First off, I cannot imagine what it would be like to have written something with a title that goes beyond being a title and becomes part of the lexicon. I'm sure there are other books that have done this, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.
Since this book isn't exactly a new release (it was originally published in 1961), a lot of people don't realize that the term, "Catch-22" originated from any book, let alone one bearing the term as a title. A movie was made based on the book in 1970, which I think I might need to rent now.
"Catch-22" is such a common phrase that it's even in the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster online it's, "a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule."
In other words, a Catch-22 is a no-win situation.
The novel is filled with Catch-22s, but the first one (and the one first given the label) involves WWII fighter pilots and whether they can be grounded based on insanity.
In theory, they can. All they need to do to be grounded is to tell the doctor that they think they're mentally unstable.
Of course, there's a catch: if a pilot is concerned about his own safety and the safety of others, then he's sane enough to fly. Therefore, the doctor can't ground him.
Therefore, there's no way to ground a pilot. Catch-22.
According to our favorite online encyclopedia, the author and editors went through a variety of numbers before picking the number 22, including 11, 14, 17, and 18, discarding each of those for various reasons.
The book is considered by many to be one of the best of the 20th century. Even though I was an English major, this was my first time reading it. (I sort of avoided 20th century lit any time I could, in favor of Victorian lit. I love me some Dickens.)
I will say that for a book published in 1961, there was a lot more content (both sexual and language) than I expected. It's not intensely graphic like you'd find in a lot of things published today, but there's a good amount of soldiers hanging out with prostitutes and the like, so know that going in if you plan to read it.
It's hard to classify this book. It's wildly funny in parts (I read one section aloud to my husband, and he roared with laughter just like I did). The book is dark and tragic in others. And some parts of great pieces of satire.
Heller is a genius in characterization. There's a big cast, but every person in the book is so well drawn that you know exactly what each person is like, from Danbey to the chaplain to Cathcart to the main character, Yossarian himself. And when something happens to Orr or McWatt or whomever, you know what that means.
Catch-22 is not a fast read, at least, not for me. I couldn't fly through it in a day or two. I had to think and pay attention. One reason is that the chapters aren't always in chronological order (another reason is the author's wit and the commentary and other elements that I feel the need to read and savor rather than skim), but the order in which the story unfolds adds richness to the characters and layers to the story.
It's written in a very different style from what I normally read, but I have to admit that it's brilliant. (Sure beats the socks off other 20th century writers like, oh, Faulkner.)
There were even a couple of times I got close to tears and had to put it down to compose myself. It's a powerful book on many levels, and I'm still thinking about it.
I'll never hear "Catch-22" again in quite the same way.
Heller manages to say things simply but powerfully, such as with one of Yossarian's final lines in the book, a perfect Catch-22 I think every human being runs into at some point in their lives:
"I don't want lots of things I want."