First Lines: Catch-22

A former colleague of mine tried to steer me away me from reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I cannot quite recall the exact wording, but he could not get into it all. But, as a) it is on my list of 40 books to read before I turn 40, and b) I can be quite stubborn if I really want to, I dove in anyway.

Now, upon having finished and pondered on the book, I do get his point: the first half does and awful lot of setting up, and the second half has precious little paying off.

The story boils down to Yossarian (our hero, a bombardier in the US Army) trying to survive the madness of war. He does this by trying to prove he is insane, in order to not having to fly more combat missions, which might get him killed. In fact, he’s sure that everybody is out to kill him, which might actually be true, as he is in a war, where everyone is trying to kill everyone else. He could get out on his insanity plea, but:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that 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 had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the 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 replied.

Catch-22 as described by Joseph Heller in Catch-22

This circular logic permeates all of Catch-22, and it’s often worse than that. It might be viewed as one of the great anti-war novels of our time, but I found it to be a lot of effort for a few chuckles.

One thing, I’ll give it, though—it’s very quotable:

“Just for once I’d like to see all these things sort of straightened out, with each person getting exactly what he deserves. It might give me some confidence in this universe.”
“It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear somebody?”
Book read
Joseph Heller — Catch-22

First line

It was love at first sight.