and, in the end, its invocation of the enduring quality of human hope and decency. It is remarkable work that remains timely and reads as freshly now as on its publication day fifty years ago. - The Birss Committee, 2018
Through the "Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Lecture Fund" and "Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Library Fund" (established by University alumnus, Robert Blais '70), a significant or culturally impactful book is chosen annually to be honored. The program engages the campus and local community through discussions, celebration, related collections, a library exhibition, and culminates with the annual Birss Lecture.