Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Catch-22 Update 1.

“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”

I am about a third of the way through Joseph Heller's Catch-22. You might recall that I am reading this book as my juniors are working on their independent novel project (the projects are going alright...they are losing enthusiasm as we near the end of the school year). I'm really enjoying the book so far, even though I am not as far as I should be (shhh...don't tell my kids that).

Going into reading the book, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew the book was set in a war, so I was expecting more of that. I didn't really expect the sarcasm, satirical wit, and outright craziness of the novel.

It opens with a group of soldiers in a hospital. Yossarrian, the main character, discusses the men around him and his desire to avoid actual fighting in the war. He uses his own issues to avoid being sent back into action, and avoids telling the doctors the truth to stay in bed longer.

The whole opening through me for a loop. I wouldn't say that the narrative is linear. It seems to start with one person, then travels to another topic, then another....and while the topics are connected by thin strands, you end a chapter with a completely different perspective from where you started. It's...interesting, to say the least.

But I like the circular narrative and the way things have to be fit together as you go. It keeps me turning the pages and waiting to see what points Heller is trying to make. I particularly loved the following passage, and read it a few times over just to enjoy the reasoning a bit more:

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.""

And that's just a taste of the flavor of Catch-22. :)

My students have enjoyed hearing about the book, and one of them has decided to read it over the summer. He said it seems like a book he would enjoy, so "if" I am back in that school next year, I will have to hunt him down to ask him if he read it.

How many of you have read this? It seems as if people either love or hate this one!


  1. yeah, don't try to make sense of the timeline! The book is completely without time. Milo goes backwards in time compared to everyone else, and there's no strict structure. Once I figured this out and just went along for the ride, I enjoyed the book much more. :D

    Jason made me a sweatshirt a few years back that said, "You have flies in your eyes." It's too bad it doesnt' fit anymore! :D My favorite conversation in there - not sure if you've gotten there yet, but this isn't a spoiler at all - is the one where the guy who puts the crabapples in his cheeks (can't remember his name - is that Orr?) talks about the time he tried to explain that he didn't have crabapples in his cheeks, but red rubber balls in his hands. :D

  2. I love it! That first quote you mentioned is my favorite from Catch-22. I also like the quote about flies in the eyes. I just bought the 50th anniversary edition of Catch-22 and can't wait to read it. The first time I read it (actually the second, the first time I gave up about 30 pages in - I was in high school) I checked it out from the library, so I'm excited to have my very own copy now!

  3. I tried to read this one when I was a junior in high school. I was in an Independent Reading class (because I had taken all English/Lit classes available) and we were allowed to choose whatever books we wanted - I didn't get very far into this one before giving up. It's one I've always meant to go back and read, but haven't yet. Hopefully soon. The book is in storage, but I do have another Heller book (God Knows) on my shelf that I'll probably read VERY soon, because the premise seems super-interesting.

  4. This is one that's been on my radar for a while. It's interesting to see your thoughts as you start it and I'm tempted to join along in reading it otherwise I'll just keep putting it off!

  5. Catch-22 is amazing. When I first started reading it, I was truly blown away by how zany and hilarious it was. As I progressed through the novel, and particularly now as I reread it and have a better sense of the traumas of war, the poignant and psychologically troubling and emotional aspects seem even more more important. Amidst all the craziness, keep a sharp eye out for anything that involves Snowden and his tragic story.

    I sometimes wonder if Catch-22 taught me something about war, or just shaped the way I perceive war. It's certainly a force to be reckoned with.

  6. I read this a couple of years ago for a book group and liked it, but I don't think I really got it. Someone told me that the structure is similar to the downward spiral of an airplane, but I really think I missed out on a lot of the subtleties -- I wish I'd read more background or studied it in school, because I feel like I would have gotten so much more out of it.

  7. I read this one years ago and loved it. The absurdity was so well done. I'll be curious to hear your final thoughts on it.

  8. This is possibly my favorite book of all time. So many memorable charters. So much absurdity. If it weren't for Slaughterhouse-Five, this would be the greatest anti-war novel ever written. Yossarian lives!

    1. Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five make a really excellent pairing. Different styles, similar goals, plenty of dark humor and insight to go around.

    2. I just finished Catch-22 and very much agree that the combo of this Heller and that Vonnegut make the two best novels on the absurdity of war.