Hah! Well. I had tried many times over the years to read Moby Dick, but it never took. One night, I couldn’t sleep and I went into my husband’s office and looked for a boring book to put me to sleep. Oh, there’s Moby Dick, I thought. That’ll do the trick. Five chapters later, I was wide awake and practically shouting with pleasure. What had I ever been thinking? It is the most astonishing, idiosyncratic, encyclopedic, beautifully written, sprawling and endlessly fascinating book I’ve ever read. I wasn’t bored for a second. Even the cetology was so stunningly written, with such an unerring eye for the amusing, arcane detail. I spent the next few months listening to it, then reading what I’d listened to, and sometimes listening and reading at the same time. Joy. Melville’s prose is so incantatory, that hearing it read aloud by even just a decent reader sucks you right in. So much for a soporific!
On This Day in 1841, Herman Melville boarded the whaleship Acushnet and sailed out of New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world. As he later wrote about his character Ishmael, that ship would be “my Yale College and my Harvard.” After five years at sea, Melville returned to Boston and began writing novels about his adventures. He published five books in five years—all of them commercially successful sea tales. In 1850, he moved to a farm in the Berkshires. There he wrote Moby-Dick. A critical and commercial failure, the book marked the end of Melville’s career as a successful novelist. Moby-Dick was not rediscovered until the 1920s. It has been considered one of the single greatest American novels ever since: http://massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=8
(Painting: Acushnet, the whaleship once crewed by Melville.
Artist, Ron Druett)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
If Melville’s epic gave you a thirst for sea water, try these next…
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch for another epic sea-faring journey (with whales)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe for another classic novel of the American Renaissance
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen for adventure, family, and the sea
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick for the story of the Essex, the whaleship that inspired Moby Dick
Great thoughts! We’d add two of Melville’s biggest inspirations: The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale (the firsthand accounts that informed Philbrick’s history) and of course, Paradise Lost (after all, what is Ahab if not Milton’s Satan?).
Comedian Rob Delaney made his name with 140-character bits of NSFW hilarity on Twitter. Earlier this month, he published a new memoir that fills in some of the darker moments of his life — including struggles with depression and a night in jail that gave him loads of comedic inspiration.
On Moby Dick:
If you don’t have time to read the Bible, the collected works of Shakespeare AND tomorrow’s newspaper, it’s all here in this superbook.
We only wish he’d given his own book the same treatment. #meta
Photo: Robyn Von Swank/Courtesy of Spiegel & Grau.
Time Out says the BEST THING to do on Friday is attend Thar She Blows: Whale Tales, Sea Shanties and More Melvillainy at WORD