Catch-22: Chapters 9 & 10

Chapters Read: 9. Major Major Major Major, 10. Wintergreen

Page reached:: 105 of 448 (23.44%).

Status Report: So far I have compared Heller’s writing style to Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, and Abbot and Costello. And yet, the whole time, I have had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there was some other author to whom he could be more justifiably compared. Someone who also wrote sentences that would gently lead you down an alley and then suddenly turn to hit you over the head with a sap.

I couldn’t remember who the other writer was, though, until I read this passage, about Major Major’s farming father:

He specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn't earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce ... He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county.

Ohhhh yeah. I know who this reminds me of. My Grandpa.

As you may recall, I recently posted a letter my Grandfather sent my mother in 1967. (See it here.) Here’s an excerpt:

We are very busy farming. We have three cows, but we are going to sell one because we can't milk him. Eggs are a good price. That's the reason why they are so high. I sure hope we can get a lot of them. We just bought 2 roosters and one old hen. Some of the ground is so poor that you can't raise an umbrella on it, but we have a fine crop of corn. I think it will make about five gallons an ache. Some worms got into our corn last year but we just fished them out and drank it anyway. Our romance started with a gallon of corn and ended with a full crib ...

Every time John gets sick he gets to feeling bad. The doctor gave him some medicine and said if he gets better it might help him and if he didn't get any worse he would stay about the same.

Catch-22 was published in 1962. Is this how everyone talked back in the sixties? Because of all the drugs? Or did people take the drugs to cope with other people talking like this?

As for these chapters, “Major Major Major Major” is like an extended LOST flashback, and Wintergreen is only mentioned five times in his own chapter. Weird.

Favorite Passage:

[Yosarian says:] "I don't want to be in the war any more."

"Would you like to see our country lose?" Major Major asked.

"We won't lose. We've got more men, more money and more material. There are ten million men in uniform who could replace me. Some people are getting killed and a lot more are making money and having fun. Let somebody else get killed."

"But suppose everybody on our side felt that way."

"Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?

Words Looked Up:

  • Moil (“Rain splashed from a moiling sky …”): To churn about continuously.

Other Bloggers Commenting On These Chapters:

* * *

15 comments.

  1. I hated the first few chapters of this book, so I dropped out of NaNoReMo and am actually doing NaNoWriMo instead–I was grateful for your comment in the last entry that you wouldn’t blame anybody who hated it.

    Your noticing the commonalities between the book and your grandpa’s funny letter reminds me of when I was in graduate school in literature, and ended up in classes in which we read past the canon in various eras: lots of other 19th century writers than just Mark Twain, for instance. And it made me realize that–to stick with Twain–we pick a writer or two to canonize and, because we read them isolated from their context, we tend to think they’re really unique. “Mark Twain’s style of humor,” for instance. Turns out, though, that Mark Twain’s style was quite similar to the style of lots of funny writers from the same era. It was pretty eye-opening.

    This applies to everybody but Walt Whitman.

  2. Poor Major Major Major Major. What a sad, pitiable man.

    “Then I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn’t I?” was my favorite line in these chapters. What an excellent rebuttal to “but what if everyone did that”. I wish I’d thought of that years ago, or that I had read this book years ago…

  3. I spent five years “finishing” Catch-22. I carried it around with me here and there, reading a little bit here and there, mostly on vacations. Sometimes, I wouldn’t touch it for months. Sometimes, I wondered if it had been an entire year. It always took me a moment to get back into the swing of it, remember who was who, what was what…until I realized that I didn’t need to remember that, because it didn’t really matter all that much.

    Then, one day, only a couple of months ago… I finished it. Five years of reading this crazy crazy masterpiece, and it was over. I’ve been very sad. I keep hoping to find another book that I can stretch out for that long and still enjoy. Yeah, it’s a little painful, but it’s so good. So so so very good. Especially if you stretch it out for five years. :-)

  4. I am still with you but I am not yet convinced that this book lives up to the hype. I think my main problem is that Heller seems to be trying so hard to be clever and unorthodox at the expense of his readers. The characters are getting into my head though and I will read to the end. Maybe by the time the plot or the point surfaces I

  5. Sarah, the book you are looking for is “Little, Big” by John Crowley. Although, I have to say, even though it took me over a year to get halfway through it, I did reach a point when it “clicked” and I finished the rest in 4 days, so perhaps it still won’t be the same experience. That won’t stop me: I’m starting now to stump for it for NaNoReMo 2008.

    P.S. Other people will tell you you’re looking for “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. They are wrong, that’s all there is to it.

  6. I too have put down the book. I can’t take any more of the conversations that the characters can’t seem to keep track of them selves.

    Thank you for starting the challenge and I’ll keep popping in to read your reviews. Looking forward to seeing what will happen next year.

  7. I’m still with you. See, I think it’s the Adams/Carroll/Milne humor that keeps drawing me back from the ledge of despair.

    I’m glad that this is my second time through the book, because I’m finding it tricky to deal with the tapestry of characters and story lines. Maybe if I just keep reading for the next bit of witty wordplay, and then the next, I’ll survive to reach the end again.

    Oh, and thanks for the link on an earlier post. I’m no scholar, but I’m enjoying the book club discussion.

  8. I’ve been traveling for the last week and Catch-22 has been the perfect book for a girl who’s been on 9 planes in 10 days. I pick it up, am highly amused for a few minutes, then get to switch over to my iPod when such devices are allowed. I’m totally okay with the no-plot plot, and have largely given up the idea that characters need to be straight in my head. That said, did I understand correctly that Milo was in the black market game for the express purpose of bombing Yossarian, et al? I had to go back and re-read, and I’m *still* not sure it wasn’t some metaphor or another…

  9. Gotta second the vote for Little, Big as the best book to read for 5 years. Also, A Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin. You’ll love the book for 100 pages, hate it for 100 pages, then love it again for the rest of your life.

  10. Actually, Sarah might be looking for Moby Dick.

  11. Man, I really want to talk about what’s happening, but a lot of it is hindsight based on later chapters. So I’ll settle for this:

    SPOILER ALERT for the people who are thinking of dropping out because no plot has happened yet:

    It has, you just haven’t noticed, and that’s on purpose. Chapter 12, “Bologna”, is the first chapter not named after a character. That is where the plot *visibly* begins. Now that you know, it’s up to you.

  12. It reminds me of Vonnegut’s style a bit.

  13. Re the comment about Vonnegut, I think Slaughterhouse Five is a great complement to Catch 22. Both absurd, both set in world War Two, but then totally different. I like Slaughterhouse Five better. So it goes.

  14. Robert Mason’s “Chickenhawk”, a memoir of flying helicopters in Vietnam, also has definite elements of “Catch-22″ humour.

  15. I think there’s a kinship of writing styles and personality quirks between Kinky Friedman and Joseph Heller. I recommend ‘Scuse Me While I Whip This Out, which references Friedman’s with Heller.