“On My Ever-Waning Ability to Read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller”

Just a second ago, I picked this book back up. I’d wanted to do a comparison of it with the film, which from the little I know shows Yossarian flipping off the camera, as if in the whole book he’d been nothing but a stereotypical, oafish wartime goon ball.
I got to reading the sort of introductory side bar on the inside of the cover and it said “Catch-22 is one of this century’s great works of literature.” This made me sort of nauseous. I mean just once I’d like to see one of these cheesy forewords open with, “This book really sucks. The only reason it’s in print at all is because the publisher had a surplus of U.S. currency. They actually had too much money and had to get rid of some of it.”
After finding the main introduction a tad brittle, I flipped to the first page of the novel. To my credit, I made it about 50 words farther than I did the last time.
The last time I restarted Catch, I was urged to share on Facebook that the novel’s beginning lines are among the best ever, right up there with the starts of A Tale of Two Cities and The Catcher in the Rye. They read:

“It was love at first sight.
“The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
“Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.”

This, a little comedic rule which of course presages the book’s main “catch-22” [1] of only truly being insane and therefore exempt from war if you think you’re sane [2], was as far as I got into the book the penultimate try. This time, I got a tad bit farther, and the whole thing practically screamed at me: nobody would look at this opening page having read Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and miss the fact that the latter is a blatant, unconcionable ripoff. I mean for Christ’s sake, he even practically transposes the exact nurse’s name on to his later manuscript (Nurse Duckett/Nurse Ratched). I’m no lawyer, but THAT SHOULD NOT BE LEGAL.
He**, maybe Catch-22 IS “one of this century’s great works of literature.” Maybe it’s just that we have more important things to worry about than literature. Like war. And excessive LSD intake, the type of thing which maybe precipitates accepted copycatting.
[1] According to Wikipedia, “The term was coined by Joseph Heller.”
[2] Overall, the book does a great job of illustrating the grimness of war and in fact champions a character, Yossarian, not typically marked by frat-boy oafishness, as the film seems to suggest, but fear, and the ability to evade things (one bellicose tactic is literally dubbed “evasive action,” at which Yossarian excels for very reason of his profoundly fearful disposition).

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