Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Catch-22" Revisited

Does everyone remember reading Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," probably in college? And how amazing and funny and tragic and unique it was? Who could forget Yossarian and Milo Minderbender and all the other strange, quirky, funny, touching, and very human characters? Who could forget the crazy humor and the dead seriousness of the book? There is a fascinating article in the August 2011 issue of Vanity Fair about the writing, publishing, and reception of the book. Titled "The War for Catch-22," it is adapted from Tracy Daugherty's biography of Heller. Heller worked extremely slowly, and revised multiple times over a period of eight years. He made outlines, wrote chapters out by hand, typed them, then cut them up and shuffled the pieces, over and over. He was fortunate to have caught the attention of the agent Candida Donadio and the (later very famous) editor Robert Gottlieb. The book was originally titled "Catch-18," but when Leon Uris came out with "Mila 18," Heller and Gottlieb had to find a new title. They agonized over various numbers, briefly fixing on "Catch-14," but finally settling on "Catch-22." They predicted the book would be well-received but not sell a lot. The hardcover version sold respectably, but it was the paperback version that really took off and sold in huge numbers. It became one of those zeitgeist novels, like "Catcher in the Rye," that everyone -- especially the young and hip -- had to read. And although it was about World War II, it also became a part of the discussion about the Vietnam War.

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