Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Hosted by Ti at Book Chatter

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

707 pages, Barnes&Nobles Classic

Introduction by Carl F. Hovde

I'm about 150 pages in, 100 pages behind the group. I joined last week and got my book this week but I will be up to them soon. Bloggiesta took my full attention since Thursday night, I needed to do it, but my reading went out the window.

Ishmael and Queequeg are on the ship and sailing now at this point. It's obvious from the start that poor Ishmael has little or no idea of what whaling is really like, despite all the stories and signs. Reminds me of childbirth-no one tells what it's really going to be like. Ahab is still a mystery 100 pages further along according to our group leader Ti's post today. I really look forward to when he finally opens up then. It takes me a moment to figure out what Ishmael is talking about sometimes, "orchard thieves" for example (Adam and Eve) but that's part of the fun. He sounds quite educated, at least in the sense of well read, referring to ancient Classics, mathematicians, the Bible etc. I wonder if there's more to him than experience in the merchant marines? Descriptions of what they ate and drank at the time are always fascinating, "pea coffee" for instance. Ishmael's knowledge of geography seems prodigious but he is a sailor. I love the humour in how Ishmael speaks and reacts to things. At the pub, "In rolled a wild set of mariners, like an eruption of bears in Labrador." Queequeg hasn't spoken much, I suspect that's his true nature and not just a language problem, but he's fascinating. Scary looking to most but steadfast in principle. I look forward to seeing them both in action and learning about whaling, at least as it was then, (although it's not much different today from what I've seen) and from a sailor's perspective.

You do need to concentrate when you read this book but I'm having a ball. Lots of words to look up in the dictionary, "arrantest taper", "immortal by brevet", "anxious gapnels", and others. There is a decent glossary of Nautical Terms, and sixteen pages of Explanatory Notes in the book, so many are explained. Included are maps, and detailed diagrams of the parts of ships, whales, and the weapons used in the pursuit of them. The Introduction is not to be missed, and there's a section of Extracts from other works appropriate to the theme of Moby Dick. Anyone who completes this novel will have quite an education under their belt. Don't let these extras intimidate you. You can always just read the text of the story, which is 600 pages and a bit and you won't regret finishing this book.
At the very least it will be good for your self esteem.

I'm very glad I finally got around to this classic. If I'd known it was this much fun I'd have tried it sooner. Between thinking it was more for boys (as opposed to girls, I read adult literature as a kid ) and English majors spouting on about it's symbolism in the grand manner too many of them have, I thought it was not for me, maybe I wouldn't "get it" as they say. I've known for decades now that that was rubbish but just didn't get around to the book.
Reading it along with a group is very encouraging. Best yet, a brand new copy arrived in this morning's mail; I now own a copy and don't have to worry about getting the library edition read on time. And I have a new Introduction to read as the library edition was A Penguin Classic, Introduction by Andrew Delbanco.

I will be posting every Monday about my progress throughout the reading of the book.

Have you read it? Tell us your thoughts? Have you thought about reading it? There's still time to join us for Moby Dick Monday, we're not too far along. Our hosts set the pace to read only four pages a day, easy enough for anyone. Any questions or aspects of the story you want to know about? Ask away.
If you've reviewed it, leave a link, I'd love to read it.


  1. I was surprised at the humor. I had no idea that Melville even had a sense of humor. I'm having fun with it too. It's a good book to digest in small chunks because it allows you to ponder what you've read a bit.

    Thanks so much for joining us.

  2. I read this with my girls when they were little and I've always loved Queequag. First off, his name is so much fun to say, and second, I really thought he was a good character. He seems scary at first, but then when you get to know him he turns out cool :-) and very honorable.

    The fun thing about reading it with my kids was how surprisingly diferent our takes on the book was. Sammi, my oldest, saw Ahab as the misunderstood and maligned hero of the book who had a just cause. Of course, she was about 7 at that time... though, I suspect she still roots for the Captain.

  3. *Ti: My pleasure, you've been a grand host.

    *thekoolaidmom: You read Moby Dick to your kids!? You are one cool mom.

  4. You have encouraged me about this book. I always thought it was a dry story fully of hard-to-figure-out symbolism. It suprised me when you said there was some humor. Thank you for this positive look at this classic!

  5. Hello Sandra! This is one classic I also really want to read. I keep hearing about it from everywhere, references to Ahab and even the whale himself from authors, artists, and other people. So hearing that you're having a lot of fun reading it makes me want to read it more :)

  6. I love your post - you made so many points that reflected my thoughts - like about how smart Ishmael is - and I love the childbirth analogy! You will enjoy a little later on when Ishmael comes up with his own childbirth analogy when - well, I don't want to spoil it! But I love that Melville uses whaling as a metaphor for just about every philosophical issue there is. What a great book! And great post - so glad you joined in!

  7. What a wonderful post! I didn't expect Melville's humor or the fact that he touches upon so many different social and cultural issues in this 'yarn. Reading this book has me wanting to learn more about the author!

    I'm glad you've joined in!

  8. I haven't read this book and for some reason was never attarcted to it. I have seen the movie version and felt bad for everyone involved. I'll give it a try someday :)

  9. *Sharon,*Mark David: I'm glad you were both encouraged by the post. So many people groan when this book is mentioned, it's sad really.

    *rhapsodyinbooks: Thank you. There's so much to this story just in a literal sense but Ishmael often stops and thinks about expounds on the metaphysical too. "What a great book" is right.

    *GAvin: What a nice compliment, I appreciate it. I don't know much about the author's life but I have read Billy Budd (a heart breaker) and some short stories. I enjoyed them all.

    *Jenny Girl: Books are always a richer experience than filmed versions of them I find. Glad to hear you're considering it though.

  10. Wishing you a lot of success with all of your 2010 Challenges.

    I'm visiting the members of the TAKE THE JOURNEY READING CHALLENGE in accordance with the January Bonus Incentive. It's a great way to get to know our challenge partners a little better and to visit their blogs and pages, which we might not otherwise make the time to do. So far everyone seems to be having a blast! Hope you are also.

  11. You almost make me want to try this one. Before reading your post I had no desire to read Moby Dick, but maybe I'll think about it now!

  12. You have done something I never thought anyone could do -- make me actually consider reading Moby Dick! I'm not ready to make that commitment yet, but I'll keep checking back to read your updates.
    Yours is the first blog I've found that covers classics. I love them and am sorry so few adults take the time to read or talk about them. I'll definitely start following.

  13. *Heather: Thank you, I'll be over later to take a look around your blog.

    *Between The Pages: I'm doing well at the reading parts of the challenge but there are some things I can't do, physically I mean. I'm looking forward to breaking that 100 point mark though. Thanks for stopping by.

    *Becky: That makes me feel very good, thank you. You're the second or third commenter to say that. You can always discontinue a the story if it really isn't working for you-people don't start a book sometimes because they forget that that's a reader's right too. I'll be over to look around your blog too. Thanks for visiting.

    *Teri K: Well, thank you. I appreciate every one of my new readers. I'll be over to see what you are blogging about very soon.

  14. I totally thought I'd already commented on this post! I'm curious about Ishmael's back story too...I'd have loved it if Melville wrote more books featuring him. :)

    >>I'm very glad I finally got around to this classic. If I'd known it was this much fun I'd have tried it sooner

    That's *exactly* how I felt the whole time I was reading it!

    I do wish I had a fancier copy (I got mine at a library sale, it has no intro-although lots of 'reader discussion' stuff at the back, and is super-ugly), and when I have a disposable income, I want that fancy Penguin edition. But ultimately, I'm just happy I could read it!

  15. Nice to know that you are enjoying Moby Dick. I saw a play which was based on 'Moby Dick' sometime back and was inspired to read the book at that time. But the size of the book daunted me. But after reading your review and a few other reviews and looking at this read-a-long, I am tempted to read the book :) I loved your child-birth analogy too. Will keep following your reading experiences of 'Moby Dick'.



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