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  • Joseph Heller: A Descriptive Bibliography
  • Jonathan Potter
Joseph Heller: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Matthew J. Bruccoli and Park Bucker. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2002. vi, 240 pp. $100.00. ISBN 1-58456-080-0.

At its most basic level, a good descriptive bibliography ought to illuminate the physical manifestation of a body of work—the tangible books and articles we readers hold in our hands as our minds encounter the inky residue of another mind at work in words on the printed page. From that standpoint, Bruccoli and Bucker succeed more than adequately in tracing the trails of ink and paper and bindings and dust jackets that constitute the physical reality of the Joseph Heller canon.

First and foremost—and the veritable raison d'être for a bibliography devoted to Heller—is the multilane interstate highway of printer's ink known as Catch-22, Heller's first and arguably best novel and one of the most popularly successful books in American letters. Bruccoli and Bucker do a fine job of tracking the many incarnations of Catch-22 as well as the two script adaptations penned by Heller and the numerous interviews containing references to and puns on the title, which is now part of the English language (of these latter, "Kvetch-22" is one of the more clever) (226).

Employing what they call the "digressive principle" (1) of limiting descriptive detail according to the bibliographic importance of a given printing or edition, Bruccoli and Bucker succeed in portraying the underlying drama of Catch-22's—and Heller's—rise to fame and fortune, from the modest first printing of four thousand copies (10), to the first British printing (16), to the Taiwan piracy with the interestingly garbled spine title (CHCAT 22), to the first Swiss printing, to the 1973 critical edition (23), to the Dell series paperback announcing on its cover: "Over 8,000,000 copies sold!" (30), to the fancy Franklin Library edition with [End Page 104] the twenty-four-page pamphlet (40), to the Black Swan edition with the introduction by Anthony Burgess (41), to the 1994 "special" edition with the newly penned preface and new dedication (wife and children replaced by agent and editor) (46), to the 1999 "classic" edition with a newly revised preface, to the—well, the list goes on and on. As is noted in the introduction, "a bibliography is outdated the day it is published" (5). A peculiar pleasure after thumbing through this catalog of Catches is to pull one's own copy off the shelf and see where it lines up. (Mine is a mongrel unnumbered Bookthrift printing of the first edition, classified in the bibliography as A 1.1.s [15].)

The remainder of the bibliography, like the remainder of Heller's career, is relatively anticlimactic by comparison. There are no special editions, no classic editions, no introductions by the likes of Anthony Burgess, no 8 million copies sold, no exclamation points, just the occasional bibliographical oddity, such as the accidental numbering of the first English printing of Heller's memoir, Now and Then, as the second printing. Heller was called in to hand number and initial each copy to indicate the genuine first printing. Reproductions of the emended copyright page (174) and the laid-in letter from the publisher describing the situation as "an unfortunate catch-22" (175) are included in the description. Throughout the bibliography, in fact, title and copyright pages and dust jackets are reproduced for each first American and British printing as well as a few other printings or editions of note. These reproductions are sharp and clean and helpful in supplementing the bibliographic record. There is one apparent error, however. Where the copyright page for Heller's dramatization of Catch-22 should appear, one for a revised edition of We Bombed in New Haven appears instead (62).

Of more general interest to lovers of finely crafted books is the gradual disappearance of sewn bindings, so elegantly enumerated by the bibliographic code of bracketed and superscripted numbers, increasingly replaced by the bluntly stated, "glued—not sewn." The American publisher Simon & Schuster embraced glue in 1979, with the first edition of Heller's...


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