Tag Archives: Modern Library

Book: Catch-22

Joseph Heller's Catch 22 is listed as the seventh greatest English-language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, and one of the 100 greatest of all time by The Observer. Uploaded by wells.edu.

“Catch-22” has come to be a popular phrase that today means “a frustrating situation in which one feels trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.” It comes from Joseph Heller’s breakthrough novel of the same name.

Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, would be right at home dealing with the American bureaucracy in the second decade of the twenty-first century. His particular frustration came in dealing with the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army during World War II. But people who have to make their way through today’s heavily regulated society often invoke the phrase, or the spirit, of Catch-22.

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Yossarian wanted to stop flying missions in the war. But he saw what happened to his buddy Orr. As Joseph Heller describes it in his groundbreaking novel:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s 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 were 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.

Published in 1961, Catch-22 is ranked as the seventh-greatest English language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, while The Observer lists it as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.

Book: The Great Gatsby

Neither Fitzgerald nor The Great Gatsby were revered when the book was first published in 1925. Now, Modern Library ranked it the second best novel of the 20th century. Uploaded by camachoenglish11.blogspot.com.

I just re-read The Great Gatsby, having skimmed my way through it somewhere during what’s called my “formal” education. May I encourage you to go back now and re-read some of those books you only endured before? Stick to the 20th century – I wouldn’t read Moby Dick again for a thousand dollars. Shoot, I wouldn’t read Wuthering Heights for ten grand.

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But I thoroughly enjoyed The Great Gatsby. It’s easy to understand why F. Scott Fitzgerald is revered as one of our greatest authors, and why this is his prize. As a reader, I like tight plots, and I’m not much for descriptive language. But how can you not appreciate writing like this depiction of a character early in the book:

He had changed since his New Haven days. Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body – he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body.

Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby wasn’t a commercial success. The book’s reputation, as well as Fitzgerald’s, have improved over the decades, such that he is considered one of our great novelists. And Modern Library ranked The Great Gatsby at number two in its list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.

Book/Film: The Grapes of Wrath

The novel was published in 1939, and earned John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The movie followed the next year, and earned 7 Academy Award nominations. Uploaded by john mariani.com.

The Grapes of Wrath is the moving story of the Joad family, Okies forced from their farms due to the crop failures brought on by the Dust Bowl. Tom and the family make the pilgrimage to what they’ve been led to believe is the promised land — California. But when they arrive, they find that there are too many migrants, and too few jobs.

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Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath earned John Steinbeck (Great American Things,  October 24, 2009) the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1940. That’s the year the film version debuted, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. As often happens in adaptations, the movie had a slightly happier ending than the book. Part of that can be attributed to the natural inclination of film producers to want audiences to leave happy; part is likely due to the fact that Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck were more politically conservative than Steinbeck.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two. The American Film Institute’s original “100 Years…100 Movies” named it the number 21 film of all time. As for the book, Modern Library honored it as the tenth-best novel of the 20th century.