The Compulsive Reader: Why Read Moby Dick? Who Knows...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Read Moby Dick? Who Knows...

So there is this little book at the bookstore I work it (it's called Great Lakes Book and Supply, but I'm calling it GLB from now on for brevity's sake) called Why Read Moby-Dick? It is a very pretty little book, the type of hardcover that makes you want to buy it because it has all of the pretty things that books should have and digital files don't, but that is beside the point. It's relevant because it asks a pertinent question: Why should we read Moby-Dick?

I'm an English major, so basically when I'm not reading or blogging about YA or staring at Twitter or watching Youtube videos of miniature animals, I pay to go to classes where we sit in circles and Discuss Literature. It is very fun. (You ought to understand this because I complain and make fun of English majors, but I don't mean it. Usually.) The downfall of being an English major is that your professors are forever inundating you with titles and authors that YOU SIMPLY MUST READ RIGHT NOW. Or you fail at being an English major. And college. And life. And the list keeps growing and growing and growing and unless you accept that you will never have time to read everything in the entire world, you will become depressed. But...one book that is consistently brought up by my professors is  Moby-Dick. Every. Time. I. Turn. Around.

It's like, "Oh yeah,  Moby-Dick? Worst book of my undergrad experience. You should totally read it!"

Or, "I read that in grad school. It's really quite interesting because of it's importance to the context of blah blah blah blah."

Or, "You're not going to like it. No one likes  Moby-Dick. But I read it, so you have to read it."

Basically, it is a Rite of Passage.

This puzzled me. I mean, besides the question of why  Moby-Dick in general, out of all the books ever written, why  Moby-Dick out of all of the books Herman Melville wrote? So I asked my friend and fellow English major (whose code name for this blog will be Honeybadger, or HB) this very question. HB, in addition to being very smart and well-read, also frequently feeds me gummy bears, so I tend to hang out with her quite a bit.

"HB," I began one day while she forced me to watch Swamp People with her. "Why do we have to read  Moby-Dick?"

"I don't know," was the unsatisfactory reply.

"I mean, no one liked it when Melville wrote it."

HB ate a gummy bear.

"Like, all anyone ever wanted to read of his stuff was the true adventure stories and then he wrote  Moby-Dick and it was this huge flop."

"I don't have any answers for you."

"So then, what? Some dude just rediscovers it and then D.H. Lawrence and like, Ezra Pound, were all over it. I am not a fan of Pound."

"You've thought about this way too much. Have another gummy bear."

My copy looks like this. It has 589 pages.
So, naturally my next move was to convince her to read it with me this summer. HB has already read it, so I'm not really sure why she's doing this with me, but I'm not going to question it. So I went to GLB and bought my copy for $3.42 (and earned a sympathetic look from my co-worker), and HB and I pondered it one afternoon.

"It has short chapters," I offered.

HB flipped to the table of contents. "But there are 135 of them. And most of them are really boring." She pointed at several. "Those will all be about whale fat. And nothing else."

I tried not to be disgusted. "Maybe it won't be so bad."

"There are 135 chapters," she reminded me.

"We're going to need more gummy bears."

So, that is a very roundabout way of telling you that I am reading  Moby-Dick this summer with HB. I'm not sure how seriously I can take a book called Moby-Dick (I snicker like a thirteen-year-old boy when I think about the title) about whale fat, but HB and I are going to read it for the sake of literature and our education and I don't know what else. And you, dear blog readers, are going to hear about it. Every Wednesday from now until we finish the damn thing you will get a super special Classics Corner  Moby-Dick update!

Maybe along the way HB and I can figure out why everyone should read  Moby-Dick. Or at least have fun trying.


Marie said...

Haha! Good luck with Moby Dick!! HB sounds like an awesome friend.

The Compulsive Reader said...

Marie: Yeah, probably much better than I deserve. I mean, who forces their friend to read Moby-Dick?

Anonymous said...

I read Moby-Dick in college as well. Wasn't my favorite but I needed to read it in order to pass. Good luck.

Jennifer Nielsen said...

Looks ambitious. Good luck!

The Compulsive Reader said...

Ha, thanks! I figure I can get through it with the motivation of everyone I know holding my feet to the fire.

BriannaReads said...

HB sounds funny! Good luck! I have no desire to read it, so I'm glad you guys are doing this for us! :)

MyMercurialMuse said...

Oi! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the book and all but why do you call your friend honey badger? Like the youtube video?

fantasylover12001 said...

Oh honey, you are braver than I. I tried reading Moby Dick. I got about a hundred pages in and then I finally just couldn't take it any more. Why is this considered important literature? WHY? If you manage to find the answer please enlighten us.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with it!
I knew there was a reason why I didn't major in lit: Classic books I never wanted to read.

Best of luck for you, though.

todd said...

Swamp People is legit.

The Compulsive Reader said...

Swamp People is terrifying.

Mary Preston said...

I read a children's chapter book version of MOBY DICK many years ago. I can live with that.

Lauren said...

For school, I've read "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," with it's symbolic whale boxers (and therefore discussions mentioning Moby Dick). I have also read Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," which he published anonymously after Moby Dick was such a flop. Between the two....I'm really not inclined to read Moby Dick itself until I have to.

Funny how people who hate a Book of Literature will rag on it and then tell you you have to read it, don't you think?

Patricia said...

Good luck with Moby Dick! I admit, it's one I haven't read yet, though have long felt like it's something I need to read. Maybe now I'll finally pick it up and give it a go this summer as well.

Anonymous said...

I just finished Moby Dick today. Honestly, I started reading it months ago and then gave up because I felt like I was too stupid to understand it. But, a week ago, I picked it up again and read, though this time it hooked me. Pay attention to the language and look for dirty jokes; it's no coincidence that Melville talks about "sperm" and "thrusting" harpoons all of the time! There are also some beautiful, haunting passages that will stick with you. Screw literary critics, I just had fun with it the second go-round. Good luck.

Unknown said...

I like Melville. I don't like to read about some man's fixation. Try Melville's other works; I'm quite fond of them. Bartleby the Scrivner and The Confidence Man. Both of these explore people's internal goings-on, but better and with less testosterone. Now that university is way behind me, I still will not read Moby Dick. I think I'm protesting and I'd rather have had the argument with Melville himself.