Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Great Moby-Dick Read-Along

My 1972 edition of Moby-Dick that I've pulled from my bookshelf to finally read
Everyone in my daughter's grade has to read Melville's Moby-Dick.  It's a tradition, a rite-of-passage.  The headmaster encouraged us parents to "join the fun" and read along with our student.


I first tried to read Moby-Dick in junior high, but the voluminous tome about manic obsession and killing a whale held zero interest for me. I didn't read far.   If we were going to read long books about animal struggles, I much preferred one of my favorite books: Richard Adams's Watership Down, a tale of courage, friendship and, well, rabbits.  

Nonetheless, as a grown-up and a parent, I decided that I had better give Moby-Dick another shot.  And thus began what I am calling The Great Moby-Dick Read-Along and, potentially, the re-evaluation of my initial impressions.  I'm actually enjoying the book.  The seemingly never-ending sentences that annoyed and bothered me as a teen I now see as the voice of a chatty friend, trying desperately to give as complete a picture as possible of his impressions and experiences.  I've discovered the narrator has a sense of humor, something that escaped me in the past.  And I'm beginning to look forward to reading what comes next.  I don't know if I'll still feel that way on page 573, in the middle of the chapter titled "Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?", but for now I'm entertained.  Perhaps you can understand why:

Who ain't a slave?  Tell me that. Well, then however the old sea-captain may order me about -- however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way -- either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and be content. (p. 96 - 97)

I remembered a story of a white man -- a whaleman too -- who, falling among the cannibals, had been tattooed by them.  I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure.  And what is it, thought I, after all? It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin. (p. 114)

For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.  What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself -- the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.  Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.  (p. 118)

If I continue to enjoy the book, I may continue to report back.  I mean, who doesn't want to hear about a book in which a character is described thusly -- "Queepqueg was George Washington cannibalistically developed"?  Now doesn't that paint an interesting picture?


Deborah Boschert said...

Lynda Barry is and illustrator and art professor who regularly blogs her class assignments on her tumblr, Near Sighted Monkey. She recently had an assignment about Moby Dick but she also included several pictures of men with tattooed faces for her students to consider. I've never read Moby Dick, but your post and her pictures were quite intriguing.

Norma Schlager said...

I remember reading Moby Dick in college and hating it, but I reread it several years ago and enjoyed most of it. I, too, was surprised by the humor.