NABOKV-L post 0007158, Mon, 25 Nov 2002 10:33:19 -0800

Heller's _Catch 22_ explained.
EDNOTE. My thanks to Mr. Moore for this informative item. The only faint VN tie-in here is that he, unlike your editor, disliked _Catch 22_. It has been many years since I read Heller's book, and don't recall if it provdes an explanation of "22"--although the info below seems to make it unlikely. I had always assumed that the number referred to some military rule aimed at discouraging those trying to avoid "duty." Cf. the popular "Section VIII" of my youth.
----- Original Message -----
From: Rob Moore
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Monday, November 25, 2002 3:23 AM
Subject: Re: Reply to Mr Pultorak and a challenge PALE FIRE

Concerning my original post on the origin of Heller's title, in which I wrote,

"(Which reminds me that Joseph Heller's first novel was originally titled 'Catch 18', but his editor had him change it to 'Catch 22', "because 22 is a funnier number")",

you're quite right.

Jay Livingston suggested in an e-mail to me that the Mila 18 title similarity was the true reason for the change, at which point I looked at my copy of Judith Ruderman's biography of Heller, which I should have done pre-parentheses, and indeed it does state, on page 19 (which, incidentally, is my favorite number, even though it's not particularly funny), that Robert Gottlieb, who was then a "young editorial assistant", suggested 22 to avoid confusion with Mila 18.

One wonders how post-war literature might have changed if Heller's original title had been kept. Would the book still have become a classic with such an unfunny title as Catch 18? If the book hadn't sold as well, might Heller have not choked up after his debut work, and blessed us with more novels than he did?

Along the same lines, I've often wondered why, in Albert Brooks' movie Lost in America, the wife insists on continually playing the number 22 at the roulette table, even though she eventually loses the nest egg doing so. Why 22? Was it meant somehow to refer to Catch 22, or did Brooks simply want a funny number to offset the grimness of losing one's fortune?

I also appreciate Carolyn Kunin's PDQ link to 22 (thanks!), and admire Walter Miale's use of 22 as a springboard to bring us the image of Nabokov working as part of a screenwriting team under Stalin, where I imagine after each day's grimness the writers might retire to a room for a little vodka, no one able to lift a smile at their misfortune until one of them, perhaps VN, fills the silence with a carefully pronounced, 'twenty-two!'.

Ralph Robert (Rob) Moore


"D. Barton Johnson" <> wrote:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, November 24, 2002 7:55 AM
Subject: Re: Fw: Fw: Fw: reply to Mr Pultorak and a challenge PALE FIRE

> ----------------- Message requiring your approval (11
lines) ------------------
> Actually, I think Heller changed his title because the publication of
> 18" beat him to the punch. But perhaps it was a lucky thing, what with
> being so funny and all.
> :)
> Best,
> Sarah Funke