With Eve Gerber of The Browser, he discussed five top books on political satire, including:
Catch 22Read about another book Camp tagged at The Browser.
by Joseph Heller
Next, perhaps the most famous satire since Swift – Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This book is a fixture on “best novels” lists and schoolchildren’s bookshelves. It is so celebrated that a 50th anniversary edition was issued last year. Please give us a précis and tell us why you chose it.
The plot defies summary. It follows Yossarian and his fellow airmen through the war and a series of insane events. It shows the insanity of war – from what the soldiers do day-to-day to the geopolitics. When Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 he was being satirical, but he knew it wasn’t far off from reality. The plot might seem unbelievable but life has imitated art. The United States now funds both sides of the war in Afghanistan – we pay the Taliban millions so that they will let our trucks through so that we can then fight the Taliban. Catch-22 is incredibly funny but it’s also a prophecy.
Normally you read it in high school, but I read it right out of college – it completely changed my view on comedy. It is an intense dark satirical book but at the same time hilarious. It made me think: If I could do something so funny about such dark topics in such a way that it makes people think, that would be a huge accomplishment. It’s probably the book that has had the biggest impact on my comedy.
In response to the news that the US was paying the Taliban to let supply convoys through, you claimed you were starting a movement to move Catch-22 to the non-fiction section of local libraries. How’s that going?
It worked all over the country. My starting of the movement consisted of announcing it on three videos. I probably personally moved Catch-22 a couple of times. I also moved Dick Cheney’s book to the “true crime” section of a bookstore. It’s a nice legal form of protest.
Catch-22 is among Shalom Auslander's top ten comic tragedies, Jim Lehrer's 6 favorite 20th century novels, Charles Glass's five books on Americans abroad, Avi Steinberg's six books every prison should stock, Patrick Hennessey's six books to take to war, Jasper Fforde's five most important books, Thomas E. Ricks' top ten books about U.S. military history, and Antony Beevor's five best works of fiction about World War II. While it disappointed Nick Hornby upon rereading, it made Cracked magazine's "Wit Lit 101: Five Classic Novels That Bring the Funny." Joseph Heller is one of five authors who inspired William Boyd.