Catch-22: A Life Changing Experience

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Ever asked what is your favorite book? Mine is Joseph Heller’s brilliant satire Catch-22. Published in 1961, Heller’s novel was prophetic portrayal of the rise of corporate power, greed, and war.  At the time of its publication many were offended, some were confused. (1) This superb anti-war novel changed my life and the way I thought. I wrote about the book and film a while back on another blog and decided to post it here.

”You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“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.    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)

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I first read Catch-22 when I was 19 years old. This was in the late ’60s just before being sent to Vietnam. It was the one book I took with me. Sometime during that deployment, I lost the book, but never its spirit.

Author Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942. He was 19 years old. In 1944 Heller found himself in Italy as a B-25 Bombardier. He flew 60 missions. For most of those flights, he encountered little or no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft artillery. He later categorized them as “milk runs.” His military experience and background would come to use later in his epic novel. His anti-hero Yossarian was a Bombardier just like him.

The illogical logic of Heller’s brilliant anti-war satire reveals the insanity of war. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is an American Bombardier stationed in Italy. He’s convinced everyone wants him dead, not just the Germans, but his own officers. They keep sending him on dangerous missions! To stop flying these insane missions, his higher-ups inform him he needs to complete a certain number of missions. The only problem is when he or any other bombardier come near the magic number of missions required, his commanding officer raises the number of missions required to be rotated out. Yossarian insists the entire world is crazy including him. And if he is insane, he should not be flying these missions; however, the flight surgeon (Jack Gilford) declares that anyone who understands the insanity of the situation cannot be insane! Subsequently, Yossarian must continue to fly more missions. Like with many things in life, there is no escape.

Catch-22, the movie, and the book is a surrealistic trip that captures the absurdity of war, and a bureaucratic society in general, frame for frame, a mix of satire, comedy and tragedy. Though set during World War II the film, released in 1970, captured the spirit of the late 1960s: the Counterculture, the Vietnam War and the Rock Generation. Heller’s novel, published in 1962 was a progressive masterpiece that only gained in popularity, and cult status as the sixties moved on into the later years of the decade. When it was announced Mike Nichols would direct the film version, it was met with high expectations, so high that it almost guaranteed failure. Critics of the day were split. Roger Ebert called it “a disappointment.” He went on, “the movie is essentially a parasite, depending on the novel for its vitality…” On the other side of the coin, Vincent Canby writing in the New York Times said, Catch-22 “is quite simply, the best American film I’ve seen this year.” Either way, the film died at the box-office.

The film captures the anti-war message that was popular at the time and manages to convey the insanity of war, the hopelessness of the soldiers caught in the middle and the narrow-minded vision of the military mentality and its mindless gun-ho patriotic fever.

There was another anti-war film released that same year, Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. a movie that was met with more of a universal reception and was a big hit. Though set during the Korean War, like Catch-22, it echoed Vietnam and its times.

Buck Henry who worked with Nichols on The Graduate was given the impossible task of adapting Heller’s novel to the screen, and many of the scenes are set-pieces. The cast of characters are colorful and portrayed for the most part with an absurdist bent. There’s Milo Minderbender (Jon Voight) who has set up his own business, selling valuable military gear. General Dreedle (Orson Welles) who spits out insane orders and expects them to be carried out exactly as ordered, Captain Nately (Art Garfunkel) who falls in love with a whore and Major Major (Bob Newhart) who will only meet with anyone when he is not there. Other cast members include Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Anthony Perkins, and Martin Sheen.

The film and the book are reminders that war is not glorious or heroic. Yes, men and women do incredibly heroic acts in dangerous situations and sacrifice a lot. Still, we should not glorify war. We should not make it attractive to our youth, to future generations. I know too many people who seem to relish war, in most cases as long as someone else is doing the fighting and sacrificing. They always managed not to go. But they are the first to raise the flag, hug it and yell sacrifice as long as it is not them.

(1) Read about genesis of Catch-22 here.

A Fine Wine and a Good Book

There is nothing as comforting on a cold winter evening  as a glass of fine wine and a good book! Bitter Ends: 20 Short Stories of Morder and Mayhem is available at Amazon (in book paperback and ebook) and Barnes & Nobles (ebook)

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Recent Read: A Time to Scatter Stones

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It’s great to have Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder back, even if it’s a short trip. The two charges leveled against the book by many Amazon and Goodreads reviewers are 1) the book is too short and 2) there is too much sex. In both cases, these are complaints not worth listening to. In the first case, the book is listed, blatantly advertised as a novella. Complaining that a novella is too short is redundant! As for item number two, the blind, the uninformed ant all those who miss the point will whine and complain, but for those who get it, will understand that Mr. Block has written a timely tale of what we read or hear about almost every day, the idea of sexual consent.

In this story, An aging Matt Scudder and his wife Elaine Martell get involved in helping  Ellen, a younger woman, Elaine met at her support group for women, all former call girls. Ellen is being stalked and harassed by a former client who does not understand or won’t accept the meaning of the word no. We only know him by the name of Paul. Paul manages to terrorize Ellen forcing her to consent to his demands without breaking the law keeping the police at bay and making Ellen a helpless victim. Paul is obviously getting off feeling the power he has controlling Ellen.

In helping Ellen, Scudder finds himself searching for a man he has no idea who he is nor what he looks like. In digging in, putting pieces of a puzzle together,  Matt skirts the legal process himself.

A Time to Scatter Stones is a satisfying return with an old friend facing a #metoo world. It’s a short visit, but I for one did not need a full blown three and fifty-page novel to satisfy my soul. Nice to have you back Matt.

Recent Read: Murder at the Summer Theater

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Ex-con Elmer Vartanian and millionaire Juliet Van Allen, The Double V’s, are back in  this cozy New England mystery; the fifth in the series. The setting is summer theater and author Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a fabulous sense of time (1950’s) and place (Summer theater on the Connecticut shore). The leading actress is missing and the amateur detectives soon find themselves embedded in the theatrical world; Juliet as an actress and Elmer as a backstage hand.

A few years back Lynch wrote an historical, well researched, and entertaining book (Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 Years of Summer Theater on Mt. Tom, Hokyoe Massachusetts)  about the history of live summer theater on Mt. Tom. With the surplus of information she acquired writing this fascinating non-fiction book, Lynch was well equipped to use much of it as background for her novel.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for backstage mysteries, and Murder at the Summer Theater is satisfying as both a mystery and for the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

You can read an interview I did with Ms. Lynch a few years about her biography of actress Ann Blyth here.

Recent Read: Hard Feelings

 

hardRichard Segal is going through a rough patch in life. Since beginning his new job, he cannot land a new account as a network systems salesman and is worried about getting fired. Meanwhile, his wife Paula has just received a promotion which irritates his fragile male ego. There are other worries too: Richard has started drinking again, he is having flashbacks of teenage memories and a bully named Michael Rudnick who sexually abused him, and if this is not enough he fears his wife is having an affair. In the middle of all this he runs into Rudnick on the street one day. Rudnick, now a lawyer, doesn’t recognized him but Segal has become obsessed with revenge.

Jason Starr writes dark noir like stories about seemingly average characters with hidden amoral streaks that once exposed lead them down violent, train wreck type paths of destruction.

 

 

 

A Face in The Crowd on TCM

A FACE IN THE CROWD, Andy Griffith, 1957, afitc1957-fsct05, Photo by:Everett Collection(afitc1957-fsFar ahead of its time, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd is a brilliant look at the media and its influence. Set your DVR for tomorrow at 1:45PM. Watch the film and then read about it in Lessons in the Dark,

Remember, classic films are not just nostalgia. They are avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to our past and our lives today. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad.

 

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Ten Books for 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope it’s a good one. In 2018 I read 51 books and am looking forward to reading as many if not topping that number this year. Here are a few upcoming books I am looking forward to reading in 2019.

Run Away

Available in March

 

Pray for the Girl

Available in April

 

The Farm 2

Available in May 

 

the-trial-of-lizzie-borden-9781501168376_lg Robertson

Available in March

 

Joy bookAvailable in May

 

Leading Men-001

Available in February

 

The Better Sister

Available in April

 

Metropolis Kerr

Available in April

 

NEon

Available in April

 

Someboy

Available in April

Bitter Ends: Making of a Book Cover

In an earlier post I wrote about how I designed my own book covers for my previous books using my own photographs. In this post I focus on the book cover for Bitter Ends my forthcoming collection of short stories.

Part of the thrill for me in creating a book cover is digging into my files and discovering that one photograph that expresses what’s in the pages in between and expressing it in a way folks who see the cover will be interested enough to take a peek inside and maybe even buy the book.

Like my previous book of short stories, Devious TalesBitter Ends is a collection of tales filled with murder, revenge, greed, and other mayhem along with a couple of slightly less deadly yarns. That said, the cover needed an ominous look informing the potential reader what they are getting.

In digging through my files I first focused on a few images taken in New Mexico back in 2013. One in particular was of a deserted highway with its colorful mountains in the background. I felt it reflected a feeling of vast emptiness and a bit of dread. I saw bodies potentially buried everywhere.

Below is the original image followed by a series early versions of the book cover.

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We were on our way to visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch located in Abiquiú, New Mexico,when I pulled over and took the above shot that was my first choice for the cover.  Cropping it was the first step followed by the lettering. I tried various fonts  and colors before settling on the image on the right.

I spent some time reviewing the image, asking myself was this what I wanted. Did it visually express the stories and entice potential readers. The more I looked at it, the more I wasn’t satisfied that it did.  I went back to digging into my photographic archive.

I next found a photograph taken just two months earlier in Yellowstone National Park. We were on a photo tour and came across this area  in the park that had burnt. We stopped and took a series of photos, one of which is the first photo below.  Looking at it, I thought it projected a dark, eerily, end of life feeling.

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Some cropping followed and then some software experimenting resulting in the two early versions below.

I still wasn’t completely satisfied and kept working at it. Finally, I came up with what I envisioned visually expressed what I wrote. Below is the final cover.

Bitter Ends will be available in January from Amazon and Barnes and Noble as a  paperback and ebook.

 

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Bitter Ends – Coming Soon

My new collection of short stories, Bitter Ends, will be coming out in January.  Twenty short tales of murder, revenge and other mayhem along with a couple of slightly less deadly yarns. No exact date is set as of yet. Will be keeping all informed.

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