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Staff Pick: Why Not Catch-21?

Being a bit of a book nerd myself, I feel like I can say with a bit of authority that if there is one thing a book nerd likes more than a good book, it’s a good book about books!

The bookclub here at the Spring Garden Library recently read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and in preparation for our meeting, I was doing some digging around and came across Why Not Catch-21?: the stories behind the titles by Gary Dexter. It’s a slim volume of short essays that dig into the history of the titles of some great classics of writing. The essays were compiled from a column in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. (According to Dexter, Catch-22 was never almost called Catch-21, but it was originally intended to be titled Catch-18. Why the change? The release of Mila 18 by Leon Uris, near the time Heller’s title was supposed to come out.)

Some of the background stories might be common knowledge to those who studied such things in high school or university – for example why the Bronte sisters titled their first book of poetry Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, but others (for me anyway) were more obscure – like the number of titles Fitzgerald apparently considered before being convinced to settle on The Great Gatsby. Dexter looks at the stories behind novels, plays, poetry collections and even classic nonfiction pieces, giving a little bit of something for everyone. The essays are light in tone but informative: it’s a good book for dipping into (reading only about the books you yourself have already read) or tackling cover to cover. It’s a quick read but an interesting one.

If Why Not Catch-21 sounds up your alley – you may also be interested in some of these other books about books:

A Love of Reading and A Love of Reading: the second collection by Robert Adams: two books of collection reviews of contemporary fiction – including books by Alistair MacLeod, Zadie Smith, T.C. Boyle and Barbara Kingsolver. The reviews are compiled from ones Adams wrote and delivered to a live audience over the course of a number of years.

Maps and Legends: reading and writing along the borderlands by Michael Chabon: “a series of linked essays in praise of reading and writing, with subjects running from ghost stories to comic books, Sherlock Holmes to Cormac McCarthy”. (publisher’s description)

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby: compiled from the author’s long running Believer magazine column “Stuff I’ve Been Reading”

So Many Books, So Little Time: a year of passionate reading by Sara Nelson: the author vows to read a book a week and writes about it.

You’ve GOT to Read This Book!: 55 people tell the story of the book that changed their life by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks: with stories from Kenny Loggins, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Dave Barry, Malachy McCourt and others.

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