Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dinner Train Book Club: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is a book I somehow managed to avoid reading all throughout high school, despite the fact that it seems like one of those ubiquitous English class requirements.  In fact, most of the books riding the Dinner Train seem to fall into this category... This, however, may be the first one I actually feel some regret over not having read in a high school classroom, mostly because there is so much going on that I'd like to have an English teacher steering me in the making-sense-of-it-all direction!  I'm not going to do a summary of this title; this review is what it is.  I guarantee there is no shortage of book reviews, reports, or analytical essays on the interwebs you can read up on, probably written by brighter teenage minds than mine. 

I will say this though: Catch-22 took me a while to get into.  It takes a while to accept that things jump around and give the Latin American Magical Realists a run for their confusing money.  But once you suspend all structural expectations, things begin to make sense as you realize the brilliance of this book.  Heartbreaking, funny, and poignant, it gives a sense of the suspension of reality that colors war - because that is the only way to process and survive the horrors of the experience, and depart from normal ethics and morals (for something similar, read Yellow Birds).  It is also hilarious and wry; you can tell that Joseph Heller experienced many of the ludicrous things that befall his characters, like Milo's black market empire, the soap in the sweet potatoes, or the cyclical conversations that start, end, and start again in the same place (I'm looking at you, Colonel Cathcart).  Yossarian is a brilliant, irrascible everyman, but probably my favorite character is the Chaplain.  I just want to give him a hug.  Incidentally, these ludicrous happenstances are what shaped my decision to make the recipe I wound up (finally) making, something I'm being cute and calling Yossarian's Soapy Sweet Potato Bread, but more formally calling Rosemary Sweet Potato Olive Bread with Feta and Artichokes.  So, RSPOBFA? Awful.  

In short, if you are like me and have never read this, I'd say it is well worth your time.  If only to be seen looking really smart with the iconic cover!  I will caution you that there are some vivid descriptions of battle wounds, but it is a World War II novel, not Shel Silverstein's Hug of War.  If you can't figure out what that means...this may not be the book for you.  Enjoy this book with some Italian food, a loaf of RSPOBFA bread, wine, cold beer and sunshine, or your own version of soapy sweet potatoes. 

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