Hey, Amy, what did you do on your summer vacation? Oh, I'm so glad you asked! I participated in the Summer of Moby Dick challenge! Our fearless leader, Beth, led a small but determined group through this daunting classic. We also chatted on Twitter using: #TCMoby (the "TC" stands for Twin Cities, where most of us are located, but no one had to live here to participate).
What's my take? Well, as an English major who has long felt guilty about not reading this, I'm relieved to finally cross it off my literary bucket list. I'm thankful to the blogging world, and Twitter, and IRL book clubs that are allowing me to slowly and steadily get through some of the shocking gaps in my literary education. There are books I've read over the past few years that, not only did I love, I do want to read again, like Middlemarch and War and Peace and Bleak House. There are books that I'm glad to have read, and maybe wouldn't read again, but would seek out other novels by the same author, like The Brothers Karamazov.
And then there's Moby Dick, which falls in the category of so happy I read it, will never read it again, and I'm on the fence about whether or not I would seek out other Melville books, like Typee or Omoo.
Here's the thing about Moby Dick. It had so much more humor than I expected, especially in the beginning. And it has long--looooooooong--parts of whale/whaling arcana. What I did not expect was, with a 500-page book titled Moby Dick, that we wouldn't actually *get* to the damned whale until the final 50 pages. That mightily tried my patience.
But this is where a good edition with a thoughtful introduction comes in handy. Here are some valuable insights:
"The epic...aspires towards achieving a 'totality of objects', as opposed to drama which aims for a 'totality of actions'. Melville's imagination...was 'profoundly undramatic', but there is an extraordinary feeling of totality--of immensity, range, inclusiveness--in Moby Dick."
Further analysis of the role of world events, of literature, of religions and myth, all made me appreciate the book more than I did while actually reading it.
What did I appreciate while reading it? Here are just a few samples of the writing that I loved:
"'Yes,' said I, 'we have just signed the articles.'
"'Anything down there about your souls?'
"'Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any,' he said quickly. 'No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,--good luck to 'em, and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon.'"
"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shapes of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?"
"Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the world through so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an ear which is smaller than a hare's?"
So--worth the read; not an easy task, but I'm glad I persevered.