St John’s Wood Library Reading Group has been choosing titles that at some point were banned. Unintentionally, we have read two anti-war titles consecutively: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
Remarque’s point comes across through stark descriptions of situations unbearable for any human being, let alone young high school graduates, who thus become the “lost generation”, the ones without hopes and dreams, whose first, and as it turns out the last, experience of adulthood is destruction and death. World War I, the “Great War”, was not great at all. What is also heart-breaking is that we know the sequel.
Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 from the mid 1950s onwards and it was finally published in 1961. It depicts World War II, but it grew in popularity as protests against US involvement in the Vietnam war increased. The novel presents the absurdity of war through absurd situations and circular dialogues, as well as repetition. The ‘catch’ of the title is that one who is crazy can be dismissed from the military and thus not fight, but if one wants to be dismissed, he is not crazy!
While All Quiet on the Western Front transcends nationalism and stresses the humanity we all share, Catch-22 criticizes capitalism, that is, the greed and the social structure it creates.
In our group the general agreement was that these novels are very important and that we were glad to have had the opportunity to read and discuss them. We voted All Quiet on the Western Front as a must read for Sixth Form students, as a warning against the attraction of deadly national pride.
We are also looking forward to our next book, The Group, by Mary McCarthy, which when it was published was deemed as scandalous. It will be interesting to see how it has stood the passage of time.
St John’s Wood Library Reading Group meets every first Wednesday of the month, 6.00-7.00pm.