First published in 1961, for most of my adult life Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch – 22’, has been acclaimed as one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Until now, I had never read it, yet my 1974 second-hand Corgi paperback copy mysteriously appeared in my library more than 40 years ago.

Catch 22 - cover and loose pages

There are several reasons why I was deterred from opening this book. Firstly there are 478 very browned pages of small print. Secondly, the binding is Perfect. This is a low cost method of glueing individual unstitched pages to an adhesive coated spine. After a while the pages loosen and tend to fall on the floor.

Catch - 22 loose pages

This is particularly awkward if you are reading in bed. Okay, okay, I know it is not meant to last for 44 years.

Catch - 22 stained pages

My particular volume has stained pages. I fondly hoped this was caused by water, tea, or coffee. On the other hand, the previous owner could have had an incontinent cat.

Catch - 22 back cover blurbs

I tend to question blurbs that claim a book is ‘brilliantly funny’, nevertheless the review extracts printed on the back cover are, in my view, surprisingly accurate.

It was on-line discussions with WordPress friend Uma that encouraged me to pick it up.

At times, sensitively poetic, Heller’s breathtaking prose often rampages at breakneck speed through the pages. Some of his descriptions of action seem brutally accurate. The sexuality is both erotic and indelicate; the detailed violence at times exhausting.

I understand Heller was a bombardier during World War II, but I am sure that the absurdity of events and characterisation here is aimed at all wars. As is my wont, I will attempt not to give away the story, but to speak of my impressions.

The film and TV series MASH never appealed to me and I only saw extracts by mistake. Unfortunately this, by association, put me off Heller’s book. Having read this I have investigated views on the web about any links or similarities. It seems I was in error to consider them in the same light.

The absurdity of war and its management is clearly what this book is about. The author’s brilliance is that he manages to convey stupid brutality, and self-serving incompetence in a hugely entertaining way. Paradoxical, repetitive, and logically irrational, it even has a character called Minderbender.

We are shown devious corruption and precarious self-aggrandisement. We see that this scale of management of events is impossible.

War, we know, is destructive. The real impact of this is brought home in the later stages of the book. Not only is it destructive of life, but of morals, of ethics, of faith, of trust, of relationships.

Yet, we want to know what happens to the major protagonist, and, finally, we are given a glimpse of hope.

I enjoyed it.

During their recent stay, Florence and Dillon discovered Arthur Rackham. This was in a shop selling framed prints that had been removed from now antique books. I was pleased to be able to give our granddaughter two of my unvandalised first editions.

The first was Undine, featured in my post of 17th May 2016; the second of Richard Wagner’s ‘The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie, translated by Margaret Armour, published in 1910 by William Heinemann in London, and Doubleday, Page & Co in New York

I published the Undine post before I began to place pages for the purpose directly onto my scanner. At that time I was photographing them, which is not such a faithful operation. There are 34 tipped in colour plates, protected by still pristine tissue sheets; and each scene in the drama is topped and tailed by exquisite vignettes. In order not to strain the spine of this book which is still in very good condition, I have simply selected

the front cover board, the title page, and six sample plates.

On the window sill of one of our spare bedrooms stands a breakfast set consisting of a plate, a bowl, and a mug, painted by Flo for me when she was very small. The crossword, the fire, and the books indicate her associations with me. I do hope our granddaughter, a fully paid up punctuation police person, will permit the preservation of the superfluous apostrophe on the mug.

Given that Flo and Dillon were on their way back to South Carolina, her books have been left with us for safe keeping. I was therefore able to read The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie again today.

For our dinner this evening, Jackie produced pork chops with mustard and almonds; roast potatoes; red cabbage with peppers and onions in red wine; crunchy carrots, and broccoli. She drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Chateauneuf.




  1. Flo’s pottery was such a touching gift.
    I remember starting Catch 22 years ago–maybe when I was in high school–but not being able to get into it. I did like the TV show MASH, and I discovered recently that my uncle was a in a MASH unit during the Korean War. He did psychological testing, even though he had only taken a few grad school classes at the time at that point.

  2. I think I read a couple of pages of Catch 22, but that was where I stopped. 🙁 I never got into Mash. I had friends who were crazy about it…I just didn’t get it. 🙂

      1. I’m the same way – my reading time is so precious and so limited that I am very finicky. Good for you for fighting through & trying something different.

  3. I’ve read Catch 22 a couple of times and marvel at the absurdities he writes. I wonder if my copy will turn up in one of my boxes of books, as I am sure I have owned a copy of it. I wonder too where it will be as interesting as your copy!

  4. I must have first read Catch 22 in the early 70’s and both loved and was horrified by it – for all the reasons you list here. I was relatively young in the early 70’s and a bit more tender hearted than now. It is certainly a book that provided images that have stayed with me though I no longer recall the minutiae. Maybe it’s time to read it again. I enjoyed MASH very much – one of my daughters is still a fan. I think it was the first primetime show to explore the utter stupidity of war and its ensuing craziness. As the series progressed it got darker and more realistic. That’s probably where the connection with Catch 22 came in.

  5. I never read Catch 22, but maybe I will some day. My dad served in Korea and spent time in a Mash unit after being wounded. He loved the TV show and said MASH was accurate – that the doctors really acted like that. Anyway, that’s how I became a fan. Mash seems like a comedy with some moving drama. Your description of Catch 22 seems to suggest it is primarily a drama with some brilliant comedy. Just a guess. I love the old images.

  6. I read Catch 22 years and years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Crazy, absurdly funny, and probably very close to real life, since you couldn’t make some of that stuff up!

  7. I must reread Catch 22. Like many pieces of great writing I read in my late teens and early 20’s I’ve only the vaguest impressions of now. Time for another look. I’ll see if I can find a copy not marked by an incontinent cat.

  8. Great story. i remember how much I ‘gobbled it up’ when I read it – many years ago. You have whetted my appetite again and I went straight to my personal library to find it, but it is not there. Come to think of it, I don’t remember having seen it there for a long time. Probably another of those books I have lent out at some time and were never returned to me. Or it could have been disposed of I suppose if the same happened to it as to your copy. I must get my hands on a copy and read it again. Thanks for posting, Derrick.

  9. I recall that the movie made me feel very uneasy. Yet, since we all change with time and experiences, it might be interesting to come back to the book from a new perspeactive.
    I did enjoy Mash ….

  10. Thank-you for your review, Derrick. I read Catch 22 when I was in my twenties and found it amazing and horrifying at the same time. I think the copy I had at the time was a corgi paperback with a red cover. I no longer have it – probably weeded out before one of many house-moves. I also am very fond of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations.

  11. Wanted to read that book long ago but I was not able to find a copy. Now I am engrossed reading e-books. some prints in published books are so small I hurt my eyes just looking at them. At least the fonts of the e-book copies could be enlarged.

  12. Sweet way to remember, no matter the punctuation. I’ve never read “Catch 22.” And probably won’t, but the title certainly has become iconic.

      1. It has become a classic, and when this happens, there is usually something about the book that deserves attention.

  13. Derrick, I am honoured by the mention. Just as you say, one has to persevere with a couple of chapters of ‘Catch 22’ to start liking it (although in my case, it was love at first sight, not unlike Yossrian and the chaplain). It is just that I keep running into Milo Minderbinders and Major Major Major Majors day in and day out, not to mention the ‘Catches’ of life and utter pointlessness of war –Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are recent examples. I reckon one of the reasons some folks find the book boring is it has been imitated profusely and by the time they read the original masterpiece they have lost the appetite for absurdism. Having said that, the core magic of ‘Catch 22’ remains essentially inimitable, and even Heller failed to invoke it in his successive books. Recently, Heller wrote a sequel called ‘Closing Time’s but I am still to buy it.

    Those are sweet memorablia on the window sill. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Glad you had a good visit with your family Derrick. Hard to keep good books preserved these days given the proliferation of technology.

  15. Your summary and review of “Catch 22” was very good Derrick, and accurately close to how I perceived the book as well.

  16. I’m aware of the paradox in Catch-22 but have never got round to reading it. A further issue with reading larger books in bed is that, once past half-way, the heavier section falls on your nose making you jump as you’re nodding off; obviously, you can vary this by lying on different sides.

  17. Agreed, Catch 22 is an hilarious but devastating take on human stupidity. I, too, am a late convert. The Rackham looks superb, we have an Arabian Nights with 20 Dulac illustrations, undated, but I doubt it’s a first. It still has its dust jacket.

  18. What a talented grand-daughter! Let’s forgive the rampant apostrophe. The entire project was a big effort in design and implementation.
    Just the other day I dug out a notelet I wrote my aunt when I was nine . . .
    “School is awfull. Our teacher is Mr Gilbert. He gets angry at us because he says the work we do is 3rd class, but usually I get everything right, that is most of the sums and all of the spelling.”
    (well, on reflection, perhaps not ALL of the spelling, although I can brag the commas were in the right place).
    I’m sure I read Catch-22 but can’t remember the details. Another one I must re-read.

  19. Catch 22 was pretty much compulsory reading if you were to have credibility at school in the 1970s. Fortunately I devoured it then and allowed the lessons to percolate with the humour and I would say it was a book that deeply effected me. I have read it since and encouraged all my children to do the same. I still have my original copy but it is not quite so ‘vintage’ as yours. Your grand-daughter’s pottery gift to you from childhood is absolutely lovely but I don’t need to tell you that, nor that I would delight in simply touching your (or now Flo’s) Rackham beauties.

  20. I liked “Catch 22” (and “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,”) and thought your review was great and quite “spot on.” I read both in a course I took in high school called, “Modern Realists.”
    We had mini- courses every 8 weeks, I was able to take 4 a day my senior year (1973-74). We saw the traveling Broadway play of “Cuckoo’s Nest.” Excellent, with a silent but iconic Ed Ames as the Native American in the insane ward. The Nurse Hatchet (Ratchet) actress won a Tony, I believe. Metamorphosis was one of a different courses called “Existentialism in Literature.”
    I have an Arthur Rackham illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” which truly shows that Santa should be elf-like and jolly, not heavy and jolly! It is a treasured volume. I liked the illustrations you showed us here. Thanks, Derrick! 📖 ✒️🖌️ 🖼️

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