December 21, Amtrak from New York to Boston: The first time I read Catch-22 it blew my tiny teenaged mind. That lazily drifting prose that could bring you from tale into another like the shifting of a beach dune— I loved it. An oral history delivered by a fast-talking, easily-distracted scatterbrain. Today it felt a little less revolutionary. My colleague Victoria and I had a conversation about this this past week and she remarked “That’s why they assign you a book like that when you’re a teenager, because it will blow your mind.” Today, of course, it doesn’t quite.
Partly the book is disappointed by memory. If you know Snowden’s secret, waiting for that reveal doesn’t hold the same tension. If you remember where Orr goes, you don’t miss him when he’s gone. Or that gruesome scene on the beach, every time you’re at the beach you’re dreading it. The book is also ruined by movies. Not necessarily the film adaption— I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. But the 101,000 absurdist comedies that completely replicate the tone and frenetic energy of the novel. You can’t not see this as a film in your head and you can’t not imagine Bill Murray in the lead. I would venture 75% of successful 1980s comedy was Catch-22 in a different setting with different characters.
All of that said, I really enjoyed reading it again. I love the prose. I would giggle at the funny bits. The heart-wrenching parts still proved just as heart-wrenching. And the perspective shifted as my age passed their immortal twenties and they went from faraway adults to kids in my eyes. Kids in the worst of situations in the worst of ages. I pitied them completely.
Read Catch-22 again. It’s totally worth it!