Catch-22 by Joseph Heller The Absurdity of Wars
Catch-22 chronicles fictional characters in a fictional country fighting in the very real World War II. The majority of these characters are soldiers with interesting names and even more interesting idiosyncrasies. The primary character (in the myriad of characters) is a fellow named Yossarian with a stronger than usual disdain for his superior officers and the authority they hold over him. You can't really blame him for said disdain, as Colonel Cathcart is continually raising the number of missions required to complete service.
With this trend, you'd think that more soldiers would rebel. However, most of them are only quietly disgruntled and surprisingly contented. The catch in Catch-22 states that "a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he's sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved." Aside from death, desertion, or indefinite physical illness (which Yossarian often relies on), there is legitimately no way out. (I never quite got the 22 part of Catch-22. There's not a catch 1-21... :P)
Anyway, this is easily one of the funniest books I've read in my life. But, thing is, I can't really explain why it's so funny. A whole lot of it made me chuckle to myself, but huge chunks of it made me laugh out loud until I almost cried. Seriously, this is a funny book. Again, I'm not sure why, but that doesn't change the fact that it is. Especially the scene with the moaning men... Good gosh, scenes like that I had to read over and over because they are simply too comical to only read once.
Despite the hilarity, this book can be confusing, what with the multitude of characters and the fact that the story doesn't necessarily follow a chronological order. Also, if you're like me and know next to nothing about the military ranking system, it can become daunting trying to keep up with who is in charge of whom. It all gets a bit overwhelming when you think about it too much. The process I took to reading this was to try not to overthink everything. I just sort of accepted it all, let it roll over me. It's definitely not a slow read, but the reading process itself can be quite time consuming.
I was also pleasantly surprised when a story began forming out of the babble. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the book from the start, but, for a very long while, it seems like nonsensical ramblings from irrational soldiers and unreasonable officers. For that long while, it seems almost like Joseph Heller is painting a portrait of each individual character but leaves no overlap from character to character. There are the characters and there is the world, but the story of those characters and that world itself emerge slowly and out of a clutter of confusion.
I guess it's to be expected with a war story, but there are harsh bits of tragedy that just pop up in the book. You can't have a war without violence or bloodshed, but the brutality in these pages is thrown in randomly and without warning. Some of the passages manage to freeze the world for a moment. Most of the story is a goofy, ironic view of the world. It's so absurd and silly the majority of the time that it is very easy to forget the serious subject in which it is really about.