100s of Readers, and 24 (or so) Hours, for “Catch-22”
How exactly do you pronounce Yossarian?
This was my big concern Thursday night, in the moments before I stepped to the lectern to read five minutes’ worth of Catch-22. I was one of hundreds of people taking my turn in a marathon public reading of the classic novel, which Joseph Heller started writing while he taught at Penn State in the early 1950s. The event kicked off at 1 p.m. Thursday—Sue Paterno ’62 opened the reading—and was scheduled to end sometime Friday afternoon.
I initially walked up to the reading—held under a tent on the grass in front of the Pattee and Paterno Libraries—on Thursday afternoon, hoping to get a photo of Lady Lion basketball coach Coquese Washington, one of many coaches and athletes who were signed up to take part. I missed Coquese, but when I saw how many open spots remained on the sign-up sheet, I decided I’d put my name in. (Catch-22 has long been one of my favorite novels, I have plenty of practice reading aloud every night to my kids, and everyone who read got a T-shirt.)
I signed up for two spots, the first at 10:05 Thursday night. There were maybe 20 people there, including three students in pajamas who had sleeping bags already set up on the grass. I checked in with Cindy Lee, a sophomore who serves as treasurer of Unabridged, the student organization for English majors. I waited a few minutes and took my turn, reading through the section of chapter 22 in which Milo Minderbinder explains “the syndicate” to Yossarian. I forgot how much fun this book is.
I was back Friday morning at 7. There were about a dozen people there, including a woman reading with her dog standing attentively behind her, and a couple of students (not the ones from the night before, as far as I could tell) still dozing in sleeping bags. There, too, was Cindy, who hadn’t left since 6 p.m. Thursday. In addition to manning the sign-in desk, she said she handled about “an hour and a half, maybe two hours” of reading during the sparsely attended overnight shift, when the audience dwindled to as few as four.
I read the last couple pages of chapter 28, and was followed by English professor Debra Hawhee ’00g, who read with her 2 1/2-year-old daughter Nora in her arms. The reading continued as I headed home to get ready for work. There’s talk of this being an annual thing. I hope so.
Oh, and it’s yo-SAIR-ian, not yo-SORRY-an. Either way, a classic.
Ryan Jones, senior editor