Thursday, May 15, 2014


by Joseph Heller

A while back, my younger brother suggested we read Catch-22 and discuss it together and naturally I agreed. Unfortunately, it took me two years to get to it..... and even at that I didn't actually read the book but listened to it from my audible account. So last month I went to StL a little embarrassed but ready to hash it out with B only to discover that he too had put the book on the back burner! So instead of having a discussion, I kinda gave him a recap, which I think reignited his interest in reading it, so maybe we'll be ready by Thanksgiving (hint to any other family members who'd like to join the conversation).

Here are my thoughts on Catch-22:
First, I'm not sure I would have had the patience to stick with it to the end if I were actually reading the book. It is very redundant. But kudos to Tootsie for getting through it in print!

Next, I was amazed at how skillfully Heller stuck with the paradoxes- to a fault. It was almost confusing, but also quite funny. The entire book is like an eternal "Who's on First" skit. Here are a few of my favorites:
     - Major Major's father was a farmer who made a good living not growing alfalfa. The more he didn't        grow, the greater his subsidies, so he worked very hard at expanding the area in which he did not          grow alfalfa.
     - Receiving pennants as prizes is absurd. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, they only signify        that the person had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.
    - There is no need to repay the government, because in a democracy the government is the people,           and we are the people, so you may as well keep the money and eliminate the middle man.

And of course, the catch-22 itself, the initial understanding relating to a person's sanity. In a nutshell, catch-22 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. Bombers were crazy to keep flying missions and could therefore be relieved of further duty if they asked. But, if they asked they were considered rational since they recognized the danger, and therefore they had to continue flying missions because they were sane, but they'd have to be crazy to keep flying missions.

I can see why it creates such controversy. Heller is pretty strong in his anti-war perspective on one hand identifying the atrocities and on the other hand laughing at them. He pokes fun of American bureaucracy, bringing into light its incompetence and corruption. I think people could find it offensive that he is making fun of the horrors of war and of America, but I did see the humor.

I'm glad I can now say I've read this classic, even though I didn't actually read it. 

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