New Thing: Read Catch-22

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try; it’s part of how I live my life on purpose. Some of these new things are exciting, many are terribly mundane.


“Oh, yes. I remember reading Catch-22,” my dad says between bites of baked potato. “It was so relatable. It reminded me so much of my time in the navy.”
And that, dear readers, is one of the reasons I hated this book.
Catch-22 is beautifully, cleverly written. It’s subversive and thought-provoking and powerful and (at least for me) so, so hard to read. 
Why? Nearly every character you care about dies, frequently in an awful way. Horrible, malicious, immoral characters survive – and get promoted. Men rape women, push them out of windows and go unpunished. People are disappeared. The mess officer intentionally bombs his own troupe and is promoted.
It’s completely heartbreaking.
If you’ve never read it, Catch-22 is a novel set in WW II focusing on a bombardier named Yossarian and his platoon of soldiers stationed in Italy. As the back of the book states “The real problem isn’t the enemy – it’s Yossarian’s own army, which keeps increasing the number missions men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.”
I’m a fast reader and I’m not averse to dark or creepy or sad literature. I genuinely loved Lolita and I’ll happily read about Rasputin and The Romanovs for hours. But this book? I had to renew it from the library three times and I would have stopped after 30 pages if I hadn’t told the internet I was going to read it.
At parties, friends would ask was I was reading and my answer – for the last two months – has been “Catch-22 and I hate it.”
And I was in the minority! So many people adore this book. I eventually learned to temper my instinctual response of “WHY?! It’s so sad and horrible!” to “What do you like about it?”
They listed the same reasons I listed above. It is beautifully, cleverly written. It is thought-provoking and powerful and subversive.
Here are some of the most beautifully written, clever bits:
“One of the most surprising things always was the sense of calm and utter silence, broken only by the test sounds fired from the machine guns, by an occasional toneless terse remark over the intercom and, at last, by the sobering pronouncement of the bombardier in each plane that they were at the I.P. and about to turn towards the target. There was always sunshine, always a tiny sticking in the throat from the rarefied air.” 
“Huple thrust his jaw out defiantly to let Hungry Joe know he couldn’t be pushed around and then did exactly as he had been told.” 
“Lieutenant Scheisskopf smacked his hands over his eyes in exasperation. It was the despair of Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s to be chained to a woman who was incapable of looking beyond her own dirty, sexual desires to the titanic struggles of the unattainable in which noble man could become heroically engaged.
“Why don’t you ever whip me?”she pouted one night
“Because I don’t have the time,” he snapped at her impatiently. “I haven’t the time. Don’t you know there’s a parade going on?””
What could you do? Major Major asked himself again. What could you do with a man who looking you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die and than be killed in combat, a man who was at least as mature and intelligent as you were and who you had to pretend was not? What could you say to him? 
You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail. 
The end of the book is slightly more uplifting. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a teeny, tiny bit of hope for our hero. Keep trudging, disheartened reader. It’ll end on the tiniest of up-notes.I can rather begrudgingly admit that I’m glad I read this book. It’s so important to read, watch, and listen outside of our comfort zones – even if I have to force myself to do it, gritting my teeth with every page and periodically putting the book down to yelp to my empty apartment “Why does everyone keep dying?!”

I think I need a little Anne of Green Gables palette cleansing.

Have you read Catch-22? What did you think of it? What books did you struggle to read but are glad you did? I also struggled with A Fine Balance and Disturbing the Peace

P.S. Other new things: reading The Sun Also Rises, sleeping in a treehouse, shooting a bow.

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  1. Claire M

    Interesting! I read it in high school and found it incredibly easy to read. It was supposed to be for class, but was very difficult for me to stop reading after I'd finished the assigned portion. I wasn't alone, as the teacher kept having to remind the class that if we were going to read ahead, we should be aware of where the stopping point was so our assignments would be about the specified part only.

    It is a very dark book, and I wonder if the cynicism and angst that many of us go through as teenagers makes it somewhat easier to read. Or perhaps our naivety. Or both.

    I convinced a friend of mine to read it. She majored in English Literature at university but, like you, had just never got around to reading it. She loved it so much she made me a T-shirt that looks like the cover you posted above, but says "Yossarian lives" instead of the title. I have fond memories of Catch-22 for the book itself and the shirt.

    • SAM

      OMG, I must have that shirt. 🙂

  2. lo

    Catcher in the Rye! Holden made me grind my teeth through every whiny page. I did not get the same experience from that book that a lot of other people seemed to have. I refuse to pleasure read books that do not move me in the first few chapters now, but maybe I should read Catcher again to see if he still rubs me the wrong way after all these years!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Interesting! I loooooove everything J.D. Salinger wrote. Have you tried Franny & Zooey? That's my favorite of his books.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Interesting! I loooooove everything J.D. Salinger wrote. Have you tried Franny & Zooey? That's my favorite of his books.

    • Corey

      I had to reread Catcher again after high school and STILL didn't like it! It was too much for me. Too much navel gazing, woe is me, etc etc etc. The reason I might hate that is because I do it a lot and it pisses me off? Haha. But I'm with you on Holden.

      And as for Catch 22, haaaated it. maybe I'm a person for getting to the point, but I thought Catch 22 made it's point very early on and it was tiring and depressing to keep on reading the same overall idea over and over again.

      I also had a really hard time with Confederacy of Dunces. I wanted to throw the book every couple of pages.

    • Sarah M

      I also disliked Catcher in the Rye and couldn't stand the main character. I haven't tried re-reading it again. The only book I've ever hated and then read again and loved was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I hated it the first time and then I bawled through it the second time, with about 5 years difference in there.
      Sarah M

  3. SAM

    OMG, must have that T-shirt!

    • SAM

      Sorry, I'm bad at the internet. I MEANT to say:

      Catch-22 is my favorite book in the world; I read it in high school and re-read it every 5 years or so. Yes, it's dark, but it's also a comedy. It's about camaraderie, the absurdity of war, and what it takes to survive (both mentally and physically).

      Yossarian is the best anti-hero ever written, in my opinion. I've definitely tried to convince my husband that if we ever have a son, we should name him Yossarian (it's an ongoing argument, but I'm losing).

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I DO really like Yossarian as a character and I love his friendship with the chaplain. <3

  4. Vanessa

    I haven't read "Catch-22" but it's a book that my husband (former military) and his BFF have bonded over. In my circle of people, I've noticed that it's mostly my military peeps who really identify and enjoy the book.

    My problem book has been "Beloved". I had to read it three times in three different classes in High School and I just can't get into it. It's too…surreal for me and I find the prose kinda grating.

    The other book I just can't stand is "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents". As a first generation Hispanic lady, I couldn't identify at ALL with the Garcia girls. My experience of being Hispanic in the US was totally different, my parents were pretty much uneducated factory workers. The Garcia girls went to a prep school back in DR and in the US, which really grated against my sensitive teen nerves. I think I also dislike the book because a well-meaning but blundering professor gushed at how I would love it and identify with it. Sorry Dr H., I love you but no.

  5. Sarah M

    oh my GOSH I hated that book, too. My senior AP English class was supposed to read it over a summer (um, terrible idea) and then have a test on it right when we got back to class. I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even get 50 pages into it. I quit and just pulled something out for the test. I think I got a C. I soooo rarely don't finish books, but there's just too little time for me to care anymore. I probably won't ever start it again.
    Sarah M

  6. Mel

    I haven't talked myself into reading Catch-22 yet, and this didn't help. LOL I'm overcoming depression on a daily basis, and books like that are a trigger so I try to avoid them whenever possible.

    In grad school, before I was diagnosed, my Irish Lit professor assigned The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. Whenever I'd try to read it, I'd fall asleep within minutes. Sitting up, laying down, even standing up, I'd get really, really drowsy and, if possible, just fall asleep. After about a week of this phenomenon, I told my professor what was happening and he actually excused me from reading the book and gave me an alternative assignment. From the advantage of perspective and hindsight, I see now that my then-undiagnosed depression simply could not handle reading about someone like that book's protagonist, so my brain shut down. I've never tried to go back and read it.

  7. iris

    I'm with you. Catch-22 is one of the few books in my started-but-never-finished pile. That, and "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test." Ugh.

  8. Teleri

    Cath 22 has been on my list, too.. for the last 10 years. A friend of mine read it and liked it so I thought, well, I could at least try. But no German book store I visited in the last 10 years had it on the shelf and up to now I did not bother to order it online, so it still remains unread by me to the present day. Maybe I should take this post as a sign and order it already.
    I really struggled with a) the Silmarillion and b) Crime and Punishment. Both took me more than five years to finish. The Silmarillion was worth it, but Crime and Punishment? Phew.. All the action takes place in the first 30 pages (of more than 500) and the rest is just a troubled mind running through the streets of St. Petersburg. But I guess I should be proud of myself for finishing it.

  9. Laura B.

    I love Catch-22, it is maybe my all-time favorite novel (SAM, I wish we were friends!). And hate Catcher in the Rye (sooo whiny!). Interesting that these two books are so polarizing. I find the satire of Catch-22 so satisfying as an indictment of the absurdity of war. I generally like dark comedy and absurdist satire, like Slaughterhouse-Five, and White Noise, but this genre is clearly not for everyone.

    Book I struggled with but am ultimately glad I read: The Handmaid's Tale.

    Book I truly hated and wish I had never read: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

  10. Lisa Blah Blah

    I started it but never finished it, many, many years ago. I would say I should try again, but life is short and there are so many yummy books out there to consume.

  11. Rachel

    Sar – are you on GoodReads? I'm finding it so fun & interesting to see what a wider range of people think of whatever I'm reading…

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I think I am but I haven't used it in ages – I'll have to log back in!

  12. Anonymous

    There are now audiobook versions of “Catch-22” on YouTube. Go listen to it now!

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