Tagged: Moby Dick

Sperm Whale Selfie

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Sperm whale skull, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John.

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What Do You Read After Reading Moby-Dick?

I finished Moby-Dick way ahead of schedule. I’m still writing weekly posts for the next little while, but in the meantime, I need something to read. So, what does one read after a long, difficult, literary classic? Here is what happens when a book snob looks for a “fun” read.

My criteria:

  • Short
  • Easy
  • Fun
  • No whales

The candidates:

1. The Worst Book Ever Written Continue reading

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 46-60: Digressions

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

“digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;-they are the life, the soul of reading”

-Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

Only nine of these fifteen chapters have much to do with the main narrative, and of those, maybe five really move the story forward.  The rest could kindly be called digressions. I know some of my fellow read-a-longers are probably a little (a lot?) frustrated with all the tangents and biology lessons. The quote above is from another book with multiple digressions that frustrated me so much that I didn’t finish it. However, I’m still loving the oddball chapters in this book! This time around, we get one chapter on “monstrous” pictures of whales and one chapter on “true” pictures of whales. No, they simply couldn’t be combined. We also get chapters on other artistic renderings of whales, on whale food, on giant squid, and, my favourite, a fantastic story about another ship altogether, the Town-Ho.

Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Chapters 46-60

  • Steelkilt: Doesn’t that sound like the name of a summer blockbuster, perhaps starring an evil Scottish robot? No? Okay. But it was the name of a sailor aboard the Town-Ho, who figured in the lengthy disgression Ishmael treats us to. The Town-Ho chapter is so random, but I raced to finish it during a lunch hour. Lots of violence, intrigue, and mutiny. I’m not sure what the point was, apart from showing us that life on the seas, or maybe more accurately, the people who choose to live that life, are pretty bizarre – lest we think it’s just the Pequod and her crew.
  • Foreshadowing: There’s been plenty of heavy foreshadowing before this section, but Melville really lays it on thick:

Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves.

  • Ahab's WifeAhab’s Wife: She’s not mentioned in this section, but when Ahab breaks out his secret crew of whalers and just generally becomes more and more intense, I keep reminding myself that he’s got a young wife and baby at home, and wonder, do they figure into his mindset at all? And what is she doing while all this  is going on? I mean, MD is clearly a book by a guy, about guys, for guys, and I know Melville’s not going to address it. I Googled “Ahab’s wife” just to see if anyone else was wondering, and found a book called Ahab’s Wife was written in the 1990s and apparently, it’s pretty good! The New York Times says:

 In ”Ahab’s Wife,” Sena Jeter Naslund has taken less than a paragraph’s worth of references to the captain’s young wife from Herman Melville’s ”Moby-Dick” and fashioned from this slender rib not only a woman but an entire world. That world is a looking-glass version of Melville’s fictional seafaring one, ruled by compassion as the other is by obsession, with a heroine who is as much a believer in social justice as the famous hero is in vengeance.

Tune in Next Week: Well, let’s just say Greenpeace wouldn’t be too happy with what’s coming up next.

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Yay, fellow Edmonton Book Blogger Brie is getting into the swing of things!

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 31-45: Schooled in Cetology

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

I’m having a hard time writing this post because there’s so much I want to say. This is the section where I went from “this is pretty good/funny” to “Oh. This is sublime.”

The thing that struck me is that Moby Dick is so honest. Ishmael tells us everything we need to know about whales, and more. Ahab admits that he’s chasing the White Whale to exact revenge – he revels in it. You’d think a person would be sort of embarrassed about that. Starbuck has doubts and tells Ahab immediately.  When I had questions – how on earth can anyone find a whale in the ocean? Why is it a big deal that Moby Dick is white? – Melville answers them, thoroughly. No suspension of disbelief required. Yet at the same time, symbols, allusions, and imagery abound – you know, all that good high school English stuff.

So not only is Moby-Dick postmodern before there was a postmodern, but it’s creative nonfiction before THAT was a thing, either. Amazing.

Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Chapters 31-45

  • Cetology: Chapter 32 is called Cetology and it’s the first of the “whale” chapters. So far, it’s the one I marked up more than any other. This is the thing that readers complain about, I mean, we were just getting somewhere with the story, and we’re taking a 15 page detour to talk about the science of whales? But it’s amazing. Here are some passages I liked:

As yet, however, the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten life.

What could be worse than the unwritten life? This chapter is full of literary analogies. Ishmael classifies whales using book sizes – it makes no sense, but somehow it’s perfect. Melville was a total book nerd and probably figured his readers might be, too. Way to know your audience!

The Killer is never hunted. I never heard what sort of oil he has. Exception might be taken to the name bestowed upon this whale, on the ground of its indistinctness. For we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included.

Growing up in Vancouver, whales=killer whales. So far, this is the only time they’re mentioned but Melville has a good point about their name.

This killer whale has hurt me many times over the years. via canucks.nhl.com

This killer whale has hurt me many times over the years. via canucks.nhl.com

uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous whales…the Pudding-Headed Whale… can hardly help suspecting them for mere sounds, full of Leviathanism, but signifying nothing.

Whoa, nice Shakespeare reference. Pretty bold. Also, “Pudding-Headed Whale.”

For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!

Makes me wonder what Ishmael means – that there’s more to the story? That the story isn’t the point, the reader has to build on it?

It was the idea also, that this same spermaceti was that quickening humor of the Greenland Whale which the first syllable of the word literally expresses…When, as I opine, in the course of time, the true nature of spermaceti became known, its original name was still retained by the dealers; no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so strangely significant of its scarcity.

I’m just laughing because obviously labeling something “Whale Jizz” is going to enhance it’s value. Obviously.

Moving on. There were other high points in this section:

via Babylit.com

via Babylit.com

  • Sing Out For New Stars: I’ve referenced the children’s “Baby Lit” version of Moby Dick I bought for my son (… and myself) a few times. My terribly MS Paint-ed logo uses one of the illustrations. Another one of the pages in that book contains the words “Sing out for new stars.” Something about that grabbed me, and I finally read the whole passage in this section. And I love it.

…the first pyramids were founded for astronomical purposes: a theory singularly supported by the peculiar stair-like formation of all four sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious long upliftings of the legs, those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex, and sing out for new stars; even as the look-outs of a modern ship sing out for a sail, or a whale just bearing in sight.

SlowMan

  • Melville’s influence: One of the best things about reading classics is recognizing their influence on modern literature. As I read about Ahab’s ivory prosthetic leg, I was reminded of J.M. Cotzee’s 2005 novel Slow Man. The main character is a curmudgeonly and solitary old man who loses his leg in a bicycle accident. But in some ways, “slow man” is the anti-Ahab, as he can’t even remember the name of the man responsible, let alone obsess about revenge. Slow Man is a postmodern work, and I’m beginning to think that most postmodernist were influenced by Melville to some degree. In this case, I’m convinced, since I found a quote from Slow Man in which a prosthetic leg is compared to a harpoon. That ain’t no coincidence.
  • White on White: So I mentioned there’s a whole chapter on the colour white. What the hell do you say about white for a whole chapter? Try this on for size:

…the sailor, beholding the scenery of the Antarctic seas; where at times, by some infernal trick of legerdemain in the powers of frost and air, he, shivering and half shipwrecked, instead of rainbows speaking hope and solace to his misery, views what seems a boundless churchyard grinning upon him with its lean ice monuments and splintered crosses.

Beautiful and devastating. I love “shivering and half shipwrecked.” Might be my new literary earworm.

Tune in Next Week: Time to chase some whales.

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Major fail on my part. Now I’m just not including the hyphen to be consistent. Ughhh.

I’m not the only one who loved Chapter 32:

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 16-30: Starbucks, Ahoy!

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

Ishmael and Queequeg take a back seat as we meet The Pequod and her crew. Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Chapters 16-30

  • America, Fuck Yeah: This is embarrassing, but I thought Moby Dick was a British novel until very recently. Like, basically until I started reading it. I *know,* great American novel, right? I had to keep reminding my self in the first few chapters that we’re in New York, not London. I don’t know where I got this idea, but it was hard to shake… now that we’re a ways in, I’m finally seeing this as an American novel. The owners of the Pequod are Quakers, and that’s pretty American. So is Ishmael’s description of these whaling Quakers:

They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.

  • Starbucks, Ahoy: The other thing that’s reminding me this is an American novel is that Starbucks is named for the Pequod’s first mate, Starbuck.  Figures that the month I decide to give up lattes is the month I will be reading Starbuck over and over and over again.
  • Billions of blistering blue barnacles!

    Loving the nautical talk!

    Ahab in the House: Melville sure likes to build anticipation. In the first 15 chapters, I was wondering if we’d ever get on the boat. Over the next 10 or so, I wonder where the heck Ahab is. Is he really ill, but almost better, as Ishmael is told? Or is it something more sinister? What’s he hiding? We finally meet Ahab near the end of this section, and much is made of his strange birthmark and other physical characteristics. The first time we hear him speak, he calls one of his mates “ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass,” and in the next chapter, abruptly throws his pipe overboard as smoking no longer gives him any pleasure. Hmm. Something on your mind, there, Big A?

  • Ishmael’s AWOL: I felt Ishmael’s absence in this section, as he steps back into a more traditional narrator role. I got to thinking about his motivation for taking part in the voyage in the first place. Ishmael presents it as basically his wanting to see the world, and having nothing better to do. YOLO, if you will. Or should I say YOJO? (Nailed it!) I hope we get back into Ishmael’s head soon.
  • Pre-Post-Modern: This section has a couple of passages that could fit in a postmodern novel, despite being written before postmodern, or even modern, was a thing. First, there are some structural oddities, like two chapters called “Knights and Squires,” which I thought was a Kobo fail at first. My favourite chapter so far, and the most “postmodern” in this section, is The Advocate, in which Ishmael turns away from the action to rant about the “injustice hereby done to us hunters of whales.”  He gives examples of arguments against whaling and skewers them. He really gets worked up. 

No dignity in whaling? The dignity of our calling the very heavens attest. Cetus is a constellation in the south! No more! Drive down your hat in the presence of the Czar, and take it off to Queequeg!

Tune in Next Week: Everything you wanted to know about whales but were too afraid to ask.

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Actually I thought the short chapters would be helpful:

Check out this great comment from Heather on last week’s post, about Ishmael and Queequeg:

As far as the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, I like how Melville used language about marriage and love to describe their friendship. We discussed this in an American Lit college course I took, and we came to the conclusion that we have to be careful about simplifying this too much. Theirs is a very deep, connected friendship, but not really in anyway sexual. To get hung up on the what we see as a potential sexual side to their relationship (not that I’m saying you’re doing this at all) is to miss out on how special/tight their friendship is.

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 1-15: Fine Young Cannibals

Welcome back, read-a-longers! We finally get to talk about the actual book. Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Etymology and Excerpts

The book starts with the origin of the word “whale” and a collection of whale-related excerpts from literature, philosophy, and scripture. This section reminded me of when Homer Simpson tries to teach himself about marketing by reading an advanced marketing book, and trades down to simpler and simpler books until he’s reading the dictionary.

Homer Simpson Marketing

Via 9gag.com

The excerpts are great. They show the huge variety of ways in which people deify and demonize whales. Of course, the excerpts only go up to the mid 1800s, and I couldn’t help but think about the modern ones I would add:

  • Blubber by Judy Blume: Talking about bullying before it was cool. She didn’t even have to wear a pink shirt.
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb: Just your basic girl meets dying whale, girl goes batshit crazy story.
  • Free Willy: Charming children’s movie and popular euphemism for taking one’s dick out.

Okay, onto the actual story!

Chapters 1-15

  • Lots of lead up: Chapters 1-15 take us up to page 83 in my paper copy, and we haven’t even got on the boat yet. This section is all about setting the scene, introducing our narrator (call him Ishmael) and his BFF, the heavily-tattooed “Feegeean” Queequeg. We follow Ishmael from New York City to New Bedford to Nantucket as he prepares to go on his first whaling voyage.
  • Lots of funny: The tone of this first section is surprisingly light and funny. Hilarious, actually. Ishmael’s roundabout logic as he explains why he decides to take part in Queequeg’s “pagan rituals” made me LOL:

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolater in worshiping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? – to do the will of God? that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow-man what I would have my fellow-man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow-man. ANd what do I wish that this Queequeg woudl do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolater.

  • Heart of Darkness: I can’t help but compare the way Queequeg is introduced to the way Conrad talks about the “savages” in Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s European characters are half thrilled, half disgusted by the thought that they have anything in common with the “savages” they encounter in The Congo.  Queequeg is certainly seen as “other,” and Ishmael is terrified of him at first, but Ishmael accepts him so quickly, and so readily, and not just as a shipmate but as a friend (or perhaps more, see below,) despite the fact that he sells shrunken heads and is casually described as a cannibal.

For all this tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.

  • HoYay!: For those not familiar with this television-fandom term, HoYay! is short for “Homoeroticism, Yay!” and refers to situations, dialogue, etc. that could be interpreted to have homoerotic undertones, and suggests that fans of the show are generally in favour of this interpretation, usually in a somewhat ironic way. Exhibit A:
    Ryan and Seth

    California, Here We Come

    Ishmael and Queequeg meet in the bedroom and things just get cozier from there. I was most definitely NOT expecting this element of the story, and I think I finally get the “HoYay!” concept, because it is indeed delightful.

Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair.

Tune in Next Week: 

Chapter 16 is called “The Ship” so things are about to get nautical.

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Heather of Between the Covers has the distinction of the first person to giggle about the Dick in Moby Dick. I am shocked it took this long.

@ebookclassicsand I are reading neck and neck!

Moby Dick Read-A-Long Post #1: Thar She Blows

What better time to start reading a Victorian novel than Victoria Day? I don’t have much to share about the book yet, as I’ve just dipped my toe in, but here are a few bits and pieces as we get started.

What’s All This Then?

We’re reading Moby Dick from May 20 – July 22. For all the details and to sign up, click here.  Here’s the schedule:

  • Start date and Introductory Post: Monday, May 20th, 2013. 
  • Etymology + Chapters 1-15: May 27th
  • Chapters 16-30: June 3
  • Chapters 31-45: June 10
  • Chapters 46-60: June 17
  • Chapters 61-75: June 24
  • Chapters 76-90: July 1
  • Chapters 91-105: July 8
  • Chapters 106-120: July 15
  • Chapters 121-136 + Epilogue : July 22

My Editions of Moby Dick

I bought a second hand, no-nonsense, 2004 edition of the physical book. No intro, no biography, just the text.

Henry's ready.

Henry’s ready.

I attempted to replicate 101 Book’s hilarious My 2-Year-Old Judges Books By Their Covers by asking my three year old what he thought this book was about. I’m a little alarmed by what he came up with: “The whale swings his tail. Swish swish. Then the men come and BANG HIM!”

I’ll do most of my reading on my Kobo. I’ve had bad luck with free ebooks, but local MD fan @Wittermeir tells me this is a good one. He’s also kindly lending me Why Read Moby Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick, so I’ll be able to share tidbits with you. Moby Dick fans are the best!

mobydickebook

Click for the free ebook

My Hopes for Moby Dick:

  • That I’ll be surprised by something. I’ve peeked at the first few chapters, and so far, I’m surprised by how funny it is. I’m often surprised when big scary classics are funny or romantic. If there’s a romantic element in MD, that’ll be something.
  • That reading and understanding Moby Dick will give me a deeper appreciation of other literature. After reading Dostoyevsky and Mann last year, I found allusions to and reflections of their writing in all sorts of surprising places. I suspect Melville’s influence is just as large as theirs, if not larger.

My Fears:

  • The descriptions of the whale and whaling will put me to sleep. After years of sleep deprivation, it doesn’t take much.
  • That I won’t get it. That the meaning of this book will fly over my head. You guys will help me out though, right?

Here are a couple features that I hope to include every Monday.

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Moby Dick Card Game

Slightly cooler than D&D.

I’ve always found it strange that a culture that creates a clear demand for television programs about things like crab fishing, tuna fishing, logging, trucking, duck hunting, and working in pawn shops is a culture that poo-poos the sort of documentary view Melville often gives us of whaling.

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Comment below to share which edition you’re reading, and your thoughts going into this crazy read-a-long. Once you’ve written this week’s post, add a link to it (and check out the others) by clicking the Mr. Linky icon:

Moby Dick Read-A-Long: Sign Up!

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

Shout out to MS Paint.

Sharpen your spears…. in just two weeks, Reading in Bed will host its first ever read-a-long!

Why Moby Dick?

I was challenged by my brother in law to read Moby Dick before the end of the year. But, I don’t know, MD feels like a summer book to me (keep in mind I read Roxana on my honeymoon in Mexico, so I don’t really do “beach reading.”)

I also want to have fun with this and get to know some of my fellow book bloggers a little better. If we can inspire and encourage people to read a book they might have been intimidated by otherwise (I am super intimidated, by the way,) that would be pretty cool, too.

Isn’t Moby Dick long and boring and about a whale?Moby Dick cover

Well, yes. It’s 750 pages long, and is purported to not just be about a whale, but to have whole chapters that are literally ABOUT a whale, like, details of anatomy and whaling and what not.

But, it’s also regarded as the Great American Novel, and possibly the first postmodern novel. That’s pretty amazing, considering it was written a hundred years before anyone else wrote a postmodern novel.

I’m going in with almost no expectations. I’m not doing a ton of research or reading other bloggers, like I usually do. The edition I bought has no introduction. So let’s just jump in!

What do I have to do?

Ready to sign up? Great! Leave a comment on this post and you’re all set. Here are some things you could do after that, if you’re so inclined:

  • I’ll post every Monday with my thoughts on the chapters I’ve read and other random Moby Dick stuff. You could do that too!
  • Comment on other people’s blogs. You can refer back to this post, or my most recent post, to see who else is blogging. I don’t know about you, but getting comments is pretty much the best feeling ever, so spread the love around!
  • You can put a badge up on your blog -> see sidebar.
  • You can tweet about what you’re reading with the hashtag #MobyDick2013.
  • If you don’t have a blog, that’s okay! You can still comment and tweet. Or start a blog. Go crazy!

What’s in it for me?

At the end of it all, I’ll randomly select one of you to win a Moby Dick t-shirt (well, an gift certificate from Out of Print Clothing so that you may choose your own t-shirt.) E-Readers making it hard to show off how well-read you are? No problem. Let everyone know you’ve tackled that white whale. Just make sure you comment on this post, and participate a bit, and you’re entered to win.

I'm not above bribery.

I’m not above bribery.

Schedule

You’ve got two weeks notice to finish up whatever you’re reading and find yourself a great paper or electronic edition.  Feel free to fall behind or read ahead, but I’ll try to post according to this:

I’m still not sure….

Here are some links about how to read Moby Dick that you may find encouraging:

Herman Melville

Herman wants you to sign up. Also, I saw a teenager with this exact facial hair the other day. DISTURBING.