Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The book of my adolescence.

A lot is being made of Paul Ryan's favorite author, Ayn Rand. In explaining himself, he says he loves Catholicism - Rand hated all of Christianity - but loved Rand's view of economics. It sounds to me that Ryan's true hero is Pat Buchanan, who believes in the Catholic faith without the annoying optional extra feature of compassion. But then, Buchanan forgot to put hot horny heroines in his books, so young Paul Ryan lost interest.

(Mitt Romney, as you might expect, is something of an Etch-a-Sketch when it comes to his favorite books.  In 2007, during his presidential run, he said his favorite book was Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. During the current candidacy, he says he loves the Twilight books.)

When I was an adolescent, the book I loved was Catch-22.  It is the only book I read from cover to cover and then started over at the beginning immediately. As I have made clear, right now I am reading the novels of Patrick O'Brian obsessively, but between voyages with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, I have been reading books by other authors, so I thought I'd give Joseph Heller another read after nearly forty years away from it.

Truth to tell, it doesn't hold up very well for me.

It was interesting to read the essays that are included in the 50th anniversary edition. Heller admits that the book is really much more about Korea and the America of the 1950s than it is about World War II. Norman Mailer writes a critical essay, saying he put it down several times with no intention of completing it, but finally came back to it and considers it one of the best works of all his contemporaries.

Like Mailer, I almost didn't finish the book this time.  The world Yossarian inhabits is a Kafkaesque nightmare with every man for himself and God against all.  I get enough of that in real life. There are some vague sex scenes, which I'm sure I enjoyed as a sixteen year old virgin, but as a man in his fifties who has had sex, they didn't do that much for me. There are other funny books I've read that can make me laugh even on multiple readings, notably Thurber and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who was a close personal friend of Heller's after both of them became successful. Heller's stuff didn't quite tickle my funny bone this time.

I didn't hate the book and I could see why I loved it as a teenager, but I very much doubt I'll be reading it a fourth time. Now I am back on the happy Surprise with Aubrey and Maturin, with brave, reliable Barret Bonden and disagreeably comic Preserved Killick.  They are much better company than the wretched crew of officers flying planes out of Pianosa, forced to fly more and more missions by the vicious colonels Cathcart and Korn.


ken said...

Sounds like I should have read Catch-22 a long time ago.

OTOH, I'm very much enjoying the Aubrey/Maturin books. Thanks for the recommendation.

PS Your Captcha is becoming increasingly obnoxious.

Matty Boy said...

Three responses to three paragraphs.

1. Your mileage may vary on Catch 22.

Did you the first O'Brian free? How far in are you?

I'll see what i can do about the Captcha.

Matty Boy said...

The Captcha has been removed. I'll moderate comments instead.

ken said...

OK, maybe I will try it sometime.

Not free the way you're thinking - Mishell got it at the library bookstore for two bits or so, thinking Nate would like to read it. I stumbled across it a few weeks after your post and got hooked. I'm approaching the end of #6 now.

Cleverest-sounding substitute for Captcha I've heard of, if you have enough control over the server end, is to put in a hidden text field and then check that it arrives blank.

Matty Boy said...

Okay! My less nerdy way to deal with the Captcha problem is to turn it off and moderate comments by hand. There aren't that many so it shouldn't be a problem.

Did you have to do a Captcha to post your most recent comment?

I started O'Brian in the middle then went back to the beginning. My reading regimen is to read an O'Brian book and then read a book by someone else. One of the "someone elses" is George R.R. Martin, so I'm now about to read the third book in The Song Of Ice And Fire. I'm starting the last chapter of The Ionian Mission, so you aren't far behind me and may very well catch up.

dguzman said...

Somehow, despite getting the master's in English, I've managed to avoid books like Catch-22 (and Heart of Darkness, even!). Guess I'm lucky?

Matty Boy said...

I loved Heart of Darkness, but as I often say, your mileage may vary.