SDMB Reader's Group: Catch-22 Discussion #1

This is the first discussion thread for the SDMB reading group. The logistics thread is here: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=543091

This discussion covers the beginning of the book to the end of chapter 22. I have to confess that I’m only about halfway there (I think I’ve been more in the mood for non-fiction lately, and I’ve been enjoying spending time with my family), so I may not participate much. I’ll do my best to get the discussion going still.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the book is full of paradoxes, circular reasoning and ideas being turned on their heads. The obvious example is the title.
I always like the parts that focus on Yossarian because he has an interesting perspective on things. It’s like he sees situations for what they really are. I believe the text on the back of the book calls him “dangerously sane”, and often what he says not only makes a lot of sense but makes things that seemed normal before seem absurd now, especially his attitude towards combat. He is hung up by the fact that thousands of people he doesn’t even know want him dead, and that’s a pretty big deal. I also like the way his number one goal is to survive and how he goes about doing that.

Overall I’m not enjoying the book a whole lot. I don’t know if that can really be blamed on the book itself though. I’ve read a whole bunch of fiction novels lately and maybe I’m just more in the mood for non-fiction. Maybe it’s because I’m generally not a fan of war stories.

I really liked the parts that centered around Yossarian, but as far as I’ve gotten those are disappointingly rare. Instead the author keeps introducing new characters that I don’t find all that interesting. I don’t care about Hungry Joe or these other people. Maybe it’s just that I have trouble remembering who is who. There are so many names. The biggest exception so far is Major Major, whose chapter I enjoyed. Maybe because he’s got such a distinct name.

So, what are your thoughts? I’m especially hoping for someone to disagree with my reasons for not liking the book a whole lot. I hope it’s something that I’m just not getting, and someone can explain it to me so I can enjoy it more.

I’ve gotten 50 pages into it, I hate to say. I do like Yossarian and Dr. Daneeka but most of the time my head feels like it is going to explode. Too many characters and although the writing is excellent , I feel like I have to puzzle a little over every paragraph before I go to the next.

I haven’t yet given up on it but I have enough books on the back burner that I might not be able to get through it.

I loved this book in high school, and read it a couple of times. At the time I think I was struck by how cleverly Heller symbolized the infernally circular logic of the war by using circular conversations and nutty individual situations, and I have no doubt that in 1961 the writing would have felt remarkably fresh (as it did to me in high school)…

…but not so much now. Reading it now almost 30 years later I found myself bored by the repetitiveness and the whimsical characters, and perhaps biased by the knowledge of what obsesses Yossarian, and how the characters end up. Also hanging over it was the shadow of MAS*H (the movie, not the TV show or books), which I understand came later, but which emulated some of the craziness of Catch-22.

FWIW, I did get a laugh out of Yossarian’s very sensible explanation of why he took personally the fact that people wanted to kill him…on reading that I suspected that I would feel the same way. But in the end I finished the book out of a sense of obligation, and watched another favorite novel of my youth go by the wayside.

I’ll be very curious to see what other first-time readers think.

Well, I’m not a first time reader - like Maserschmidt, I counted this book among my favorites when I was in high school and when I reread it in college. I’m finding it a less immersive experience than before, although not really a disappointment. It’s more that, because the plot and characters are so familiar, I find myself thinking more analytically about the reading experience as a whole and in particular about the way first-time readers are encountering the book.

One of the things I’ve always liked about this book is that I feel like Heller worked to create a parallel between the experience the reader has and the experience Yossarian has. While I haven’t ever been to war, I feel like that way the characters are introduced and fleshed out works on a narrative and a realistic level - “here’s some guys, right now all you need are their names, oh here’s a funny story about them, here’s an oddly intimate detail about their life, here’s an anecdote that you don’t really know all the details about because you showed up late or you heard it thirdhand.”

Another thing that is different for me this time around is my attitude toward Yossarian. I’ve always loved his sanity in the face of massive, commonplace insanity, but there are other elements of his character that I feel less charitable about. His attitude toward women is too rooted in a particular time and place to be really disturbing, but it is annoying.

Sorry for getting back to you guys so late, family emergency.
I started read this book for the first time, and I have one question: what the hell is going on?
Catch-22, while I think I may be wrong, has circuitous dialogue, and it has made progress very confusing, slow, but entertaining. Although, as you guys have written above, Yossarian and Orr are very distinct.
The next step, for me, I think would be to actually look this book up. Although that might ruin it. Suggestions? Or should I try the apple think like Orr does?
I believe a movie has been made of Catch-22, if it worth it to buy the movie too?

I honestly wouldn’t look anything up, or watch the movie, before you complete the book - the circuitous nature that you referred to does help in some ways. Things that are vaguely described, or mentioned only in passing, are often revisited later in the book. Of course, after you’ve read the book it can be interesting and informative to see what others have thought about it. I’ve been thinking about posting a couple of sources/ articles about the book here, but 1) I didn’t want to do that before anyone finished the book, and 2) I’m not sure if that would violate the spirit of the thread.

And for anyone who is sort of floundering and is unsure of whether they want to finish, I’d recommend it. In my opinion, the second half of the book has stronger writing and packs more of a punch than the first half (although that may just be my own state of mind).

I think you are confusing my ranting with an actual complaint. I am rather enjoying the circuitous dialogue, to the extent that I don’t often read books of that type. I am seeing a theme so far, that almost every situation that is presented so far seems to be a no win-no win situation.

Interesting, and attention-grabbing so far, mostly because I have to re-read sentences to be sure that I understood them right.

This book speaks to me, and reflects/informs my worldview, more than any other novel I’ve ever read. (Catch-22 and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, taken together, are as neat an encapsulation of my weltanschauung as you could hope to find.) I think it’s brilliant and touching and profound and hilarious and mad.

“Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up in the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all. And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier.”

I’m a first time reader. So far I’m loving it,or rather was loving it. It seems a little ‘samey’ as I approach page 300. I didn’t actually see the book club thread, it is just a coincidence that I am reading it at the same time. I am not particularly liking Milo, though I suppose that is probably the point.

This post is kind of complainy, but I really did enjoy what I’ve read so far. I love Yossarian’s complaint that people are trying to kill him, the not even funnier construction he sometimes uses, and the callback to Halfoat that took me by surprise. Halfoat was the one who always found oil, right?)

I’m hardly into it, and I’m struggling because of the sheer number of anonymous character names I’m meant to keep track of. iftheresaway’s interpretation is making me feel more optimistic, but it’s slow going.

I too like Yossarian’s complaint that people are trying to kill him. He’s just as crazy as everyone, but in an enlightening way.

My favorite person, who has a coherent personality despite only brief tangential appearances, is PFC Wintergreen: “T.S. Eliot! slam down phone:slight_smile:

A friend of mine just told me it took him 12 years to get through it but he loved it! Not sure if that’s good or bad. I’ve made it to page 156, I do much better when Yossarian is on the scene. I did find the moving of the bombing line to Bologna pretty hilarious. And the scene where he’s trying to explain why he did it to Clevinger.