After battling my way through Kafka and a complex political history of the middle east by Robert Fisk, I’m rewarded myself by re-reading Catch-22. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a big favour and purchase it immediately.
Re-reading books used to strike me as a wasted opportunity, particularly as I’m a slow reader. However, you listen to albums many times over without the experience diminishing, so why not books? Particularly ones as good as those by Joseph Heller.
Anyway. Whilst making a brief diversion from the dense Catch-22 to fly through the concise Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, it occured to me that my favourite authors are all males born in the 1920s. Normal Mailer, Joseph Heller, Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, Jose Saramago, Gore Vidal – all born within a couple of years of each other.
I don’t think this is a co-incidence. To be a good writer, you must live an interesting life. All these guys lived through severe economic depression, the 2nd World War, nuclear strikes (and the new global paradigm that resulted from it), McCarthyism, Vietnam, the Cold War, the creeping success of capitalism and accelerating information technology. In their personal lives they notched up much more than their fair share of marriages, divorces, births, deaths, alcoholism, drug addiction, jail time. And so it goes.
I find it thrilling to read everything these guys wrote. The breadth and depth of vicarious experience is immense and inspiring. Vonnegut himself said that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I couldn’t put it better without being born in the 20s.