The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own 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 had 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."
-Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Originally titled Catch-18, Catch-22 is a book that everyone should read at least once. The phrase Catch-22 has essentially come to mean "damned if you do, damned if you don't," and that's basically the premise of the entire book. Everyone is trapped in their own little contradictory, absurd course of action, and no one quite knows how to get out of it.

I haven't read Catch-22 since high school, and I grabbed it on a whim while I was home last weekend. The book has a strange effect on me. I really resist picking it up, but once I have convinced myself to start reading, I'll knock out 50 or so pages at a clip. I'm about two-thirds finished.

One of the best parts about re-reading this book is noticing what I noticed on the first go-round. I underlined things I liked, made notes in the side (most of which were comparisons to books I'd read or films I'd watched for a class on existentialism. Has anyone seen Cool Hand Luke? If you've seen that and read Catch-22, you'll understand); this time, I am pausing at a lot of those moments and reflecting. I'm also noticing quite a lot more than I did the first time.

It's hard to overstate how good Heller's writing actually is. Most writers couldn't maintain this level of frustrated absurdity within a plot and not lose every single reader. In addition to how utterly annoying the events are -for the characters and the reader, by proxy -the book is extremely funny. I have laughed out loud almost every time I pick the book up to read it. Heller has humans to a T in the book.

The absurdity of life, bureaucracies, war and a number of other topics are all addressed by Catch-22 (often as a Catch-22). It's impossible to read the book and not be changed by it in a significant way.

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