Friday, February 10, 2006

Book: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (1961)

Back in January, I publicly resolved to broaden the range of my reading material, to tackle some of those books I keep saying I’ll get to.

CATCH-22 topped that list, for the simple reason that I’ve talked about the novel for years without ever reading it. Joseph Heller gave a name to a concept that seems like such an intrinsic part of modern life – a no-win situation created by laws or regulations – that I felt comfortable slinging the term around without knowing its origins.

But how often is an individual able to crystallize a society’s thoughts in this way? (The most recent example is Stephen Colbert and ‘truthiness.’) I felt the best way to honor Heller’s accomplishment was to go to the source.

Of course, the problem with taking on a classic is that nine times out of ten, you’ve got nothing worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. (Warning: this is one of those nine times. I probably should have said that earlier.) But there’s no point in taking on a classic if you don’t let people know you’ve read it, so what is a boy to do?

First, make one observation. The anniversary edition I read included an odd introduction by Heller in which he mentioned the role humorist S. J. Perelman played in CATCH-22’s success. I’m not surprised Perelman praised the book, because it features the kind of dexterous wordplay for which he was famous.

Then, offer a favorite quote.

“You know, Yossarian ... I really do admire you a bit. You’re an intelligent person of great moral character who has taken a very courageous stand. I’m an intelligent person with no moral character at all, so I’m in an ideal position to appreciate it.”

And remember, everyone has a share.

Miscellaneous: Links

I link to this article on filmmaker Park Chan-wook as an excuse to tout his movies Joint Security Area and Oldboy yet again. And personally, I’d be thrilled to be traded for a cartoon rabbit.