24 July 2009

First blast from the past: Reading journal entries and review for Catch 22

This was the very first book review I posted on my very first blog (52 Books: A bibliophile's miscellany), back in 2004. It was the first book I read as part of a book-a-week reading challenge that aimed at discovering as many new authors and genres as possible. I might not review it in the same way or give it the same rating now, but I am letting the entries stand as they were when I wrote it. All that has changed is that I left out some outside links, left out the cover image and fixed a spelling error or two as well (I hate those).

Originally posted in several parts on January 24-31, 2004:

Entry 1:

I've had this book in my "to be read" pile since sometime last autumn, and have wanted to read it for even longer, which makes it a good choice for the first in my 52 books challenge. Below are a couple of links related to the book.

Author: Joseph Heller
Published: 1961
Where got: charity shop
Genre: Satire, war

Entry 2:

I've finished several chapters and am beginning to be reminded of a TV series that I used to like watching as a teenager. The framework in both stories is war with all its attendant madness. Not that the book and the TV series take place in the same war or even the same continent, but some of the characters in Catch 22are displaying idiosyncrasies and attitudes that remind me decidedly of some of the characters from MASH.
So far the book has not tempted me to sit down and read it from cover to cover in one go. I'm on chapter seven and characters are still being introduced. A main storyline has not yet presented itself, although there have been hints...

Entry 3:

Catch 22 was first published in 1961. Critics who reviewed it either loved or hated it (there seem to have been no middling reviews), and at first it became a popular underground book, only surfacing to take its place on the bestseller lists when it came out in paperback. It came as something of a shock to readers who were used to serious anti-war novels full of pathos, with its dark and sarcastic humour, absurd dialogues and lack of a continuous storyline. It is by many considered to be among the best American novels of the 20th century, and readers still either think it's one of the best or one of the worst books they've read.

Catch 22 is one of those books that get classified under "general fiction" because people find it hard to put it anywhere else. I would say it belongs to the satire genre, with war as its main sub-genre.

The setting is semi-fictional, but the story could have happened almost anywhere in the world where American bomber planes were based, within the time frame of World War 2.

Heller based the book on his own experiences in WW2, which is perhaps the reason why some of the things that happen are so realistic and the conversations often believable in their absurdity.

The book's title has entered the English language as a term for things that are at once paradoxical, impossible and absurd.

Entry 4:

I'm at the halfway point in the book and it's becoming engrossing enough to keep me wanting to be reading when I'm at work. Have laughed out loud several times at the abusurdities and ironies of it and am looking forward to going back to reading.

Entry 5:

Note to anyone who hasn't read it yet: don't skip round to the ending at any time during your reading as it will ruin the rest of the book for you.

A friend asked me if If I'd seen the movie, but I haven't. I will check to see if it's available at the nearest video rental store, and will watch and review it if I do. In the meantime, here's one viewer's review
And more, at the Internet Movie Database

Finally, here is a quote which explains the basics of Catch 22:

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 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 would have 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.

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