Literature, like any form of art, is interpreted subjectively. That’s what makes it so fun to talk about, and that’s why blogs like this are a pleasure to write.
The problem comes, at least for this blogger, when you say you dislike a novel that everyone else likes. How dare you cross the literary gods and goddesses and express your unfavorable opinion of a classic novel? For shame.
When a novel first comes out, though, early reviewers don’t have that luxury—or that obstacle, depending on how you see it. If you’re the first reviewer of a book, you have zero bias and zero preconceived notions about it.
No one has told you whether it was amazing or whether it sucks. So, more than likely, you’re just honest. But if your honesty results in you writing the only critical review of a novel that is widely adored, well, then your review will stick out like a sore thumb.
Like these examples of early reviews of classic novels that Flavor Wire recently provided:
Mental Floss—a stellar website if you’ve never been, by the way—recently listed what some famous classic novels were almost called.
I found the list fascinating—it’s a literary “what might have been,” and it makes me wonder how the fate of these books might have changed if the original title had stuck.
1961 was quite a year for books.
In that year, Walker Percy released The Moviegoer, Joseph Heller released Catch 22, and Richard Yates released Revolutionary Road.
All three books were finalists for the 1962 National Book Award, which The Moviegoer eventually won.
Fifty years later, all three of these incredible novels celebrate their golden anniversary. Jim Santel from The Millions recently discussed how these three books—but mainly The Moviegoer—affected him.
Was Joseph Heller famous for the wrong book? (Source: MDCarchives/Wikimedia Commons)
Is an author’s best book always his most well-known book?
That’s the question John Self of The Guardian asked last week, and his opinions sparked quite a discussion in the comments of his article and on Twitter. For instance, he mentions Kurt Vonnegut, who is probably most famous for Slaughterhouse Five. But Self says Cat’s Cradle was his best work.
Self commented on several authors who have books on the Time list–including one of my current favorites, Catch 22. Speaking of…
Time to justify my rankings.
I update them after each book, but after every five novels I feel the need to explain myself—otherwise, I’d be like a college football coach voting in the coach’s poll (If you get that joke, raise your hand.) As always, you can see how I’ve ranked all 20 on My Rankings page.
So here goes my nonsensical explanations for books 16-20:
The last 10 of the first 20.
Well, I’m back live today. Thanks for hanging around during the week of “reruns.”
I thought I’d start off this week by looking back on the first 20 books of this project, something I’ll do after each ten reads. If you need a reminder, here’s my look back on the first ten.
Now, for a few of my mostly subjective thoughts:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
And that is the gist of a Catch-22, a concept dreamed up by Catch-22 author Joseph Heller. You know an author and his book have had a powerful influence on culture when a new word or phrase from the novel becomes a part of the lexicon.
I’m a fan of Catch 22. Like, a big fan. This one will probably be high in my rankings.
What I love about Catch 22, and satire in general, is that there’s truth in it. Sure, the truth has been twisted and exaggerated enough to make it funny, but satire always makes a subtle point.
A lot of Catch 22 deals with the government bureaucracy and mind-numbing amount of rules that a soldier must endure. If this novel could be summed up in one paragraph, the following might do it.
The setting: Colonel Scheisskopf has just been assigned to General Peckem, who gives Scheisskopf the responsibility of writing letters “to let everyone know how good we are and how much work we’re turning out.”
I’ve never read a book quite like Catch 22. And, if you’ve read it, you probably know what I mean.
To me, this is an absolutely hilarious novel. But it’s one of those books that you’ll either love or hate. Heller’s use of humor reminds me a lot of movies like Airplane or maybe something like Monty Python. Either you laugh your butt off, or you don’t laugh at all.
Yossarian, the main character, runs the show. Here’s one of my favorite lines so far. Doc Daneeka and Yossarian are discussing Daneeka’s fear of flying (he’s a bombardier in the Air Force) and trying to figure out a way Daneeka can get out of it. Doc Daneeka says: