Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

10 Jul

It seems like any time this book gets brought up in conversation, it’s that book everyone “has always meant to read.” OK, so maybe this entire blog sort of works that way, but still. Catch-22 is a hilarious gem that can be read over and over again, and is great if you’re looking for a laugh this summer.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Published: 1961

Difficulty: The style of writing is easy to read, though the jumping around to different narrators can, at times, be difficult to deal with.

Quick Read?: Given the fragmented nature of the book, and it’s length, it is not quick, but at times it will feel quick.

Synopsis: Catch-22 opens to the protagonist Yossarian in a military hospital in 1944. World War II is raging on but Yossarian is in the hospital for an ailment they don’t understand and can’t heal though he feels perfectly fine. But this is OK by him–he wants nothing to do with the war, with fighting, with missions, with authority, with anything. He’s not a rebel or bad person at all, just lazy, and irritating to those around him. The book follows his silly antics, ridiculous pranks, and brilliant twists of logic throughout wartime, especially towards his loatheful superior officers, switching between narrators and time periods from chapter to chapter (including characters named Major Major, constantly changing soldier requirements that are impossible to meet, and whores who are more manly than the soldiers themselves). As Yossarian refuses to go on any missions or do any work, no one can stop him but no one can motivate him either. Each character is more absurd and dysfunctional than the next, to the point that even the delinquent Yossarian seems fully functional. The entire book is extremely satirical of the American militant mindset, World War II, and American obedience. It is laugh out loud funny, and truly unforgettable.

What makes this book awesome?: Heller really does write a book that will have you giggling to yourself aloud, even if you find that sort of thing humiliating. I always hated when teachers would say a classic book had timeless humor, because that usually meant it was cheesy, which is not at all the case with Catch-22. It is genuinely funny, and because of that, its moments of seriousness are incredibly moving. It’s a classic book that doesn’t feel like a burden to read, because in all the seriousness of war, we are reminded of the lightheartedness of being human.

Also, considering the war(s?) we are still involved in today, the satire of the military and American government is something refreshing to read today. It may not be the same sort of satire you might see on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, but it is very smart humor that hits a nerve with you.

Look at Joseph Heller. Clearly a troublemaker with a cause, am I right?

Some neat-o facts: 

  • Yossarian is a bombardier, as was Heller. However, unlike Yossarian, Heller claims to never have had bad experiences with his superior officers. Yeah, OK Heller, sure.
  • Note that there are definite subtle and not-so-subtle stabs at McCarthyism and the other ill side-effects that World War II brought on the U.S. during the 1950’s, when Heller himself wrote the novel.
  • The title, as is explained in the book (not a spoiler), is a reference to having to fulfill or achieve something that can never actually be fulfilled or achieved, which is very much a stab at war itself.
If you like this, try: “M*A*S*H,” All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
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