I started reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (again) a couple of weeks ago. At first I chuckled quite a bit – nobody can censor a letter quite like Yossarian – and found that I was enjoying it. Now, I distinctly remember not liking this book the first time I tried to read it, so as I happily worked my way through the first chapter I wracked my brain trying to remember why I didn’t like it.
Then I got passed the first chapter and it all started coming back to me.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the odd wartime story and satire, I do, but that’s just it – I like the odd wartime story, not stories, as in singular, as in not a collection of short stories presented as a novel.
I am finding Catch 22 to be a very fragmented book; with each new chapter comes a new narrator, a new take on the war, a new story, new secondary characters, new plot twists and turns…you don’t really have any time in this book to ‘settle into’ any one story line. Heller doesn’t give you the opportunity to become absorbed in the narrative because the narrative keeps changing.
As I read this book I find myself frustrated, both with Heller and with myself. The last time I had to draw a map for a book I was reading was in university when I read From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman, and I was trying to keep straight the entire history of conflict in the Middle East! All I’m trying to remember in Catch 22 is who all these people are!
I remember the first time I tried to read Catch 22…I had plans to meet a friend at a coffee shop and I went early, thinking that a change of scenery might help me get more into the book (all the readers out there, you know what I’m talking about, let me hear you say “HELL YEA”). There I was, drinking coffee, minding my own business, reading about Ex-PFC Wintergreen, when a man walked passed me with his wife and kids.
SIDE BAR – Can I pause to comment on how awesome I think it is that a family goes out together to a bookstore? Awesome.
The man continues walking passed me, then before getting into their minivan, he stops, turns and looks at me to say “that’s a great book, one of my favourites,” “yeah? I just started reading it,” I say. “You’re going to love it,” and then he keeps going on his merry way. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t like the book. That, in fact, I had sought out a new charming locale just to try to like his beloved book. What’s wrong with me that I don’t like this book? has been my inner monologue ever since.
I am bound and determined to like this book, and that’s that.
P.S. Helping to get me through this book is Jay O. Sanders reading the audiobook when I’m driving.
A note on combining audiobook listening and traditional (shall we even dare to say, classical?) reading: it’s much harder to coordinate when you don’t have the synced up audiobook and eBook. Much time is wasted, and many passages re-read, in attempts to find where I last left off.