Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
On August 1, 2019 an intrepid band of hearties set sail under the capable leadership of Captain Brona into the unknown sea to track a whale. We are now about ⅓ into the voyage. This is a slow read of a very long book with a schedule that allows for a few chapters a week, which makes it easy to keep up and stay focused for our seven-month voyage—Ok, enough with the sailing jargon—I look forward to my morning engagement with the Pequod and her crew and for a book long on my “scared to read” list, I am staggered at how much I am enjoying the actual reading of the book.
Moby Dick isn’t only about a whale-obsessed madman. It reads like the history of whaling in the mid 19th century as told through the adventures of a specific whaling crew. It is a fascinating, at times harrowing, but always instructive course of study on the inventions, personalities, myths and legends of whaling culture. Ishmael, the main character and narrator, regularly breaks into the story to teach us something, like the invention of the crow’s-nest, the culture and heritage of the diverse international crew and he regularly muses and ponders on religion, politics and philosophy. Captain Ahab, the aforementioned obsessed madman has his story, but so does the rest of the crew and Melville shows us why a life at sea in search of the great sperm whale would be appealing to the wide variety of characters who populate the Pequod.
Melville’s writing style is engaging and easily draws you into to the adventure, but his technique is very detailed, emphasis on very, which could easily put off a reader who may not be able to engage with the subject matter–which I thought described me. I am not a sea-faring books kind of gal and would never seek out a book where that is the main focus unless something could persuade me. But now I can honestly say I was misinformed about Moby Dick. And I might never have read this book had I not been persuaded by a readalong. From the first page I felt like I was reading Henry James or Nathanel Hawthorne, two other greats who don’t shy away from details and to whom I am always engaged.
A brief tangent–It is interesting to me that I have developed rock solid prejudices about certain titles or categories of books that have been with me for a long time and that seem as “true” as anything I know. But this year have forced myself to face these prejudices and the joke is on me that Anna Karenina (the dreaded Russian novel), Moby Dick (the feared whale book) and Venetia (the silly Romance novel) may also turn out to be some of the best books I will have read this year!
But back to Moby Dick. I am making notes as I go on the tab above or you can click here and all of us on the readalong are tweeting quotes and other bits with the hashtag #mobydickreadalong, so I will not do a review until I have completed the novel.
If anyone has similar prejudices or fears about this book, I urge you to put them aside. Hopefully, you will be similarly surprised at Melville’s writing and how he has chosen to tell this whaling story.