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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 18:11 GMT
Join our Catch-22 Reading Group
BBC News Online readers have chosen to read Joseph Heller's Catch-22 for World Book Day on 14 March.

The vote followed our reports of projects in US cities for people to read the same book together in an effort to enhance community spirit.

From your suggestions, five books were shortlisted, and Catch-22 was the clear winner.

Between now and Thursday, hundreds of you are joining with BBC News Online staff in reading the book. On World Book Day we will host an e-mail debate to discuss some of the themes from the modern classic.

BBC News Online staff reading Catch-22
We know how to live...BBC News Online staff at lunch
Let us know how you are getting on with the book. In particular, let us know of any particular lines you read which sum up the bizarre themes of the book.

Send your comments or questions using the form below. If you have a digital camera, you can also send a picture of yourself. Send them to newsonline.features@bbc.co.uk

Your comments so far:

13 March 2002

There's just too many to list here. But how about: "Clevinger was dead. That was the basic flaw in his philosophy." Or "...They're not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?" "Who else will go?" Although my favourite is where Orr explains to Yossarian that he put crab apples in cheeks because he couldn't find any horse chestnuts.
Michael Hatcher, London

Best line: "Yossarian was determined to live forever or die in the attempt," and everything involving Milo, the precursor to the corporations of today. One of the greatest books ever written, though it's too bad Heller did not write much else that was good. Hilarious, and should made mandatory for all - especially Americans and the military.
Zack Friedman, US

From memory: "Yossarian says: 'It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.' Old Man says: 'No, you have it the wrong way round. It's better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.'"
Grant Haworth, England

One of the lines that has always stayed with me is this: '"Oh, shut up", Dunbar told Clevinger. Dunbar liked Clevinger because Clevinger annoyed him and made the time go slow.' Excellent.
Phil, Kernow

What a turn-up. I started reading Catch-22 for the first time about a week ago when I chanced upon the Reading Group. My wife had to read it at school so we've had the book on our bookcase for years, but as so many people had told me that it was heavy going I never thought to pick it up though I had been enthralled and bewildered by the film. I'm about a third of the way through, and have already decided to read it again as soon as I get to the end. A work of genius.
Carter, English expat in Sydney

The old man in Rome's justification for the lifestyle of the young girl: "It brings her into contact with interesting people, It keeps her off of the streets, and it provides her with healthy exercise." Sublime reasoning.
Robert H., US

I'll send three: 1.) "Twice? I would have missed it the first time.
2.) "They wouldn't send a crazy man into combat, would they? Who else would go?" 3.) "I'm cold."
If you ever have a chance to fly with Orr, take it.
Gerry Jackson, Ridgefield Park, NJ.

12 March 2002

My father was the Corgi editor who bought the book for publication. At the time it was not popular in the US, but when it caught on in the UK - thanks to some powerful advertising - word of mouth meant it became more popular in the US. It was the book my father always urged me to read as a child "when I felt I was old enough". Well at 14 I tackled it - I didn't understand it all but loved it. Not understanding it gave me every excuse to re-read it again and again! :-) It is, without doubt, one of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th Century. Just reading these comments has made me want to re-read it again! The bit that will always reduce me to tears of laughter is the Milo Minderbinder section where he sells half a sheet. If you don't know it yet find it and read it!
Richard Earney, UK

The best line? From memory - "But what if everyone thought that way?" "Then I'd be a damn fool to think otherwise".
Tom Randell, UK

Last year I went to Mexico for a four month career break teaching English in a local secondary school. Whilst on a Mexican beach far from civilisation I found this book being read by one of my fellow volunteers. I picked it up and also began to read it upon my travels -ALL of it makes sense by the time you get to the last page. The lesson I learnt was to break the circle by being innovative very subtly.
T Rafique, London

As a microcosm of post-modern society, Catch-22 is a living breathing paradox. A vicious never-ending circle with the potential to send even the strongest among us down the Snowden path. So, if Yossarian's survival is not a bright enough light at the end of the tunnel, then Heller's ability to evoke so much hilarity amid such depression is solace enough for any of us. A work of (ironically) inexplicable genius.
Mike R., Scotland

I first read Catch-22 when I was 18, and it totally blew me away. I can still remember the shelf where I bought it from in WHSmith's in Winchester. The whole story amazed me - it took a while to realise that the plot was almost circular and there was no obvious beginning nor end. The characters live on long after you finish it. Fantastic stuff.
Andy Wright, UK

My favourite line is Colonel Cargill's address: "Men You're American officers. The officers of no other army in the world can make that statement. Think about it." I have and it seems so true!
Alan Every, England


11 March 2002

The bit when Yossarian is in hospital talking about how "it's better to stay there because at least you know people are meant ot die there". Frustratingly long but by the time you get to the end you feel relived it's all over. Maybe that's how Yossarian was feeling.
Stuart, UK

I loved the part where Major Major's father tells his exhausted wife that he has named their new son "Caleb" (in accordance with her wishes) when he has done no such thing. I liked it so much I named my boy Caleb.
Oonagh Keating, UK

"I am going to achieve immortality, or die trying." That just says it all.
Matt Dunkley, UK

I don't remember the line exactly, because I haven't read it for a couple of years, but there's a line about Major Major Major Major that is something like: "Some people are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major Major Major it was all three." But it doesn't matter what the best line is - the whole book is a work of genius.
Russell Jones, UK

"In a world full of unimpressive people, everyone who met him was impressed at how unimpressive he was." Beautiful!
John O'Connell, Boston, US

Some amusing trivia. Heller's original title was Catch-18. Shortly before the book was published, Leon Uris came out with one of his sprawling "epics". Its title? Mila 18. Heller's publishers persuaded him to add a few more numbers to his Catch.
Robert del Valle, US

Since I first read Catch-22 at around age 14 (38 years ago) I must have bought at least 10 copies of the book - - every time I lent it to someone, I never got it back; wonder why.... It gets better with each reading, but it's superb the first time. The mad logic which is the main theme of the book is still a depressingly common feature of daily life today; but if you can laugh at Catch-22, you can laugh your way past the craziness of politicians and bureaucrats. Without doubt one of the greatest of anti-war novels, and hilarious with it! Like many fans of the book, I was disappointed by the film at first, but it does improve with repeat viewings.
Mike Selby, UK

First read Catch-22 about 10 years ago and have subsequently re-read it about a dozen times. In common with other comments it is by far the best book I have ever read - despite being hard to get into (it took me about three tries). Have read the follow up book that Heller wrote about Milo and others about 10 years later I think. Not as good as the first although trying to top a masterpiece was always going to be hard work
Mick, UK

I have read Catch-22 several times over the last 30 years. Reading the comments on this page, I envy anybody reading it for the first time. There are so many funny, sad, distressing, hilarious parts to this book. I shall just have to read it again to get all the quotes back into my head!
Jackie Griffith-Jones, New Zealand

Yes, the book is good, but shouldn't a 'reading group' be a little more objective? If people are only saying how great the book is (without any justification) then no significant - or interesting - discussions will occur.
Louise, UK

Great book to read and choose for this event. I first tried to read it as a young teenager and could not understand it. A dead man in a tent? What? But in later life I returned to it and have read it many times and am happy to read it again. Sometimes I think it is the funniest book I have ever read and other times one of the saddest. It is sublime.
Phil Wright, Cornwall

I remember reading C-22 in high school and went on to become a Joseph Heller fan. However after reading the comments I realise that I have forgotten some of the characters. I have decided to re-read the book. It will be the only book I will have read twice.
Amit Tyagi, Australia


8 March 2002

Many years ago (far too many) I elected to compare Catch-22 with MASH as examples of War Literature for my General Certificate of Education (GCE O LEVEL) in English Literature. It struck me then - and I know now - that Joseph Heller should, at the very least, be on a par with Wilfred Owen, for taking the minute individualities of war, and describing them for the horrific reality that they represent.
Jonathan Grant, UK

One of the few books I have re-read. It gets better with every reading. Ah... Major Major, the Soldier in White, Milo and his chocolate coated cotton, Colonel Cathcart and poor Yossarian. Marvellous. Must be the best English novel of the 20th Century.
Roger Thomas, Andover, UK

Stumbling on this Reading Group feature today, I'm so glad that Catch-22 was chosen as the book to read. For all those confused by the first 100 pages, persevere! You will be rewarded for your effort 100 times over. Don't give up and watch the movie. It's nothing compared to the book. Whatever you do though, don't forget to "Jump!"
Alan, Englishman in Montreal

OK, I'm 3 days in. Benz is right, the first 100 pages are as confusing as hell. And what's all this about St Anthony? :0) Great book!
Scotty, UK

Oh yes, definitely in my top ten. I bought a copy a year ago and gave it to my son to read. I'm going to get it back and sink back into it. I always remember back in the Sixties riding the Tube and if you heard someone laughing out loud (this was before mobile phones) you'd look up and they were reading Catch-22. I saw the movie a few months ago on Japanese TV. It seemed much better than the first time I saw it. I don't think I'd ever been so disappointed by a movie of a book at that time. The best anti-war, anti-capitalism book ever. Milo lives on at Enron. Anyway back to the book.
Lawrence Taylor, Japan

My (formerly my dad's) hardback copy cost 21/- in 1962, and I'm only just getting around to reading it now.... First two chapters today. Wonderful.
Peter Reid, Scotland

I first read Catch-22 when I was in the summer holidays after just leaving school. I was young and impressionable and totally blown away by it, it is by far the best book I have ever read. I was lucky enough to meet Joseph Heller at a reading in Croydon of all places, and actually got my copy signed. It must be one of only about 40 million signed copies in existence. I love the famous quote, where someone put it to Heller that he had never written anything as good as Catch-22 again, and he replied that neither has anybody else.
Mathew Edwards, England

Catch-22 has been one of the most inspiring books in my life. I love the book dearly and hope that everyone gets as much from it as I have.
Chris Davey, UK

An utterly compelling read, the absurdity of modern warfare, coupled with Heller's superb wit had me laughing and crying in equal measure. Yossarian is a joy, as is the brilliant Orr. As the New York Times once said, "possibly the most important book since the war". I couldn't agree more. Yossarian lives!!!
Rohan Kempadoo, England

I think Lee Magee is missing the point - it encourages people to talk to one another because they share something in common - it's one of those little things in life that makes people get on better with each other.
Darren Lancaster, England

Catch-22 is one of those books that I thought I always should have read, so much so that there has been a copy on my shelf for a couple of months now. This is just the inspiration I need!
Trevor Edwards, UK


7 March 2002

Mine is a musty-smelling but unread Corgi 1976 edition which I picked up at a book sale. The copy of the book I read at around that time has long gone and I am now enjoying a new read of an old book.
Janet Hontoir, UK

Have a great time reading this magnificent book, everyone ! You'll be so busy laughing that it'll be all the more of a surprise when you find out why Snowden is cold.
Malcolm Jeffrey, UK


6 March 2002

Is it me, or is this one of the most confusing first 100 pages ever? Is that the point?!?!
Jon, US

It's amazing that I discovered the Catch-22 discussion today as I only finished reading it for the first time last night. What an utterly brilliant book! Obviously wildly funny and often extremely black in its comedy but the passages where Yossarian was most despairing, particularly the death of Snowden, were truly sobering and added much impact to Heller's ever-relevant message. Any chance of BBC showing the film soon?
Colm Mc Briarty, England

I've been looking for an excuse to read this for ages....thanks for the extra push!
Allen, Scotland

Started reading Catch-22 a week ago. Currently trying very hard not to laugh out loud on the underground each day! Really enjoying the book, thank you to everyone who recommended it.
Tom Lane, UK

A super read. So many famous quotes. I read a library copy - that's the cheapest of all!
Janet Horton, UK

Catch-22 should be read by everyone. It's a brilliant depiction of the insanity of war, and not many books can claim to have spawned a phrase in common usage. The way that the story unfolds in flashback around the guy in the flak jacket is both compelling and frightening.
Richard Fieldsend, UK

I bought a copy for 15p in a charity shop and it's languishing at the bottom of a very big pile somewhere in the nether regions of the house.. I shall equip myself with a miners hat and shovel and go and dig it out for it's first read.
Matt Whitby, UK


5 March 2002

I got my copy on holiday in Turkey with an ex. She slept until noon every day so I got up at about 8 or 9 each morning and sat by the pool on my own and got stuck in to Catch-22. Since moving to America I've seen the movie and it's a classic. My favourite part without giving the plot away? Naked, tree....
Adam Howitt, US

This has been the push I needed! Catch-22 is one of the (many) books that I keep putting off until "a wet day". I start tonight!
Scotty, UK

During the first hundred or so pages, I couldn't figure out what the storyline was. Then I realised that there wasn't one, and loved every laughter-inducing page after.
Benz, UK

I picked up my copy for 20p last year in the RSPCA shop in Crediton, Devon, my best ever charity shop bargain!
Peter Webb, UK

I have a copy that I borrowed from a friend about five years ago. This is an incentive to read Catch-22, it's been burning a hole in my shelf now for ages. Sorry Phil, I'll get it back to you soon.
Eamonn M, Stoke-0n-Trent

Catch-22 is a good choice, I've read the book twice after great changes in my life. It has great humour and some hope at the end of the book for new beginnings.
Liam Turner, English expat in Norway

Brilliant! I've been thinking of reading it again. What a perfect excuse. Anyone who reads the book will either adore it or hate it, and those that hate it will probably not reach the end. It's an unusual book which is probably not to everyone's taste, but that's part of the fun. Good luck to all the readers. Enjoy! Talk to you soon.
Emma, UK

I promise I won't rent the movie or read the Cliffs Notes.
Robert del Valle, US

I read Catch-22 at 17 years of age. I was told to read it at a drama conference as I was told I was Yossarian. I had no idea at that time what that meant. When I finally read it I understood. I urge everyone else to find their Yossarian.
James Lewis, South Wales UK


4 March 2002

I had read this book twice before seeing the movie at a small local theatre. The book and movie are so surreal, that it wasn't noticed until near the end of the film, that reel 3 had played before reel 2. None of us had spotted the mistake, due to the way the story itself seems so disconnected in its telling!
Dave Madigan, UK

Catch 22 is the funniest book ever written and everyone should be forced to read it once in their lifetimes.
Nick, UK

The whole idea reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld. A character called George joins a book club to impress his girlfriend. They have to read Breakfast at Tiffany's but he cant get interested in the novel so he cheats and watches the film instead. Maybe BBC Two could schedule a showing of the Catch-22 before the 14th?
Mark Bell, UK

I think it's an interesting concept, which if nothing else might get people reading and hence using their minds and their imaginations instead of staring at the TV for hours on end. I think that Lee Magee is missing the point; this doesn't force anyone to do anything, if they want to join in and read the book they will. It's a bit strong calling an idea to get people reading "abominable" simply out of a lack of interest in a particular novel!
DC, UK

I have only recently happened across this feature and the Reading Group which is its subject. The communal reading idea is fantastic, for me the finest conversation is that in which a book is probed and prodded at from different points of view. Having read Catch-22 over a year ago and enjoying it I have a fondness for your vote result similar to that of picking the right horse. Enjoy the community spirit.
Iain Curtis, Ireland


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