What Joseph Heller’s Masterpiece, Catch 22, Means to Me by John Purcell

by |September 22, 2011

My reading life began when I was handed a copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. I was eighteen. Till then I had read for others. I had read because I had been asked to. I read Catch 22 for myself, because I wanted to. From then on, my life was different. I looked for and read books which promised to enhance my life as Catch 22 had.

Why did it have such an effect on me? I think it was because the book finds humour in dark places, which was reassuring to my teen mind. I think it is because the book is like life: beautiful, sombre, ugly, frightening, absurd, dangerous, silly, mad, short, hilarious, long and sane and not like life in the books I had been asked to read, which was phony. I also think it is because Catch 22 captures life in the way a sketch artist might capture a likeness using squiggly, messy lines. It is life, recognisably so, unbearably so, life as I had never seen it before, life filtered through the unique mind of  Heller.

My life was pretty crazy when I was eighteen and I was finding many things difficult to understand. Heller gave me confidence. He encouraged me to continue my awkward attempts to understand life. He encouraged me to make the most of my life.

The life-affirming madness of Catch 22 appealed to me, then, and it appeals to me now. I re-read Catch 22 recently and found all of the things I remembered and much, much more.

The copy of Catch 22 I originally read, is long gone. It was battered before I read it and terminally ill by the time I had finished. Even so, I wish I had it now. I’m a bit sentimental about such things. In fact, I wish I had been handed a hardcover copy way back when. I like to own the actual book I read. Especially a book that meant as much to me as Catch 22 did and still does. Catch 22 was my first big literary love.

The 50th Anniversary Limited, Hardcover Edition of Catch 22 would have been the perfect thing for me back then, but as I have missed my chance I intend to ensure my nephew doesn’t and will introduce him to Catch 22 this Christmas.

About the 50th Anniversary Limited, Hardcover Edition of Catch 22:

This fiftieth-anniversary edition celebrates Heller’s masterpiece with an introduction by Howard Jacobson, rare images from Heller’s personal archive and essays by the likes of Norman Mailer, Anthony Burgess and Christopher Hitchens.

Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.

10 million copies sold in 21 languages: Yossarian lives!

This is the perfect gift for any lover of literature.

Order a copy of  The 50th Anniversary Limited, Hardcover Edition of Catch 22 from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop: Click Here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • September 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Catch 22 is still, in my mind, the greatest book of ALL TIME. It is like an intricately crafted tapestry, with loops and cross stitches and innumerable patterns and links. Nothing will ever come close to it, which is kind of depressing, really…

  • Dramaqueen75

    October 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    My favourite chapter is Major Major Major Major; Heller gave me a visa to the country of the absurd. It is still one of the best destinations I know

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