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Catch-22 Robert Sheridan bobsheridan Joseph Heller, 76, from Coney Island, the author of "Catch-22" died yesterday.

In 1962 after a few months at NYU in the city, I was parched for something to read other than dry law cases, so I stopped into a corner store to check the paperback book rack before diving into a subway hole to get to Sout' Ferry. The book I started reading on the subway was Catch-22. The subway was crowded but I started laughing out loud, the more I read. I didn't want to look like an idiot, but I couldn't stop reading, or laughing.

The book became a phenom, a movie, an icon of our time. No one had ever pointed out, much less catchily labeled, the key feature of our existence.

And what might that be, pray tell?

The world is crazy place, and being sane is not necessarily an advantage.

Yossarian, a bombardier, didn't want to get shot down during the war. He found out that the only way to avoid getting shot down was to avoid flying, by being found insane. But the only way to let 'em know you were insane was to tell them you didn't want to fly because you were insane.

But if you were sane enough to know you didn't want to fly because people were shooting at you and trying to kill you, and this had driven you insane, you were sane enough to fly.

Heller, a bombardier during the war, was perceptive enough to let Yossarian know that the people trying to kill him were not only the enemy shooting at him but his superiors who kept sending him up so he could be shot down.

Yossarian believed the people on his side were more dangerous than the enemy. His friends were thus his enemies.

Heller has my vote for being one of the most perceptive and humorous writers/thinkers of my time.

An interviewer told him that he hadn't afterwards written any books as good as Catch-22.

"Who has?" he asked.

I tried reading Catch-22 again, years later, but could never get to laughing the way I did the first time. Like hearing a joke repeated, I guess. Catch-22 is one that you don't forget and can keep on using, as we see Catch-22s a lot.


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