Friday, April 29, 2005

There Was Only One Catch . . . .

That "desert island" question down below reminds me of another book I guess I'd have to take: Joseph Heller's Catch-22. It's beyond a doubt one of my favorites.

Flashback to Spring, 1963. I'm doing my student teaching at A. S. Johnston High in Austin, Texas. There's a kid named Ronald Swank in my class, kind of a rough and tumble guy, but he likes to read, and we get along. One day after class he comes up to talk, and he's holding a blue paperback. "I like to read war books," he says. "I thought this was a war book, but it's not. Do you want it?" I take the book and look it over. It's Catch-22. I've heard about it, so I thank him and take it back to the dorm with me. That night I start reading it. It's different from anything I've ever read before. The characters all appear to be crazy, there are great one-liners on every page, the plot (if there is one) sure isn't linear. And I love it. Ronald Swank has changed my life.

Over the years, I've probably read Catch-22 a dozen times. I picked it up again last week and started it again. It's just as fresh to me now as it was 42 years ago. A great book? I don't know what the ultimate judgment of history will be. Who reads it now? Anybody? Or is it already forgotten? All I know is that for me it will always be one of the best books of the late lamented 20th century.

4 comments:

Steve Hockensmith said...

I can't say if anyone else still reads Catch-22, but I sure do! It had a huge impact on me when I first read it way back in high school. I've picked it up again a couple times since then -- most recently last year -- and it hasn't lost its punch. Heller walks the fine line between humor and tragedy, absurdism and outrage, without a single misstep. It's funny, it's sad, it's everything a great book should be. I've been inspired by a lot of writers and a lot of books, but Catch-22's at the very top of the list.

-Steve

Livia said...

I remember reading Catch-22 while I was in sixth grade and enjoying it, but I don't see either of my daughters reading the book. I really should read it again. It certainly had an impact on my young mind.

Anonymous said...

I'm a freshmen at the University of Michigan, and Catch-22 turned my life around a little over a year ago. Heller's use of sarcasm, the hilarious moments of the book, the doom-filled ones (Like the Siege of Bologna), all mixed into a little 400+ page novel, with one of the most memorable messages I'll ever know: If ever given a chance, anyone(including, and especially the government) can FORCE you do something if you can't stop them.
For me, the clause of catch-22 extended past the war and into our everyday lives.

Bill said...

I'm glad to see the book's still being read and still being influential.