Moby Dick: A Whale of a Tale

My mom wrote this post, and it feels like a good time to post it, with spring and the end of the school year coming up. Additionally, my siblings and I took a Sibling Spring Break trip together 6 years ago this March, during which we went whale-watching, and it’s almost whale-watching season again. Of course, any season can be “classic-novel-reading-to-impress-your-friends” season. -Sarah

Moby Dick.  The novel is daunting.  It is, after all, about a whale, a behemoth, a colossus.  It conjures up an image of man’s blind quest for revenge. More than one review of it includes the term “monomaniacal.”   So it is with a sense of accomplishment that I am able to share that I read Moby Dick.  Every single page.  Of course, it was an assigned novel in my American Novels course in college.  And perhaps a few of the pages were read while my eyes were shutting… But I made it a goal that I would read the entire book.  And I did.

These are all the books I read during graduate school.

These are all the books I read during graduate school. Yes, I read every page.

I am reminded of a time when Phyllis Newman appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and shared her technique for impressing people at a party.  She would just mention the title of some classic literature, like War and Peace… and never indicate that she hadn’t read the book.  Mentioning Moby Dick would inspire awe.  Or maybe not.  Maybe only someone who has read the entire novel, every page, would be impressed.  Others might have only perused the comic book version and aren’t aware of the tedium of completing this “work” of literature.

I mention this because one time someone was shocked that I graduated with a degree in English* and had not yet read some of the classics.  I am not as surprised.  Many of the classics that I have read I would love to reread.   And for many of the classics I did not have the time or the interest to read, and I still feel the same.

Recently I read a wonderful book, The End of Your Life Book Club.  It provides good ideas for other books to put on my bookshelf and enjoy later.  One of the books mentioned in it was a novel that I had already read, The Cellist of Sarajevo, which is excellent.  It is thought provoking, beautifully written, and brief.

The world is full of great and very good literature.  If I don’t read all of the books on the top 100 classic novels, I won’t regret it.  I love getting recommendations for good reads from others.  And I truly enjoy reading a book and not wanting to let it end. As far as graduating with a degree in English without reading some of the classics, I am using my time to continue to explore great themes and authors.  I have not reread Moby Dick, and if the movie version is ever shown on television, I change the channel. Maybe some of the wonderful books that I am enjoying are on their way to becoming classic literature.  In the meantime I will have to see who I can impress by mentioning Moby Dick……

*I followed Mom’s footsteps in college, majoring in English and minoring in art, and I remember having a similar problem as what she describes here. There are a lot of “classics” to cover, and I met many people in graduate school who similarly majored in English but hadn’t read some of the most well-known books–To Kill A Mockingbird, for example–because there are only so many books you can read in any class. Similarly, majoring in English doesn’t necessarily mean you love the classics. Catcher in the Rye comes to mind, as does Great Expectations, which I remember slogging through in ninth grade. Sometimes I wonder if I read those books at a different time in my life if I would have liked them better. I do know that the more Shakespeare I’ve read, the less I’ve liked. Yeah, I said it.

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4 responses to “Moby Dick: A Whale of a Tale”

  1. Dad says :

    I am convinced that how much we enjoy a book, movie or even music is very much affected by what else is happening in our lives, our recent past experiences and how we are feeling – both physically and emotionally. There have been several times when I have been surprised by how differently I feel about a book, movie or song than I did a few (or several) years ago. I’m not sure who gets to classify something as a “classic”, but just being older isn’t a very good criterion.

    • Sarah in Small Doses says :

      Very true, Dad. I suppose I should give some of those books I didn’t like a second chance. My patience for books I don’t like is a lot lower, though. There are so many books I want to read (and re-read) that it seems like a waste to force myself to get through one I can barely tolerate.

  2. Marjorie says :

    I think I’m edging around to rereading Moby-Dick. It’s been something like fourteen years since I read it (for class, with a very enthusiastic teacher, which helped a lot) and lately I keep finding that the book in my hands is about boats, or about the ocean, or tackles complicated philosophical ideas. Or I find I’m reblogging Melville quotes on Tumblr. I think it’s a book to reread if there ever was one–dense and multivalent and allusive–but what an investment of time!

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