100s of Readers, and 24 (or so) Hours, for “Catch-22”

September 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm 4 comments

How exactly do you pronounce Yossarian?

The reading tent at 10 p.m. Thursday…

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.)

…and Friday morning at 7.

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.

Debra Hawhee reads—with help from daughter Nora

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

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Walt Mills  |  September 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Ryan,

    I had the same question as I listened to the first three readers on Thursday (before heading back to work). That’s how it was pronounced in the film of Catch 22, and the way Heller said it when I heard him on Johnny Carson (great interviewer) and David Letterman (awful interviewer). Despite the minor caveat, compliments to all the readers and to the organizers. A brilliant way to showcase Penn State’s scholarship and support by and for athletics.

  • 2. R Thomas Berner  |  September 15, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Trying to figure out pronunciations is one reason I never strayed from print. :-)

  • […] Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude seems an appropriate follow-up to Catch-22, which kicked off this new tradition last fall. Like Catch-22, Marquez’s book is filled with absurdity, humor, and characters with memorably […]

  • […] year marks the fourth annual Marathon Reading, and after taking part in the first two—we read Catch-22 in 2012 and One Hundred Years of Solitude in 2013—I can vouch for this being a really cool event. […]

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