Best Book Ever: East of Eden vs. Catch-22

East of Eden Vs. Catch-22

You knew there were going to be a few heartbreaks with a random draw. Both of these are solid contenders to win it all, but unfortunately we’ll have to say goodbye to one now.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

For years, all I knew of Steinbeck was that The Grapes of Wrath seemed like a huge and boring -you have to read this- classic piece of literature, so I didn’t read it. But then I asked for book recommendations, and with East of Eden being one of the few on the list I hadn’t already read, it was the winner.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

A wandering and winding story telling one of the oldest tales in time over and over again. East of Eden recreates the story of Cain and Able over and over through the lives of two sets of brothers -Charles and Adam as the older generation and Caleb and Aron as the younger. But as all humans do, they live the same stories of love, jealousy, and pride. The novel is a discussion of man’s ability to choose his destiny -to choose to do good and follow an honest path even when your inborn proclivities drive you towards sin. With insanely quotable and poignant passages, it’s a book I turn to constantly when I’m in need of advice. As Steinbeck himself stated,  “It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years.”

  • Goodreads Score: 4.37
  • Length: 3 – East of Eden is a little big, but not disagreeably so. In retrospect, it’s wholly amazing Steinbeck was able to fit the breadth of the story into just 600 pages.
  • Readability: 3.5 – Often broken up into short segments, the book is easily digestible even with all there is going on.
  • Language: 5 – We could sit here for hours and discuss how good the writing is -the dialogue, the descriptions, the imagery -but let’s just leave and say it’s very, very good.
  • Characters/Plot: 5 – You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be overwhelmed, you’ll feel all too much called out. A+ for cast of characters and considerations.

Overall Score: 20.87

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Built from his experiences in World War II and his criticism of the Korean War, Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 as a critique of war and the military but even moreso of the governments who control them. Catch-22 is now a ubiquitous phrase for a situation in which there is no solution because the options are intrinsically tied. One highlight example in the novel being that Captain John Yossarian seeks to be discharged from the military by way of an insanity plea, however, by seeking to get out of the military, he only proves his sanity. The novel is riddled with such instances of circular logic drawing you into its absurdity to the point where you nearly forget the backdrop is World War II. Until it showcases the siege, and you’re filled with horror. Yet the novel ends on a hopeful note for as with real war, people survive and move on, going on living anyway.

  • Goodreads Score: 3.98
  • Length: 3 – Catch-22 comes in at a 400ish pages depending on the version which is very conquerable.
  • Readability: 4 –The book had me so entertained I finished it in a couple of days. Highly readable.
  • Language: 4 – Catch-22 is filled with examples of its namesake. Every character struggles with a back and forth of “Not this but that, But wait, it can’t be this.” Decidedly clever whether it’s turn of phrase or character diatribe, Catch-22 has some great language.
  • Characters/Plot: 4.25 – Rare is the protagonist as relateable as Yossarian. Determined to stay alive even while he’s obsessed with dying, his outrage at the futility of war is raw and assured.

Overall Score: 18.73

“And don’t tell me God works in mysterious ways”, Yossarian continued, hurtling over her objections. “There’s nothing so mysterious about it. He’s not working at all. He’s playing or else He’s forgotten all about us. That’s the kind of God you people talk about—a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation?

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Verdict

Again, you hate to see one of these leave so early, but as good as Catch-22 is, it’s hard to compete with the mastery of East of Eden. What story is more essential than that of good vs. evil and our ability to choose?

‘We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we’re all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and the brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other worlds and starved over the squeezed out soil.’.

-East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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