Moby Dick Readalong Chapters 27-93

I made it!

I am so surprised that I actually got through chapters 27-93. I was so excited to be reading Moby Dick, because I was actually enjoying it. I’d only heard about how boring the novel was, but I found the first 26 chapters to be engrossing and, actually, hilarious. Then chapters 27-55 happened.

I missed last week because I just couldn’t catch up. I had my book club meeting, which meant a lot of time I usually would have spent reading Moby Dick was spent reading How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I finally caught up this week, though. Those hour-long subway rides are good for something. Mainly making yourself read something that makes you want to fall asleep. Not that I haven’t fallen asleep on the subway before, but still.

That’s not to say that all of those chapters were dull, because they weren’t. I enjoyed some parts and still did quite a bit of highlighting and laughed a few times, but for the most part, Moby Dick lost a lot of its charms for me. There was so much information dumping and so little character development, it was difficult to keep my attention for long stretches of time.

Like I said, though, there were a lot of things I did like. The descriptions of whaling were particularly interesting, especially since you’re taught from a very young age that whales are practically sacred. I loved Free Willy when I was a kid. Whales and dolphins and manatees are animals that you just want to save, so reading about how to kill them and how to take them apart bit by bit was unnerving. As boring as some of the discussions on whaling could be, I was also fascinated by them. Ishmael’s obsession with whales and whaling brings you out of the narrative completely. The story seems to have little meaning anymore; the only thing important is describing the whale as completely as possible before continuing with the actual plot. Every inch of the whale is discussed. Every known type of whale is detailed. Drawings of whales are described and critiqued. If not necessarily the most entertaining, the structure of Moby Dick is interesting. I can see why, as our hosts pointed out in their introductory post over at The Blue Bookshelf, Moby Dick has been described as the first modern novel. It really does incorporate many different styles and techniques.

At the same time, I desperately missed the Ishmael I had come to love, prone to long rants about religion, yes, but also focused on describing his surroundings and moving the story forward. Up until the last ten chapters of this big chunk, it felt like the plot was going no where. That’s a lot to read without really learning much about the characters or the story.

My favorite quote from this section actually comes from the very end of chapter 93:

“[…] and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”

There’s the Ishmael I missed from the first section! At this point, though, I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about what anything means. I have to get to the ending first. I have to see what happens.

And that’s all I really have to say about this section. I’m hoping that there’s a little bit more action in the last 150 pages and I hope I connect with Moby Dick more than I did in this middle section. I want to finish Moby Dick feeling accomplished, but also like I read a classic that I was surprised to find I really enjoyed.

To think! This time next week I’ll have finished Moby Dick. That’s awesome!

Moby Dick Readalong – Chapters 1-28

Whoa, there, guys. If someone had mentioned that Moby Dick was both hilarious, insightful, blasphemous, and beautiful, I would have picked this book up a lot sooner. All I’d really heard about Ishmael was that he was a long-winded, confusing narrator, but the truth is, I absolutely adore him.

I think a book like Moby Dick comes with a lot of preconceptions and I spent most of Chapters 1-10 unpacking them. Here’s a list of everything I knew to be true about Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is “Call me Ishmael,” because that’s the line Matilda read.

3) It’s an allegory.

4) There was someone named Captain Ahab in it.

5) As ridiculous as this is, I may or may not have thought Ishmael and Captain Ahab were the same person. You know, he was just getting friendly at the beginning of the book. “Oh, don’t bother with that silly Captain business. Please, call me Ishmael.” Why thanks, Captain Ishmael Ahab, I will!

Here is what I now know to be true of Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is not “Call me Ishmael,” it’s “The pale Usher– threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. Was he ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.”

3) The religious metaphors and references are fascinating.

4) There is someone named Captain Ahab in it and he is Mysterious with a capital M.

5) Ishmael and Captain Ahab are most certainly not the same person.

All joking aside, I was not prepared for how much I would truly enjoy Moby Dick. It’s a fascinating novel so far, that has never felt too wordy, difficult or boring. Ishmael is a hilarious narrator, but Moby Dick is surprisingly beautiful. Take this passage for example:

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to  sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. (3)

I found myself with highlighter ready, marking up every page with funny, beautiful or possibly important lines. I remembered why people carry a pen with them when they read in the first place. I know I keep repeating it, but I just had no idea. What other classics are sitting on my shelves that I haven’t picked up because I think they’ll be boring? If nothing else, the classics I have read recently have shown me that I love reading them. So why don’t I read more classics?

Anyway, back to Moby Dick. I am a fan of short chapters! And really, who isn’t? Is Moby Dick the first postmodern novel? I don’t know about that. Plot-wise, Herman Melville does a lot of interesting things, but I’m not sure the right word is postmodern. It’s difficult to really form any opinions after only 120 pages. There is still so much to come! They only just got on the boat after all.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the narrator’s religious opinions. I know that religion and religious imagery will play a large part in Moby Dick, but I don’t know how, exactly yet. I’ve managed to stay quite ignorant of the classics I haven’t read. I hate spoilers. I know some people don’t mind them, but I like to come into a story with nothing but myself. I prefer having no expectations. I mean, you saw the kind of expectations I had going into Moby Dick: they were almost all wrong. Anyway, I don’t know how Moby Dick is going to play out, though I imagine there’s a whale in there somewhere. All I do know is right now, our friend Ishmael says some very interesting things about religion. This is one of the most interesting quotes:

“All our arguing with [Queequeg] would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (79).

The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael was also very interesting to me. It just never played out exactly like I expected it to. While there are definitely aspects of his portrayal that border on caricature, his description as a cannibal and a savage for one, he is also a very interesting character and Ishmael shows him genuine respect. Their relationship often leads Ishmael to discuss religion, and I fear that this may be his primary importance. I wonder if he’ll still be as important a character once Captain Ahab and the great white whale take over.

Moby Dick continues to be a very enjoyable read and it is never quite what I expected. I’m excited to keep reading and I’ll see you back here for a discussion of chapters 29-55 on January 19!

This Moby Dick readalong is being hosted by The Blue Bookcase. I will be updating this page with links to fellow participants blog posts this evening. 

Mini Reviews!

Friends, it is April. April is always busy. Couple that with starting a job in June, interviewing for internships, moving in May (and then preparing to move AGAIN in August), I am behind on the book reviews. That is because I am still reading (to escape my too-busy life), but not finding time to get my thoughts in a coherent blog post. I try and it sounds like I don’t know what a sentence is or how an intelligent person puts them together. The answer? Mini reviews! My blogging self might dislike me for this later, but my reading self will be much happier after I post this.

Solo by Rana Dasgupta

This book really deserves its own post, but I have let it sit and linger for too long. I have a hard time writing long posts a few weeks after reading a book. I like to write my reviews as soon as I finish reading the book. Then I like to let that review sit a week or so to make sure I still feel the same way. THEN I post the review. Unfortunately with Solo, I just don’t know that I’m going to really be able to do the book the justice it deserves so long after I read it the first time.

Let me put it this way, I loved Solo so much, that I immediately ordered Dasgupta’s only other novel Tokyo Cancelled. Solo is the story of Ulrich, a Bulgarian man at the end of his life. When he was younger, he was full of ambition, but life got in the way and he eventually ended up caring for his aging mother until her death and never becoming the musician or chemist that he dreamed of. The first half of the novel is the story of his life that some people would consider a failure. It is also the story of Bulgaria, from the years before WWII to the years of communism. It is a sad story, but one that is wonderful to read about. Dasgupta is a gifted storyteller and writes beautiful prose that I just couldn’t resist.

What elevates Solo as truly unique is the second half of the book when we leave Ulrich’s real world and enter the world he imagines. There are new characters, though if you read carefully you can see the links between the two worlds. I don’t want to give anything away, but please read this book!

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I really didn’t expect to love The Awakening as much as I did. I have a sort of informal book club with a friend of mine and he wanted to read a classic, so this is the one I suggested. I expected to really be disgusted with Edna and her plight, but actually I was so surprised how much I supported her. Beyond the plot, Chopin is a wonderful writer. There were so many passages that I marked just because they were beautiful.

My friend didn’t love it as much, but I think I convinced him of its merits in the end. Turn of the century US literature always surprises me with how much I love it and how relevant it can feel. I want to explore this era and read more books published then. Any suggestions?

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

The  Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow

This is the book that changed my mind. I used to be on the fence about the death penalty, leaning towards being opposed to it, but still not sure. Thanks to David Dow, I am absolutely, 100% opposed to it. I heard David Dow on NPR and I never wanted him to stop talking about his experiences as a death row lawyer. The same was true for his memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution. I can see why some people would not like this book. Dow is not always the most likable guy and he doesn’t really claim to be an amazing writer. But he writes exactly as he speaks and I like the way he speaks, so I could look over a lot of that. Also, it’s a memoir, not a non-fiction book about the execution process. Dow has already written a lot of those and you can read them, this is his personal experiences and emotions as a death row lawyer.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

This is another one that I would easily be able to write an entire post about. I loved it. The first story was absolutely amazing and then every story after that (with the exception of only one or two) were equally amazing. I don’t know that I have ever read a short story collection this beautiful and strange. I read and liked Tender Morsels, but I did not love it as many people do. This I loved unambiguously. It is amazing and I want everyone to be reading it. I also learned something that I already knew but had forgotten: fantasy short stories are so good. I almost like it better than full length fantasy.

To top it all off, I had a complete fan girl moment. I tweeted something along the lines of how weird and wonderful it must be to live in Margo Lanagan’s mind. And then this happened:

What. That is amazing. Thank you, Twitter, for making things like this happen.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

Anne of Avonlea – LM Montgomery

You may remember that a few weeks ago, I read the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series and was completely enamored.  The first book was clever, funny, touching and sad all at once and was so readable.  I fell for Anne immediately and even though I didn’t love Anne of Avonlea as much as Anne of Green Gables, I still really enjoyed reading this book.

Anne is sixteen, teaching at the school and unexpectedly helping Marilla raise twins Davey and Dora after their mother, a distant relative of Marilla, dies.  Of course there are some silly moments when Anne, but now also Davy, make a mess of things.  There were more than a few occasions when I shook my head and muttered “Oh, Anne” out loud.

I love how Marilla and Anne have really grown into one another.  They are the perfect foils for each other, with Marilla completely no-nonsense and Anne so imaginative, they are the perfect balance.  With Anne’s help, Marilla has just a little bit more imagination and Anne can be just a little bit more serious.   I wasn’t sure how I felt about the twins at first, but eventually they grew on me (after Davy stopped trying to terrify his sister!).  Finally Anne starts talking to Gilbert… sort of.  So I’m looking forward to their budding relationship.

My roommate, who recommended these books to me and bought me the set for Christmas, made a good point.  She said that one of the reasons she loved  Anne so much was because she got to grow up with Anne.  Her favorite Anne books were always the ones when the characters were the same age as her.  She thinks that I will really like the next installment, where Anne is in her early twenties.  I’m looking forward to it and will be reading it in March!

Favorite quotes:

“Well, one  can’t get over the habit of being a little girl all at once,” said Anne gaily.  “You see, I was little for fourteen years and I’ve only been grown-uppish for scarcely three.  I’m sure I shall always feel like a child in the woods.  These walks home from school are almost the only time I have for dreaming… except the half hour or so before I go to sleep.  I’m so busy with teaching and studying and helping Marilla with the twins that I haven’t anothermoment for imagining things.  You don’t know what splendid adventures I have for a little while after I go to bed in the east gable every night.  I always imagine I’m something very brilliant and triumphant and splendid… a great prima donna or a Red Cross nurse or a queen.  Last night I was a queen.  It’s really splendid to imagine you are a queen.  You have all the fun of it without any of the inconveniences and you can stop being a queen whenever you want to, which you couldn’t in real life.  But here in the woods I like best to imagine quite different things… I’m a dryad living in an old pine, or a little brown wood-elf hiding under a crinkled leaf.  That white birch you caught me kissing is a sister of mine.   The only difference is, she’s a tree and I’m a girl, but that’s no real difference (75).”

“‘Anne,’ said Davy, sitting up in bed and propping his chin on his hands, ‘Anne, where is sleep?  People go to sleep every night, and of course I know it’s the place where I do the things I dream, but I want to know where it is and how I get there and back without knowing anything about it… and in my nighty too.  Where is it?’ (151)

“That is one good thing about this world… there are always sure to be more springs.” (215)

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Dreadlock Girl, Ramya’s Bookshelf, The Blue Stocking Society, things mean a lot.

A classic that truly feels timeless

“Oh, I’m so glad.  I know you and I are going to get along together fine.  It’s such a relief to talk when one wants to and not be told that children should be seen and not heard.  I’ve had that said to me a million times if I have once.  And people laugh at me because I use big words.  But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t  you?”  (15)

Continue reading “A classic that truly feels timeless”