The book: Moby Dick. For years this was a book that I didn’t feel ready to tackle. Of course, I knew the hype of it being the Greatest American Book Ever Written, but I’m often disappointed by hype and wary of nineteenth century literary prose. I’d heard about the long passages that dealt entirely with whaling practices or the whiteness of the whale. I’d also run into innumerable references to it in other works, which is usually a cosmic sign from the Literary Gods that I should read a particular book. Like the White Whale itself, this book held both fear and fascination for me.
So, when I started actually reading it, I was surprised how much I liked it. The legendary Ishmael I had heard so many jokes about is a funny, sarcastic guy himself. The view of the world is surprisingly enlightened for its time, simultaneously taking part in and subverting the view of non-Europeans as savages.The parts on whale anatomy are there, sure enough, but as a biologist, I found that I actually enjoyed them. My fears relieved I was able to get into the book.
What a book! Peeking at an annotated copy in the library, I begin to realize how many symbolic and historical references I was missing. Even so, I caught many of the Biblical and literary allusions Melville was throwing out. Catching these morsels made the reading like an obscure game – great fun for people who can play, but baffling if you don’t know the rules. I don’t think this is a book that I would have liked as a high schooler, and I’m glad my English teacher never assigned it. This is a book that rewards a mature mind with the background of years of reading.
The reader: Like with many long audiobooks, this is one I read part as an ebook and listened to part as an audiobook. As I went along, I found myself more and more listening to Steward Wills excellent narration and going back to the printed text only to reread parts I didn’t fully understand. Wills is a great narrator for such a complex book. He has a patience to his pace without being so slow as to make the story boring. His characterizations of the different sailors are magnificent, especially important in the chapters written as stage directions. I’m sure there are some pretty high-priced versions of Moby Dick read by famous people, but you couldn’t do much better than this free production.
Entered in Cym Lowell’s Book Review Part Wednesday. Follow the link for more book review blogs,