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Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here Hardcover – January 27, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Catch-18 was the intended title of Joseph Heller's most famous novel, Catch-22, which the author renamed to avoid confusion with Leon Uris's bestseller Mila 18. It's hard now to imagine anyone ever mistaking a single line written by Heller for the work of someone else; his atmospheric new memoir grabs readers' attention with the same plain, powerful prose; blunt, but oddly tender, humor; and striking ability to recreate a particular time and place that distinguishes all his fiction.

The brief, haunting section on his air force service confirms that Heller drew on his own experiences for Catch-22. But it's his boyhood home, Brooklyn's Coney Island in the 1920s and '30s, that prompts Now and Then's best pages. You can practically taste the cheap ice cream and hot knishes, hear the shrieks of kids on the amusement park's hurtling rides, see the facades of long-demolished apartment buildings, and smell the sand-and-salt odor wafting from the beach. The dignity and emotional reticence of Heller's widowed mother, the security he felt in an impoverished but safe immigrant neighborhood, come to life just as vividly.

Scattered anecdotes about famous friends (including Irwin Shaw and James Jones) are also evocative, and occasional comments about his novels' themes reveal Heller to be a better self-critic than most writers. But it's his affectionate tribute to a vanished New York that most clearly displays this popular author's narrative skills and engaging personality. --Wendy Smith

From Library Journal

From his scrappy beginnings to life in the Hamptons.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st trade ed edition (January 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375400621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375400629
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,232,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time (the sequel to Catch-22), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in December 1999.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you are like me, you are tempted by autobiographies of writers whose work you love. You hope to get that extra bit of insight that will expand your appreciation of their writing. Usually, these hints come from long passages about writing and inspiration concerning those works. In Now and Then, Mr. Heller is more laconic about that sort of information than many writers are. On the other hand, he is very generous in explaining his personal psychology, demons, work habits, and writing blocks. You will come to appreciate that Mr. Heller is a man beset by some important demons who overcomes them with wry wit that delights almost everyone. The book's weakness is that you will perhaps get more knowledge about Coney Island in the 1930s than you had counted on. If you are from Coney Island, on the other hand, you will revel in all of the myriad details and will want to give this book more than five stars.
Mr. Heller takes great pleasure in his success, his career, his recognition, and his accomplishments. He takes equal delight in his ability to use language with precision and erudition. The autobiography allows him plenty of opportunities to focus on all of these pleasing elements. To make this self-indulgence more palatable to the reader, he pokes a bit of fun at himself with gentle irony.
But all of this seeming self-indulgence is really procrastination to delay dealing with the painful parts of his life story. His father's death while he was young, and later exposure to the horrors of war in World War II left a deep stamp on his emotional make-up. The book describes an important catharsis as Mr. Heller identifies what he learned from psychoanalysis and the pscyhological testing that his employers applied.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Marguerite Oswald, the loquacious and vaguely lunatic mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, once announced her intention to write a memoir with the title "This and That," a title suggestive of the scattered contents of her always-busy mind.
Now, Joseph Heller is no Mother Oswald -- thank heaven for that -- but reading his memoir, "Now and Then," I couldn't help thinking that he should have filched Oswald's unused title for his own. For Heller, the author of the bitterly funny "Catch-22" and several other less winsome novels, has filled the pages of this somewhat disorderly memoir with a collection of remembrances that have no more logic to them than a dream.
Still, Heller is Heller, and even the most jumbled segments of this generally affable memoir have their share of insightful observations and amusing asides. Heller's memories of his Coney Island childhood are laced with sardonic humor and bathed in a warm glow of nostalgia. He tells of his first (and last) ride on the Cyclone at Luna Park (as a returning Air Force airman with 60 missions under his belt); of street games of "punchball" (a sort of stickball without the stick); of swims out to the bell buoy at Coney Island Beach -- which he only now recognizes were exceedingly dangerous ventures.
Most of this memoir deals with Heller's childhood, his stint in the Air Force and his years as a young adult. Aside from relating his early struggles to get into print (one of which involved a story called "Did You Ever Fall In Love With a Midget Weighing Thirty-eight Pounds?"), Heller provides few insights into his career as a writer.
But the crumbs he gives are intriguing enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Terry S. Young on March 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a person who also grew up in Coney Island all be it some thirty years after Mr. Heller did, I found this book to be a delight. It was really something to read about some of the people that I knew and some that my parents had told me about, as well. I totally disagree with the premise of some of the other reviewers about Heller not giving insight into how he came about to write such a classic as, "Catch 22". Actually it is in fact the environment, ethnicity and characters of Coney Island of that era that gave him his wonderful wit. I should know I have plenty of them in my immediate family. It was also nice to know that I am not the only one who felt the way that he did about swimming out to the bell buoy. All that aside, the book is very interesting and profound, and definately gives us all an insight into the heart, mind and life experiences of one of Americas great satirical authors.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jon Konrath on August 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this book solely on my admiration of Heller's great book Catch-22, and I wanted to find out more background on the guy who wrote this strange and cynical bit of humor. But once I started reading, I got pulled into another realm, the world of Coney Island during the depression, where a fatherless Jewish family struggled to make ends meet while living in the shadows of this wonderland boardwalk and amusement park area. I live near Coney Island, and always wonder about its past, the demographic that lived there and made it mighty, and then watched it coast back down to what it is today. Heller's book is such a wonderful and detailed display of this childhood, that after fifty pages, I didn't even care about what happened to him in the war. This is covered a bit, and he does lay down some interesting facts about how some people and events in Catch-22 really happened. But he doesn't spend that much time on the war, and instead drifts into how his writing career got started, how he worked the chump jobs and waited for the magazines to pay him $10 a story, until he really made it. The book is a bit anticlimactic in the end, especially when you realize Heller is gone now and this is the end of the road. But despite his habit of jumping forward and backward in time (A lot like Catch') I'd call this book a success, although maybe in an area that wasn't as advertized by the jacket or publicity.
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