Monday, February 13, 2006

Top 20 Books, #5

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach.
"Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of
the rule." [...]
"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22.
Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
[...] Yossarian [...] let out a respectful whistle. "That's
some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

Ok, we are cracking the top 5 of my favorite 20 books of all time.

#5 is Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

It comes to a point when a book is so good, that it's hard to do it justice in a blog. Sheer brilliance. If you haven't read it, do so. I mean, Joseph Heller contributed a word to the English language, catch-22, which is used every day. I'm sure if I tried hard enough I could come up with other authors who have done likewise, but this seems to be the quintessential example of an author coining a word for mass usage.

I read Catch-22 first while in college, and it was such a mind-blowing work that it took over part of my user ID in the computer changed from HEADBANGER to YOSSARIAN (the protagonist's name) and unltimately NAKED_IN_A_TREE, an allusion to Yossarian's attendance of another character's funeral, watching from afar, naked and sitting in a tree.

My senior seminar in English Literature was "The Psychology of the Novel" and I delivered a paper on Catch-22, using Freud to look at the psychoanalytical structure of the book.

I also had the pleasure of hearing Heller read at Congregation Ner Tamid, in Rancho Palos Verdes, that same year (1988). It was before my book-signing/collecting days, so I was content to hear him read and answer questions, as well as shake
his hand afterwards.

I would love a signed first edition of Catch-22. However, these run over $3000, so I'll be waiting a while for that.

The film, by the way, is quite good, as well, and is pretty loyal to the book. I would definitely recommend it, despite being in the shadow of another anti-war movie of the early Seventies, a small film called "M*A*S*H*". Looking at the credits, it is amazing to see who was involved; directed by Mike Nichols, screenplay by Buck Henry, with Alan Arkin, Richard Benjamin, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Paula Prentiss, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, Orson Welles, Charles Grodin, and Norman Fell.

Here's another absurd excerpt:

The middle-aged big shots would not let Nately's whore leave until they made her say uncle.

"Say Uncle," they said to her.

"Uncle," she said.

"No, no. Say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"She still doesn't understand."

"You still don't understand, do you? We can't really make you say uncle unless you don't want to say uncle. Don't you see? Don't say uncle when I tell you to say uncle. Okay? Say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"No, don't say uncle. Say uncle."

She didn't say uncle.

"That's good!"

"That's very good."

"It's a start. Now say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"It's no good."

"No, it's no good that way either. She just isn't impressed with us. There's just no fun making her say uncle when she doesn't care whether we make her say uncle or not."

"No, she really doesn't care, doesn't she? Say 'foot.'"


"You see? She doesn't care about anything we do. She doesn't care about us. We don't mean a thing to you, do we?"

"Uncle," she said.

You can read the whole excerpt here.

I generally don't like to re-read books. Why read a book again when there are so many unread books to tackle. This book is one of the few exceptions to my rule. Readint eh excerpt makes me want to read Catch-22 again. It would be time well-spent, indeed.

No comments: