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Reading the classics: Moby Dick, or I’d Rather be Whaling

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee”

Now that’s exactly how I had to approach my latest attempt to take one of the major classics off of my to-be-read list! Moby Dick is a chore! I knew it from the start! And so I went into the project knowing that, like Ahab, the obsessed whaling captain from Melville’s classic; I would grapple with demons that I didn’t know I had! To make this task a bit easier on myself, I chose to listen to the book in its Audiobook format from the library’s OneClick Digital platform. Having someone read to me is relaxing and generally very enjoyable. When it comes to having classics read to me, it feels a bit like cheating! But cheating is exactly what I knew I’d have to resort to if I was going to get through this book!

If you’re looking for a quick, exciting sea adventure, this book isn’t for you! (But I can point you to the best of those if you’re interested!) If you’re looking for a man vs. nature psychological exploration…nope! Still not for you! If you’re searching for obsession and bent-on-revenge madness, we’re getting closer! If you are looking for a book on whaling, types & characteristics of whales, whaling ships, boats & tools and an actual list of white things that are or are not as evil as the White Whale of Ahab’s obsession, well then, you’ve hit it spot-on for the first 80 or so chapters of Moby Dick! Seriously! The audiobook reader actually spent about 30 minutes reading a list of things that are white (like white sands, the white robes of the savior, etc.) that are considered pure and clean. And then a good 20 minutes or so follow to list things (like the white shark and the white squall) that impart fear! Ah! So this is what madness and obsession are like! I have to admit. This is where I almost foundered, if you’ll excuse the nautical pun! But after reading this, I now believe that when people speak of a man obsessed when speaking of Moby Dick, perhaps they are speaking not so much of Ahab but of Melville instead!

Okay, enough picking on Melville already! To be fair, the last 50 chapters of Moby Dick make the book worth the read. There is adventure, excitement, some mystery and even a tidbit of comic relief! But, I don’t want you to think that you can skip the first 80 chapters! Melville sprinkles his mystery and comedy throughout the book. Skip too much and you’ll miss a boatload of character development! Meeting the characters aboard the Pequod is a bit like the roll call of heroes you may find in an Old English epic or Scandinavian saga. You need the whole story to build up to the action scenes (which mostly do happen after the first 80 chapters). But when you get there they are spellbinding!

All in all, I was impressed with the novel. Melville’s writing is awesome. His language is eloquent and classic! The action of the hunt (when Melville finally gets to it) is breathtaking! And best of all, when you’re finished, you can check another major literary classic off your to-be-read list! I hope you consider this a challenge! – Dan W., Acquisitions

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