Monday, June 16, 2008

Things I Know About Moby Dick

I've never read Moby Dick, but it's such a cultural bedrock that I'm familiar with the basic facts. The names of some of the characters--Captain Ahab, Queequeg, "call me Ishmael" and Starbuck--not the coffee. I know it's about one man's mad obsession with the white whale. The ship is called the Pequod. It takes place in the 1840s. And it wasn't received very well during Melville's lifetime, although many people consider it his best work.

And it's my dad's favourite book.

Dad's not what you might call a "literary person." He reads, but mostly stuff related to his beloved Packers--once he asked me how I managed to keep so many musical librettos straight in my head. "The same way you keep all those Packer stats straight, dad." Smiles of comprehension. So I was very surprised, when I asked him what his favourite book was, to hear Moby Dick. He told me that he read it in high school and it had stuck with him. I was only in high school then myself, and I didn't especially feel up to reading Melville (especially not after reading Billy Budd, thankyouverymuch Mrs. Krchmar...) but it was always on my list of books to read.

So now that I'm into the "research" phase of Bell Hollee, I've decided to read it. I need to branch out into other nautical literature that doesn't involve the British navy. I'm about ten pages into it, and I like it already. It felt strange to see those "familiar" words--"Call me Ishmael"--leading into the body of a story for a change. I like it because Ishmael gets depressed and he goes to sea--exactly what I like to do when I get down. Although, I'm not sure I'd be up for whale-hunting, but I certainly like to drown my sorrows in the nearest body of water. He calls his sadness "hypo" which is short for hypochondriasas, the medical term for depression in the mid-nineteenth century, which is also, incidentally, what Lincoln described his melancholy as.

And already I'm getting that familiar thrill as I read (and occasionally fail to recognise) the nautical words, coming aboard a ship via lines of prose is as familiar to me as a gangway is to Ishmael. I can't wait to see what happens, even though thanks to the permeation of the book I already know how it ends, but I'm looking forward to signing on for the ride.

3 comments:

Laura said...

Micah told me about this cool thing somewhere out east where you buy a ticket and you get to sign up to read part of the book Moby Dick and in 1 night for Melville's birthday they read the whole book...on a boat. And a the end of the evening a guy dressed up as Melville comes and reads the last chapter. And then you eat white cake. we were both disappointed that the cake is not in the shape of a whale.

Nicki said...

I'm disappointed too. I would have thought that would have been a given.

Samantha said...

mmm...whale cake...

I vaguely remember reading Moby Dick ages ago, maybe that summer right after high school when I was on a huge literary classics reading binge. I recall loving it. Or maybe I was ambivelant towards it. You've peaked my interested. I may have to take on the great white whale after I topple the Dark Tower.