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Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22 Hardcover – August 23, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice Pick in 2011

“Charming and combative”The New York Times

“A vital read. [Erica Heller] didn't idolize her father, but she portrays his complexities with sympathy. . . . Feels like all a reader needs to get the feel for the man who wrote, and lived with having written, Catch-22.”The Los Angeles Times

“For the human aspect [of Joseph Heller], one turns to Erica Heller’s frank but loving memoir of her father, Yossarian Slept Here, which comes as close as possible, I dare say, to deciphering the enigma behind the obsessive, pitch-black fiction. Joseph Heller, the opposite of demonstrative, was given to oblique ways of showing affection [and] such vignettes are all the more charming, and telling, because the author shares her subject’s sense of humor, and is herself a good writer to boot. . . . The miracle of this memoir is that it never seems less than fair: Erica Heller’s worst grievances are mentioned more in sorrow (or levity) than anger, and she’s careful to give her own shortcomings their due. . . . While she was dying of cancer, [Joe Heller’s] ex-wife’s utmost curse was to forbid Erica from ever giving him a coveted pot roast recipe. The daughter kept her promise, though she prints the recipe at the end of her book; for this reason alone—pity Joseph Heller the absence of such pot roast during his final years—I would recommend Yossarian Slept Here.''—Blake Bailey for The New York Times Book Review

“Packed with wonderful anecdotes of a sort that aren't always found in proper biographies.”—Salon.com

“Closely, affectionately rendered”—Walter Kirn for Slate.com

“Charming.”The Wall Street Journal

“This collection of memories renders all of the pride, dislocation and confusion that follows from a life borne into literary legacy.”Time Out New York

"With wit punctuating lambent nostalgia, Erica Heller brings her father to life in an animated, absorbing fashion, documenting his quirky habits, celebrity, and "invisible, unfathomable inner cycle," but also her parents' divorce and Heller's suffering with Guillain-Barré syndrome. The total effect is akin to leafing through a bulging family scrapbook where one finds a few blurry images among many snapshots in sharp focus. Erica Heller has inherited her father's finely tuned flair with words."Publishers Weekly

“Comedic and poignant, her many-faceted memoir is rendered in high-definition as Heller recounts meals, travels, parties, arguments, lies, and the serious illnesses that afflicted her and her parents. Writing with wit, compassion, [and] aplomb, and no little wonder . . . Heller presents an involving and invaluable work of personal and cultural history.” Donna Seaman, Booklist

"An affectionate family scrapbook crafted with a bittersweet blend of humor and pathos."Kirkus Reviews

“Readers might wonder if Erica Heller will have anything new to say about her famous father. The answer is: absolutely. . . . Rather than focus on [Joseph Heller's] genius, she fleshes out his personality and their relationship. . . . While most of our parents are mere mortals, Heller's tale of trying to meet parental expectations while finding her own path will resonate with readers everywhere.”—Shelf Awareness

“As a rule, a novel speaks for itself and its author, but when it comes to Joseph Heller, we are privileged to have an especially intimate source of information about his life and work. . . . Erica [Heller] clearly shares her father’s wry sense of humor and his gift for storytelling. . . . Yossarian Slept Here is a must-read for anyone who delights in finding out exactly how our favorite books entered the world.”The Jewish Journal

“Erica Heller has clearly inherited her way with words from her father, and her wry, sometimes mordant viewpoint as well.”—New York Journal of Books

Yossarian Slept Here is a finely crafted, wonderfully observed reminiscence on an extraordinary, often traumatic life. . . . You sense the fear of a man who, in his daughter, detects a potential rival: somebody of great imagination and eloquence, in whom he has privately identified a writer with great promise. That last quality, in Yossarian Slept Here, radiates off the page.”The Independent (UK)

"Erica Heller, daughter of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, seems to have weathered her girlhood better than most daughters of celebrated literary lions. As we know from the memoirs of Susan Cheever, Janna Malamud Smith and Alexandra Styron, growing up under the shadow of an artistic ego can seriously stunt your emotional health. Heller's book shows a robust acceptance of her father's overbearing personality and Don Draperesque approach to marriage and fatherhood."—Arts & Book Review (UK)

“An intriguing take on the saga of a celebrity-author dad and his long-suffering family.”Winnipeg Free Press

“Erica Heller has a story to tell and I for one am eager to see it in print. I think this is going to be one hell(er) of a memoir.”—Christopher Buckley, author of Losing Mum and Pup

“As soon as I read the opening I was determined and eager to consume everything that followed, up to and including the Pot Roast.”—Christopher Hitchens, author of Hitch-22

“Erica Heller to me is like a Carrie Fisher on the East Coast. She is as authentic as they come."—Richard Lewis, comedian, actor, author

About the Author

Erica Heller is the daughter of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller and an advertising copywriter, novelist, and creative consultant.

Karen White has been narrating audiobooks since 1999, with more than two hundred to her credit. Honored to be included in AudioFile's Best Voices and Speaking of Audiobooks's Best Romance Audio 2012 and 2013, she is also an Audie Award finalist and has earned multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439197687
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439197684
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,567,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel H. Setzer on August 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
We all like to read about the lives of great creative artists. Our brains are wired to respond to stories about other people's lives and we always feel that we just might get a glimpse of the mysterious creative spark that made them great. There is always the hope that we might uncover the secret and make use of it to achieve our own greatness. We are always ultimately disappointed. The creative process is too well hidden and mysterious. However, one thing is clear; creativity does not arise from joy and contentment. It comes from a darker place.

Erica Heller has given us a jewel of a memoir about her life as the daughter of perhaps the greatest novelist of the last half of the 20th century.

Her prose is crystal clear and she stays tightly focused on her subject. She has a master's touch when writing about her wacky family members and their foibles, and she has the eloquence to wring every last drop of humor and comedy out of their doings with just a few deft phrases.

This is not an exposé or 'tell all' book. Ms Heller takes a very realistic if not objective view of past events. She is truthful, direct and does not try to paint herself in a favorable light. She owns up to her misjudgments and does not try to gloss over unpleasant facts. Her father was always difficult to gauge. He could be in turns very generous and considerate, or if the winds of his inner emotions were blowing in the wrong direction, he could be bitingly caustic and seemingly unfeeling. His barbs struck to the quick and were very, very funny...as long as you were not the target.

Joseph Heller and his wife Shirley had a great love affair during their 30+ years of marriage. During that time they lived at the venerable Apthorp Apartments on Broadway.
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Imagine, as a visual image, balancing with one toe (the big one of course) on the head of a pin -- one arm reaching forward and the opposite leg extended backward in a perfect arabesque. That's the kind of balancing act Erica Heller has pulled off with Yossarian Slept Here, her insightful, totally honest memoir about her life as the daughter of renowned writer Joseph Heller and his wife Shirley. She makes sure you know that her father does love her, in spite of his insensitivity, frequently bordering on cruelty, and almost complete lack of parenting skills. As Blake Bailey points out, in her review of Yossarian Slept Here, (New York Times Book Review, Sunday, August 28, 2011), "The miracle of this memoir is that it never seems less than fair: Erica Heller's worst grievances are mentioned more in sorrow (or levity) than anger, and she's careful to give her own shortcomings their due."
She also writes with affection and empathy about the many other colorful members of her unique family.

Erica Heller has a powerful story to tell and the ability to make the reader want to hear it. She's a wonderful writer --- smart and funny (her analogies are hilarious). It would be great to hear more from her, in the form of a novel next time. She could probably write a great screenplay as well.
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Joseph Heller is one of the three Josephs my son is named for. There's probably no one else whose books I reread more frequently than his, and few writers I admire more. Naturally, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this memoir by his daughter.

Erica Heller is certainly a snappy writer with a penchant for for nice, tight sentences and wry observation, thanks to her years as a copywriter, a profession she shared with her old man. And she's an engaging storyteller--she recounts her life in a series of vignettes which, taken as a whole, add up to an admirable memoir, which is no small accomplishment. But for a book ostensibly about growing up as Joseph Heller's daughter, the guy on the cover is mysteriously absent.

She tells us a great deal about her relationship with her mother Shirley, and about the quirks and foibles of her maternal grandparents, colorful characters in their own right. But her father, one of 20th century American letters' towering figures, remains curiously unformed. It's almost as though we're viewing him through glasses with a very outdated prescription. Ms. Heller informs us that her father liked to eat, and did a lot of it. He liked women and did a lot of them. He could be nasty on occasion. But beyond that, hardly anything, and this is odd, considering what a colorful character he was.

She spends an inordinate amount of space on things that, not to be uncharitable, just don't really seem to matter much. She recounts her family's vacations in New Jersey, Long Island, and Europe in excruciating detail, and tells us an awful lot about the apartment building (Manhattan's storied Apthorp) where she grew up and now lives, right down to floor plans of the apartments.
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Format: Hardcover
A few weeks ago in this space, I had the pleasure of reviewing JUST ONE CATCH, Tracy Daugherty's biography of Joseph Heller. Heller's daughter Erica's sometimes scarifying, but often hilarious, memoir of life in the Heller household is a worthy companion to that volume, providing some of the brushstrokes and shading to complete Daugherty's more comprehensive portrait. What's most satisfying is that Erica is no talentless celebrity offspring who has cobbled together some sensational revelations with the help of a ghostwriter to even the score with her famous father. Instead, this energetic, often moving, work is a good argument for the existence of a writing gene.

"YOSSARIAN SLEPT HERE captures the challenge of growing up a Heller: exhilarating, frustrating and painful, but never, ever dull."
While Erica's memoir follows a generally chronological path, she has a knack for the well-timed detour to share a punchy anecdote, and without doubt has inherited her father's talent for comic writing. There's the hilarious story of her disastrous attempt to crash Woody Allen's 1980 New Year's Eve party and one of an uncomfortable lunch as a teenager with Gene Wilder. She revels in telling how her father "paid twice" when she sold back to him the furniture her mother had removed from the family's East Hampton home after the divorce. But the most striking story tells of the highly original revenge her grandmother (a colorful character in her own right) wreaked on pictures of Joe after he divorced her daughter.

One story in Daugherty's biography that's missing here, curiously, deals with the article Erica wrote for Harper's in 1974 after the publication of her father's second novel, SOMETHING HAPPENED.
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