Ruminations on the Novel by Herman Melville
I approached Moby Dick with great trepidation. After repeatedly hearing how dense it was, how filled with boring whaling information, how plain hard it was to read, I did not know if I was up to the challenge I was setting for myself.
Surprise, surprise! I actually liked it! Yes, it’s dense with archaic language and a lot of information on whaling and whales, but it’s so much more, too. That’s what surprised — and delighted — me.
To begin, I certainly did not expect a profound sense of humor. Who knew I would be laughing out loud at some of Ishmael’s observations? The next surprise was the countless reference to people, places, and things not related to whaling, citing source like ancient history, Shakespeare, the Bible, you name it. Many of these I knew. Many more I wondered about. In a perfect world, I would have been constantly on my iPad researching each one. However, since I did want to finish the book in this decade, I resisted.
The insightful musings of Ishmael on subjects ranging from religion to what we eat were really interesting as well — and often just as applicable to modern times as they were 150 years ago.
Melville does go into great detail about whaling practices, but they usually directly relate to what is taking place in the plot. They enhance the story as well as increase your understanding of the dangers and tasks whalers faced in the 19th century.
That said, it’s not the fastest moving book in the world. My copy has slightly over 500 pages. Moby Dick isn’t even mentioned until page 158. They harpoon their first whale on page 256. The centerpiece white whale chase doesn’t take place until very the last pages. However, when there is action, Melville paints a scene with words like no other.
I’m really glad I read this American classic. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Except, now I’ll worry a bit about grumpy sperm whales if I should ever sail the Pacific Ocean.
Now onto the second book of my reading self-challenge, James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gulp.