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Marathon Reading of Catch-22

The Penn State community participated in a 24-hour long marathon reading of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, co-sponsored by CALS.

On Thursday, September 13, the Center for American Literary Studies co-sponsored a Marathon Read of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 (other co-sponsors included the College of the Liberal Arts, the University Libraries, the Department of English, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Paterno Fellows Program, and the Center for Democratic Deliberation). For twenty-four hours, students, faculty, staff, and community members took turns reading five-minute sections of the book aloud. The tent filled for the kickoff reader, Sue Paterno, and a devoted crowd remained throughout the night.

Catch 22 was a fitting subject for the Marathon Read, as Joseph Heller began writing the book while he was an instructor at Penn State. A sign celebrating his work, along with the work of Penn State novelist John Barth, can be found outside of Burrowes building on campus.

Part of the event's purpose was to unite two parts of the campus not always viewed as working in harmony--athletics and academics. "Proud to Celebrate Penn State Academics" signs hung alongside the already present "Proud to Support Penn State Football" signs," reminding viewers that the university is both academic and athletic, a site of many great things.

The event opened with an illustrious group of Penn State readers--after Sue Paterno kicked the event off, she was closely followed by Dean Susan Welch and Penn State women's volleyball coach Russ Rose. Throughout the event's two days, the reading continued to feature an eclectic mix of professors, administrators, coaches, graduate students, student athletes (including members of the men's and women's basketball teams, as well as the women's volleyball team), undergraduates, and community members. This variety of voices propelled the event forward for twenty-four hours of readings.

Upon hearing about the event, the first reaction of many people I spoke to was to ask, "Why?" Why on earth would you set up a tent in the middle of campus for two days to read Joseph Heller aloud? But the event--the hundreds of readers, the much larger number of passersby and listeners, the people walking through town during the event and after wearing "I read, Did you?" commemorative t-shirts, the space in which indeed we could celebrate literature and academics out loud--seemed to speak for itself. The Marathon Reading served to remind us of the power of public literature, of the moment in which an audience members asks "What is this?" and then "Can I read?." Now, the only question is what to read next year...