Welcome to the first Big Bad Books blog on Moby Dick!
I read 51 pages this week—through to Chapter 10. Not a great start, given that I have 419 more pages to go—125 more chapters plus a one page Epilogue—and only eighteen days to finish. BUT FINISH I (we?:) WILL!
(*NB* I am reading the 1967 Norton Critical Edition that I found on my bookshelves, stuffed full of my husband’s notes from, it looks like, high school. This is why print books are awesome—so full of history, literally!)
My son was sick this week, which explains in part the dearth of reading time, and which also is my excuse for why this post is (a) late and (b) rather shorter than I’d hoped. But I wanted to post something, so here I post!
First, I have to note that Moby Dick is freaking funny. I had no idea! There’s even a fart joke on page 15! Ishmael’s sense of humor and wry wit are evident from the first page, where he talks about how he heads out to sea to ward off suicidal depression. I love how he colors the events of the story with his first person narration, such as his description of the painting on the wall of the Spouter-Inn, and also his verbose explications which seem a great effort to cover up his pecuniary poverty with his intellectual riches, such as the hilarious conversation Ishmael has with the landlord of the Inn concerning his lodgings on page 22.
This discovery of hidden hilarity in a Big Bad Book is something I’ve found over and over. These Classics, these Books of the Canon—whatever we have made them, through assigning them in school or publishing them in tiny print with super-serious looking covers, they are first and foremost books that someone wrote and published in hopes of tickling something in the mind of a reader. They want to be read, and read by you! If I have any sort of grand scheme or ulterior motive for this blog series, it is to demystify these classics, which for the longest time—embarrassing admission, folks—I avoided mostly because I thought them “serious books,” dreary old boring tomes covered in the literal and figurative dust of the ages.
After having my feet held to the fire during grad school on this issue (“YOU HAVEN’T READ DICKENS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”), I took the plunge. And I am so grateful I did. You want fun? Read The Count of Monte Cristo. Read Moby Dick! There is so much truly awesome reading to be had off the Classics shelf. You want a super sad diary about unrequited love? Read The Sorrows of Young Werther. You want some incredibly detailed descriptions of the female orgasm? Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Really, there’s something for everyone!
Second, it’s cool to see some of the residue of the writing process in the finished work. Like on pages 36-37, Melville drops an offhand reference to Vermonters fresh off the sheep farm sitting at the table in the Inn, then makes a direct reference to those same Vermonters at the beginning of the next chapter. It’s as if he had an image in his head of these bumpkin Vermonters rubbing elbows with all manner of people fresh off the whaling boats, and decided he wanted to see those bumpkins walking about on the page.
Okay, so I promise more on Moby Dick next week. But now—to the giveaway!
There were four entries—and I pulled MICHAEL’s name from the hat!
Everyone else, thank you for entering! There’s another giveaway I’m running on Tuesday’s blog post where you could win a complete hardcover set of the No Safety in Numbers series. Feel free to enter there! Hooray!
Keep reading, ya’ scurvy sailors! I’ll be tweeting all week as I read using #bigbadbooks. See you here next Thursday for more Moby Dick!