Thoughts after finishing 'Moby-Dick'

Thoughts after finishing 'Moby-Dick'

Whew. I've finished reading Herman Melville's novel, "Moby-Dick," and survived. It's been only a few minutes as I start writing this. I'm exhilarated, and not just from being able to add it to my "Books Finished" list for this year. (It's no. 14, by the way.)

The whole book seemed to build up to the last three chapters, three days' worth of chasing "the White Whale" (as Moby-Dick himself is called throughout the book when not otherwise named).

An Epilogue after the last three chapters explains how narrator Ishmael got out of the mess of the chase. No spoilers here, only encouragement; read it yourself. Especially if you're looking for engrossing scenery and intriguing characters, it's hard to beat.

Also, my neighbor had it right -- most chapters are very short, so it's a good bus book, at least until your hands get tired. (In my copy, the great first sentence "Call me Ishmael" is on p. 27 and the Epilogue is page 655.)

Beside the beautiful chapters at the beginning, what may stay with me longest is Chapter 132, "The Symphony." It is a very personal scene between Captain Ahab and Mr. Starbuck, the first mate. It stands out to me now even stronger since I've been through the three chapters devoted to the days of chasing the White Whale and the Epilogue. Again, no spoilers, but "the calm before the storm" comes to mind. I keep a copy of a Renoir seascape over my writing desk; it's my favorite painting, and I look up at it with fresh respect today.

(Also, I've been through those three chapters -- not just read them. I know I said it's a good bus book, but I don't recommend finishing it in public.)

One thing deserves spoiling. This post about Mr. Starbuck was the only time in which coffee was mentioned relating to him. Where "his" eponymous corporation got the idea that he loved coffee remains beyond me.

So many people have asked me why I wanted to read "Moby-Dick." They had opinions about it -- "lots of useless stuff about whales" and so on -- without even cracking it open.

Well, I wanted to see whether they were right.

They weren't.

All of the information about whales and whaling ships -- jargon, prophecy, facts and all -- came in very handy when the constant question about seeing the White Whale got the answer that he had been seen the day before. Couldn't the crew of the Pequod see from the damage on the ship that had seen him? Knowing the terms for what was damaged and where it was kept was the first "payoff" for my careful attention to clues. It turned out to be the first of many. Nothing I read turned out useless. (How many books can say that?)

I'm composing this at the computer, unusually for me. I think if I followed my habit and wrote it out by hand first, there might be 600 pages before I finished and published this post.

I wanted to "do my book report" faster than that.


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Filed under: Sustaining Books, Writing

Tags: Moby-Dick


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    I love this story, I even love most of the movie versions. Anybody who thinks it's a waste of time composed of "lots of useless stuff about whales" probably has never read anything for enjoyment. They're the ones who are missing something.

    Moby Dick is a great, easy read. Anybody between the age of 10 and 100 would enjoy this book.

  • In reply to John Heath:

    Thank you, John. I'm glad you stopped by to share your love of this great story. Far from agreeing with the "lots of useless stuff about whales" school of criticism, I loved it -- and I loved how Herman Melville would stop at times and point out that Ishmael has been telling us these things because they will be needed in chapters to come. So they were.

  • Wonderful write-up on a great book. So glad you enjoyed it!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the posts.

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