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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why read Moby-Dick?

Guest post from Bud Warren

Why Read Moby Dick? 

It's a question many of us have been asked.  

It’s now the title of a book by Nathaniel Philbrook who wrote about the whaleship ESSEX.

Like many of you, MD is part of my life.  It has been for some time.  My wife just shakes her head when she catches me at it again..

I first read MD sitting high in the crotch of an old pine tree, swaying back and forth in the coastal winds of Maine, watching the tides come and go, quickly scan-reading many of the non-narrative parts, but smelling the whales and feeling the spray of their exhalations in my mind’s eye once Melville got back to the story.  I’d run across the Modern Library version with Rockwell Kent’s images, which also became part of my life. 

My next reading was in a junior high school English class, a condensed version with a nearly-orange cover; I felt I had a leg up on my buddies, having already voyaged on PEQUOD, but felt a bit queasy at how easy it was this second time at sea with Ishmael.  Maybe I was missing something, I thought, and vowed to try it again some day.    Next time was on my own time during a college summer vacation – not as an assignment -  and was moved but still overwhelmed.  Back at it several times more in my middle years with better results.  Two years ago, before a rather long trip, I took MD with me as a book on tape, and (as with O’Brian) found the prose aurally magical, catching deeper currents and nuances missed in half a dozen readings.  Several times even heard myself laughing out loud as I listened in my empty truck.  Now in my 80th year, I’m half-way through it again, and I guess Philbrook is going to tell me why.   

Can’t wait.


Steve Callaghan said...

Good piece. :) BTW, Camille Paglia (in her Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson') is excellent on MD analysis.

Antoine Vanner said...

Read for the first time when I was 12 - and hooked! Have read several times since, and will again.

A totally unique and unforgettable novel.