Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Setting sail with Melville's Moby Dick

Like many book lovers, the urge to read certain books can come at odd times. Despite my ongoing Hemingway project and being on the edge of starting a science fiction readathon this week, I found myself ordering a copy of Moby Dick online yesterday.

I have tried to tackle this mammoth of a novel before and wound up giving the book away(to charity) because of the massive whaling lore that the story is jam packed with at points. Yet, for some reason, my desire to take on Herman Melville's obsessive opus is strong and can not be denied, at least not now.

Part of this urge may be due to some of my recently started reads,both of which have connections to Melville's iconic book. One is a book about reading fifty "great" books(where Moby Dick is compared and contrasted with The Da Vinci Code) and an upcoming novel by Mark Beauregard called The Whale,A Love Story.

In that one, Herman Melville has just completed his first draft of Moby Dick and is extremely uncertain of it's quality. Due to his friendship with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Melville is introduced to Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose success with The Scarlet Letter makes him a virtual literary superstar in their shared social circles.

Melville and Hawthorne form a friendship that allows the two of them to encourage each other's writing, with Hawthorne's influence upon his new friend becoming stronger than either man realizes due to an unexpected love arising between them. Sounds intriguing and Beauregard's style is readily engaging, so I'm eager to read on:

However, that can't be the whole reason for this. Moby Dick did just have a big publishing anniversary(it's 165th) and that didn't affect me. Granted, the copy I bought happens to the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary edition but I don't think this is a delayed reaction to that literary milestone.

I know the basic story of Moby Dick, due to it being an indelible part of American pop culture, well enough to enjoy Sena Jeter Naslund fictional take on it with Ahab's Wife many years ago. Not to mention the spoofs and homages to it that crop up every so often.

I fondly recall reading an adapted-for-kids version of Moby Dick in my childhood, the kind of illustrated flip book style that could be found in department stores and supermarkets back in ye olde days before online shopping and big box stores. It may have left certain details out,I'm sure, but at least you did get a sense of the plot points there:

Knowing the story isn't the same as reading it and experiencing it for yourself. True, it's a long book but I have tackled bigger books before and managed to tame their wild page counts,plus get a good idea of what the author intended.

What keeps Moby Dick still relevant after all this time,in my opinion, is Ahab's battle with the powers that be and his dogged determination to settle the score he has in his own way.

 That fight doesn't come without a price or causalities, which may not matter to Ahab but can be seen as a cautionary tale for those in positions of authority who have to choose to lead their people either according to what's best for all or their own best interest. When you consider the chaos that we've already seen in this election year, maybe I'm not the only one who needs to read this book right now :

Maybe it's better not to think too much about the why and just do it(when the book finally shows up in my mail box,that is). My other reading projects will continue as planned and it never hurts to add an extra challenge or two, just to keep things interesting.

Since my edition does have an introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick,the author of In The Heart of the Sea which is about a whaling expedition that may have inspired Moby Dick, I might take up his thoughts on the subject in Why Read Moby Dick? but other than the previous books I mentioned at the start of this post, that should be enough to get me going.

Moby Dick may not be the best book that I'll ever read or like even, yet it should be quite the serious story telling adventure to take. Hopefully, my time aboard the Peqoud will be less daunting than Ismael's yet just as emotionally educational:

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