Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville (Penguin Classics Edition)
Have I pretended to have read it before? I don’t believe so.
Why’d I read it? I’m trying to start a personal thing called MY YEAR OF CLASSICS (alternate name: THE YEAR I STOP BEING EMBARRASSED), where I read a whole bunch of novels that (a) are, in one way or another, part of the canon (and can thus make me feel all important for having read them) and/or (b) have been read by so many of my peers that I feel a special kind of shame for not having read them. Anyway, Moby-Dick* seemed like a perfect starting point, because now I can be the kind of person who has read it. Also it seemed like a challenge, or whatever!
Would I be embarrassed to diss it? Yes. I definitely gave this one five stars on GoodReads, because what kind of asshole would down-grade Moby-Dick?
Be honest: did you enjoy it? I mean, sort of. I liked the beginning a lot. Once he got into the cetology, it was like… OK, so it’s very wordy and difficult to wade through, but definitely an incredible achievement. So, to be completely honest, I didn’t really viscerally enjoy a lot of it. I just had to sit back and, like, appreciate most of it. I found myself accidentally skimming it. Like, I would read the words, but not really remember what whole pages had said. Am I alone? Am I being dumb, here? I feel like I probably have to read it again, someday. Ugh.
Talking points for a dinner party:
- “What’s interesting is just how disgusting and skin-crawling a lot of the descriptions in the book are! Like, there’s this beautiful prose, but when he talks about opening a whale’s head-case and scooping out oil? Jesus Christ!”
- “I’m sure other people have said this, but Ahab is this interesting predecessor to a lot of 20th-century dictators. And hell, even 19th-century ones like Napoleon III! He’s got this vision of democracy that has more to do with popular rallies and plebiscites than actual popular control.”
- “All the race stuff, as has been pointed out a bajillion times, is super-complicated, but he never uses the n-word. Should I be surprised about that?”
- “It’s pretty postmodern, what with how it will suddenly be, like, written as a stage script, or suddenly the narrator disappears and we’re just hearing Ahab’s secret monologue.”
- “Ishmael basically stops being a character around a third of the way through.”
- “Ahab’s barely in it!”
- “Have you ever read it?”
*Is it Moby-Dick or Moby Dick? The novel really plays fast and loose with its use of the hyphen.
UPDATE: This incredible, Peabody-winning radio doc about the book (featuring commentaries from Laurie Anderson, Tony Kushner, Frank Stella, and many others) is really helping me sort my thoughts: www.studio360.org/2011/dec/30/