Matt's Reviews > Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
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Dec 04, 13

Recommended for: People I despise
Read in January, 2006

** spoiler alert ** LISA: Dad, you can't take revenge on an animal. That's the whole point of Moby Dick.
HOMER: Oh Lisa, the point of Moby Dick is 'be yourself.'
-- The Simpsons, Season 15, Episode 5, “The Fat and the Furriest”

There, there. Stop your crying. You didn’t like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? You didn't even finish it? I’m here to tell you, that’s okay. You’re still a good person. You will still be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. You won’t be arrested, incarcerated, or exiled. You will not be shunned (except by English majors; they will shun you). Your family and friends will still love you (or at least stand you). Your dog will still be loyal (your cat, though, will remain indifferent).

Moby Dick can be a humbling experience. Even if you get through it, you may be desperately asking yourself things like “why didn’t I like this” or "am I totally missing something” or "how long have I been sleeping?" See, Moby Dick is the most famous novel in American history. It might be the great American novel. But in many ways, it’s like 3-D movies or Mount Rushmore: it’s tough to figure out why it’s such a big deal.

I suppose any discussion about Moby Dick must start with thematic considerations. It is, after all, “classic” literature, and must be experienced on multiple levels, if at all. So, what’s the point of Moby Dick? Is it about obsession? The things that drive each of us in our ambitions, whether they be wealth, hate, prejudice or love? Is it a deconstruction of Puritan culture in colonial America? Is it a Joseph Campbell-style hero’s journey? Is it a good ol' yarn of men against the sea? Is it all of these things?

Perhaps.

Is it a colossal bore?

Decidedly.

Now, I hate to use that word, the b-word. Boring. It means so little. It means nothing. It is the ultimate grade-school criticism: subjective; vague; and expressing annoyance at having been forced to experience the thing at all. To say something is boring implies that nothing happens, when in fact, something is always happening. Whether or not that happening is exciting is another question.

Having said all that, I found Moby Dick boring in the purest sense of the word. On just about every page, I felt a distinct lack of interest. And this is not a response to the subject matter. I love sea stories. I enjoyed Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Jaws. Normally, a novel about an obsessed man trying to harpoon a terrifying monster would be right in my wheelhouse.

What was the problem? More specifically, what was my problem? (Because despite what I say, most people are going to blame me rather than Melville).

It all comes down to density. I’ve never actually harpooned a whale (or anything, for that matter), but I can only assume that it is slightly easier than finishing this turgid, mammoth work of literature. I found it almost impenetrable. Like reading Hawthorne, except it doesn't end, ever. I tried reading it three different times, and failed. In a meta turn of events, the novel became like my white whale, elusive and cagey, an arch opponent.

I would get through the first few chapters all right. The dinner at the Spouter-Inn. The homo-erotically charged night two men share in bed. Melville’s exquisitely detailed description of his breakfast companions:

You could plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This young fellow’s healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next to him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic yawn, but slightly bleached withal; he doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the Andes’ western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.


Somewhere in the neighborhood of the fortieth page, when Father Mapple starts to give his sermon, I’d start to get a little restless. A few pages into his fire-and-brimstone screed, my mind would wander. By the end of the chapter, I’d realize that instead of paying attention to the text, I’d actually started to amuse myself by trying to calculate my income taxes in my head. And then I’d quit.

During one of my periodic bouts of self-improvement (which I regularly intersperse with bouts of day-drinking), I decided to finish this damn thing once and for all. To do this, I hit upon a plan: I brought it to work and forced myself to read twenty pages a day at lunch. No more surfing the internet or listening to podcasts. No more chatting with coworkers. Until I finished, I would dedicate the hour to 20 pages of Melville. As a result I: (1) finished the book; and (2) grew to hate lunch (which is really quite a sad turn of events).

What did I learn?

Not too much.

Moby Dick is about a milquetoast named Ishmael who sets out on a whaling ship called the Pequod. Like many literary heroes, he is a bit of an outcast. Also, following in the tradition of Charles Dickens’ tedious first-person narrators, he is a bit of a cipher. Ishmael doesn't do much, except offer endless exegeses on every aspect of whaling, as well as stultifying digressions on topics too numerous to count (don’t miss the chapter about how the color white can be evil!). Ishmael's pedagogic ramblings will soon have you pleading for the whale – or a squid or an eel or a berserk seagull – to eat him, and eat him quickly (but painfully) so the book will end.

The Pequod is commanded by Captain Ahab, the one-legged nut who is obsessed with finding the whale that ate his now-absent limb. He's sort of the 19th century version of the psycho ex-boyfriend who just can't seem to let go the past. Ahab is an interesting character in the abstract. Profoundly, almost suicidally driven. The obvious progenitor of Robert Shaw’s captivating performance as Quint in Spielberg’s Jaws. However, in the context of the book's thees and thous and utterly excessive verbiage and arcane sentence structure, the sheen wears off mighty quick. It’s one of those instances in which I’d much prefer someone to tell me about Ahab, rather than read about him myself. (In other words, I need an interpreter to translate from Ye Olde English to English).

The challenging language permeates Moby Dick. Melville writes in a overly-verbose, grandiloquent style. His book is packed with symbols and metaphors and allusions and nautical terms. There were very few pages in which I didn't have to stop reading and flip to the back of the book, to read the explanatory notes or consult the glossary. There are digressions and soliloquies and even, at certain points, stage directions. It is also a primer on whaling, in case you wanted to learn:

The Pequod’s whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was hoisted against the ship’s side – about half way out of the sea, so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over it, by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith.


Maybe you are familiar with the giant Holfernes and Judith’s girdle. Maybe you want to be familiar with them. If so, by all means, proceed.

Melville’s other notable character is Queequeg, the South Seas cannibal with whom Ishmael shares a bed at the Spouter-Inn (a scene that has launched a thousand dissertations). Ishmael’s best friend on the Pequod, Queequeg expresses the duality of man: outwardly a tattooed savage, he is also purveyor of what might be termed Christian ethics (he gets along with people; he turns the other cheek; and he’s willing to jump into the ocean to save a stranger’s life).

The rest of the cast is too large to get into. Besides, they all run together in my mind. For example, I can’t tell you off the top of my head whether Starbuck or Stubb was the first mate. Frankly, I don't really care. They all end up in the same place. Hint: think Jonah. (Melville really harps on this Biblical allusion, as he harps on everything).

None of this is to say that Moby Dick lacks any charms. There are passages of great beauty. For instance, there is a moment when Pip, the black cabin boy/court jester, falls out of one of the longboats and is left in the ocean. Upon being rescued, Pip is changed:

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmate's called him mad.


I’m not going to lie and say I have the slightest idea of what that all means, but it sure is pretty. I suppose that was part of the allure that Moby Dick held for me. Even though I often wanted to quit, every once in awhile, a passage would jump out at me and smack me across the face with its classicalness. Unfortunately, you have to wade through so much, the mind becomes numb.

Moby Dick is quite simply a slog. It is tedious. Detail-laden. Attention-demanding. Then, after 56 billion pages, the climax comes in an instant, and in a matter of a few pages, everything you learned about the ship, the knots that held the sails, the crewmembers, Ahab – everything – is for naught, because it's all gone, and the sea rolls on, as it has for a thousand years. In a way, it's kind of cool to do it that way; I mean, that's life. You don't always get a great death scene. But on the other hand, what a gyp!

I realize my tone is preemptively defensive. After all, I consider myself a high functioning individual. Like you (I assume), I don’t like being told: “You just don’t get it.” Oh no, I get it. At least, I tried very hard to get it. I just didn't like it. And I’ll admit, I didn't like having to try so hard. This complaint is not simply a function of having my brain rotted by soda pop, candy, and first-person-shooter video games. Rather, there is an important argument to be made for clarity. Some say Melville’s stylized prose is elegant; I think it’s tortured. Some find his allusions illuminating; I find them hopelessly outdated. Some discover a higher pleasure in unpacking each complex theme; I just wanted to push Ishmael over the gunwale or hang him from the yardarm.

Melville can gussy things up as much as he wants. He can toss off references to 19th century prizefighters, Schiller’s poetry, and the Bible; he can discourse on civilization and savagery, on man and God; he can teach you every knot needed to sail a whaler; and he can draw out enough metaphors to keep SparksNotes in business for the next hundred years.

Melville can do all these things, but he can’t hide the fact that this is a story about some guys going fishing. That’s it. That simple story is the vessel for Melville’s explorations. Upon this he heaps his complications. Whether Melville’s technique is effective or not, or whether Melville has convinced you that it’s effective, is an open question.

Well, not to me. I think I’ve answered the question.

In short, I would rather be harpooned, fall off my ship, get eaten by a great white shark, and then have the great white shark swallowed by a whale, then read this book ever again.

I can’t get any clearer than that.

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Comments (showing 1-50 of 96) (96 new)


David Matthias, I went back and read this again, since I hadn't read it since I was a kid. I have to disagree. Melville may have more digressions than Volkmer, but I still love this book. He doesn't get there quick, but he gets there. I think the sudden cataclysmic end would not have anywhere near the impact if Melville hadn't spent so long setting everything up. Describing each little thing. It isn't a quick paced war novel or anything, but its still a good book.


Matt I remember once when we were drinking and you gave me your reasons for liking this book and I think you make an excellent point. I agree that the deliberate pacing and Melville's penchant for wallowing in minutiae does set up an incredible ending. It's just that in my opinion, the ending isn't incredible enough to make the journey there worthwhile. (I will admit to struggling with the Cotton Mather-esque sentence structure and ancient allusions).



David Try reading it after just getting done with "The Canterbury Tales," "The Oresteian Trilogy," "The Illiad," and "Beowulf." The sentence structure and reference to older things won't seem anywhere near as bad.


message 4: by Joey (new)

Joey Once of the main points of the book is to take the reader on the ship and on the three year journey. Not to sound too much like a hopeless romantic, it does immerse the reader in the business of whaling. I didn't find it too boring until somewhere around chapter 85, when he wouldn't stop talking about the goddamn head, but I thought the the philosophy weaved throughout the book was amazing. Especially in reference to the whale, he presents some fantastic ideas. What is the "line" in society, that force which is calm one minute but the next has torn everything apart? I would encourage you to go back and look at it from a philosophical point of view. And the ending can be described as nothing but epic. A grand conclusion to a grand story. Though I did think that Ishmael was sort of "too good for you" throughout the story, almost a false modesty, and Queequeg was almost too perfect. If you've ever read "The River God", he seems like Taita to me, annoyingly good at everything, though at times humorous.


Matt Joey wrote: "Once of the main points of the book is to take the reader on the ship and on the three year journey. Not to sound too much like a hopeless romantic, it does immerse the reader in the business of wh..."

Joey, I definitely understand your point, and at some time in my life (hopefully), I'll get around to trying this again. My buddy David (see comment above) has let me know that I missed a lot.

I'll be perfectly honest, I tried and failed twice to read this, so by my third attempt, I was girded for battle, rather than paying as close attention as I should have been to everything that's going on. (The book, you see, was my white whale).

The reason I didn't like Ishmael is that he's so bland, the 19th century equivalent of Josh Hartnett. However, as I've tried to work my way across other classics, I've noticed that this is sort of a theme in first-person works; that is, the narrator is usually the steady, ho-hum center of an otherwise exciting universe (think of Pip from Great Expectations).


message 6: by Joey (last edited Apr 04, 2010 11:49AM) (new)

Joey Why was Pip such a popular name back then... I want to meet someone named Pip. I also think that its funny to imagine Melville's Pippin as Steve Urkel while you're reading it.


Matt I think your idea might be the key to get me to read Moby Dick again. Thanks!


message 8: by Gary (last edited Apr 05, 2010 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the giftshop,and i've since read it twice.I love it. We talk about whaling in my 5th grade history class,and i read a short chapter on catching,and killing "a" whale,and my students start to read it. It's all in how you can get excited,and be enthusiastic in what you wanna be excited about. i think it's a wonderful story!


Matt Gary wrote: "I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the giftshop,and i've since read it twice.I love it. We tal..."

Gary, great story. If you can get 5th graders interested in Melville, you must be a heck of a teacher!


message 10: by JSou (last edited Apr 06, 2010 05:15PM) (new)

JSou Gary, you're a teacher?! I didn't even know that.

BTW, great review Matt.


David Matt wrote: "Gary wrote: "I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the giftshop,and i've since read it twice.I lo..."

I dunno, Matt. I was in 3rd or fourth grade (can't exactly remember which) when I first read this book and it wasn't any teacher that got me into it. It just happened to be on the bookshelves in our basement and I grabbed it.


message 12: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt David wrote: "Matt wrote: "Gary wrote: "I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the giftshop,and i've since read ..."

David, you were clearly a precocious self-starter in fourth grade. At that age, the only thing I cared about was recess, and whether or not someone would throw a dodge ball at my head.

These days, I doubt there are many kids who'd grab any book off a shelf, much less Moby Dick, unless the book was actually a PS3 into which had been loaded Call of Duty 3.


message 13: by David (last edited Apr 07, 2010 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Matt wrote: "David wrote: "Matt wrote: "Gary wrote: "I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the giftshop,and i'..."

All I had at the time was an Atari. Maybe that's the key. All you have to do to get kids to read is make an Atari the only video game system that's available. Read or eat pellets. That's the message to send.


message 14: by Joey (new)

Joey David wrote: "Matt wrote: "David wrote: "Matt wrote: "Gary wrote: "I put off reading this book for years,then i visited melville's house and saw the room where he wrote it,and bought a copy of the book in the gi..."

I'm enjoying the intense replying going on. But yeah, Playstation honestly the only thing that 90% of the males in my school will talk about. It's terrible. Also, I'm reading "The Naked Lunch" next. Any good?


message 15: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Nava Matthew,

I say this with all due respect, but from reading your review, I can say that you missed the point the book. Despite how you feel about the antiquated language (a valid point based on the fact that the book is over 150 years old, then again, would you say the same thing about Shakespeare or Joyce?), the book is as relevant as ever, representing the fall and decay of the democratic process in this country. Most of the sailors are foreigners, Chinese to Irish. The harpooners, arguably the hardest and most dangerous of positions, were all "savages" (Black, Native-American, Pagan) and the success of the voyage depended on them. Nevertheless, they were lead to their death by blindly following the obsessed white man hell-bent on settling a personal vendetta at any expense (might any of that at least vaguely resemble the Bush admin?).

The literary techniques of Melville are nothing short of poetry. Go back and read the first 10 pages. Absolute perfection. The man himself was obsessed with whaling. His endless diatribes on the mythology of whales (despite him calling whales a fish) served as a way of getting us into Ahab's way of thinking. Melville immersed us, drowning us even, in the neurotic fixations two mad, mad men - himself and Ahab.

And then there's the whole psycho-sexual subtext just hitting you in the face. The closest that Ahab came to finding absolution is through the love of Pip. Ismael developed a homo-sensual relationship with Queequeg, to the point that he grew to "love" him. Melville doesn't go to great pains to hide this. His sexual orientation, like that of Shakespeare, continues to be debated, but I couldn't help see it plain and simple within the context of the book. For all the talk of Moby DICK, sperm whale, the words seemed like the subversive coming out letter of one of the great authors of our time (have you read the short story Bartleby?). By no means am I saying that this makes the book great, but the mythology that it has created around itself and layers all add to something greater than itself that transcends just the basic realms of literature.

It's not my intention to change your mind, I just want to make you aware of some reasons why other people view it as a master work. I hope one day you'll go back and re-read it with a fresh mind and enjoy it as much as I did.


message 16: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Joe wrote: "Matthew,

I say this with all due respect, but from reading your review, I can say that you missed the point the book. Despite how you feel about the antiquated language (a valid point based on th..."


Joe, this is a great analysis, and I wouldn't try to refute any of your points. The most I can say is that I will entertain the notion of giving this a try someday. I just don't have a lot of patience for inaccessible language (and I've never been within arm's length of Joyce).

Perhaps someday, after my pile of unread books has been diminished, I will give Moby Dick another try. Until then, I will remain an unwashed philistine vis-a-vis Melville. (The memory of my struggle with Moby Dick is just too near).


message 17: by David (last edited May 07, 2010 04:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Matt, I'll have you know that you have in fact been within arm's length of Joyce. That last time you were over drinking Moscow Mules I had, with knowledge and malice aforethought, hidden a copy of Finnegan's Wake under the cushions of the couch. Sorry 'bout that.


message 18: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt David wrote: "Matt, I'll have you know that you have in fact been within arm's length of Joyce. That last time you were over drinking Moscow Mules I had, with knowledge and malice aforethought, hidden a copy of..."

That's true, but as you will recall, my hand, which was attached to that arm, was holding a Mule. And it wasn't my first Mule. So I haven't knowingly, or soberly, been near Joyce.


David Neither was Joyce, so what's you're point?


Rhonda OMG... I giggled aloud through this ENTIRE review. DEAD ON the exact way I felt about it!!


Tonya I am commenting now as a place-marker so I can come back to this once I have finished the book. I have been listening to the LibriVox free audiobook while I am at work and am around chapter 90 or so. It's truly a different experience listening than reading it, but I think that may be due to the droll tone of the narrator. I can't wait to revisit this discussion once I am done. :)


Rolando Um, if you're bored, just don't read it. It's kind of silly that you made yourself read something that you didn't take anything out of. Think of all that time you could've spent reading something that fed your imagination.


message 23: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Rolando wrote: "Um, if you're bored, just don't read it. It's kind of silly that you made yourself read something that you didn't take anything out of. Think of all that time you could've spent reading something t..."

If this had been the latest novel by Dan Brown or John Grisham, your point would have been well taken. But it was not. This was Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, annointed by many as the greatest American novel of all time.

I owed it to myself to try it and, if possible, to finish. This I did, and my review followed accordingly, with my humble thoughts, such as they were. I don't think it's "silly" at all. Besides, if I hadn't read till the end, how would I know what I would/would not get out of it?


Rolando Matt wrote: "Rolando wrote: "Um, if you're bored, just don't read it. It's kind of silly that you made yourself read something that you didn't take anything out of. Think of all that time you could've spent rea..."

"Besides, if I hadn't read till the end, how would I know what I would/would not get out of it?"

Hey Matt, sorry if my comment came out a little douchebaggish. My sincere apologies.

But I sincerely believe in the gut. I don't think anybody should be embarrassed about not being able to get through Moby Dick. I'm sure there's some books you like (yes, including classics) that other people haven't been able to get through. And I think it is a perfectly respectable position to have if you say that you just weren't able to get through a book. I think it's fine, and if other people think it isn't fine, then that's bad for them, because it shouldn't be not fine.

My point is that reading should be fruitful. For example, I won't even pretend to read the first five pages of "Gravity's Rainbow," a dense work by Pynchon. Actually, I don't think I, at least in my present state of mind, will read any Pynchon book, long or short. But I did read Moby Dick, and I liked it a lot. And perhaps there will come a day in the future when I will become more interested in Pynchon or something like that. And then I will read him, maybe, and I will enjoy his work.

You wanted to read Moby Dick, and that's swell. And I respect your decision.

But I feel that if I'm reading a book (whatever its status within literary criticism is, which is itself a very fragile thing) and I'm not getting anything out of it at all, better to shelve it and pick it up later, and if I never pick it up--well, just as well. But I don't know that. My reading moods fluctuate. Sometimes I like lean, simple prose ala George Pelecanos, and sometimes I go for dense Moby Dickish stuff. It all depends...

Here's my point: you're not reading this book for class. You're reading it for enjoyment. So it doesn't make sense to read something you don't enjoy for the sake of pleasing the invisible literary critics. If you've got to the point where something doesn't feed your imagination anymore (sorry I use that a lot) then just put it down and look for something that will.

That's why I like taking books from libraries. I don't have the regret of having spent money on something I didn't like.


message 25: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Rolando wrote: "Matt wrote: "Rolando wrote: "Um, if you're bored, just don't read it. It's kind of silly that you made yourself read something that you didn't take anything out of. Think of all that time you could..."

Ronaldo,

No worries!

Thanks for the insightful comment. I agree with a lot of what you have to say. I will also be the first to admit that I am self-conscious about my knowledge of the classics, or the lack thereof (this is exacerbated by the many intelligent people on Goodreads who have read, and understood, books that cause me to shudder, such as Ulysses).

Life is too short, and there is too much to read, to get totally bogged down every time you open a book cover. I get that. I especially like your point about Pynchon. I tried to read Mason & Dixon, struggled with one paragraph, and gave up. (I'm pretty sure I threw the book away, so I couldn't see it taunting me).

With certain books, though, I think something can be gained from the struggle, even if I'm not totally enjoying it. My tongue-in-cheek review does not recognize this fact (I wrote it awhile ago, right after I finished the book), but with a little reflection I've realized that having worked my way through Melville was an ultimately worthwhile endeavor.

That, of course, doesn't mean that I'm going to attempt Pynchon in the near future, or Joyce (someday, though, because I am stubbor, I will probably try to conquer them).


message 26: by John (new)

John Matt, at least you finished it. I tried reading this in the 5th grade. Not because I wanted to or was looking forward to it though. I tried because my school's library had a rewards program. They had a list of books that one could read and then take a test on. Depending on how well you did on the test, you could earn "currency," which could be used to purchase such things as candy, school supplies, and the holy grail that is the out of uniform pass. How I longed for those passes. A day, free from the shackles of the navy blue Dockers and white polo shirt. It was pure bliss and a bliss that I'm sure is very relatable to you, because we went to similar schools and the same one in high school. My point is that I did not finish the book and I tried to take the test anyway. I figured if I can take the test on the Witch of Blackbird Pond having read it more than a year ago and ace it, why can't I blindly take it on Moby Dick. I failed, miserably. I think I got 2 right out of 20 maybe. Anyway, ever since then I have wanted to finish it and I have this incredibly stupid mindset of not quitting on books and movies. I have seen way too many Nicolas Cage movies. Well, this has been a long "comment" and I think I made a point. It's in there somewhere.


message 27: by Brian (new)

Brian I disagree generally about the "boring" part. It is true the book rambles on and often digresses onto strange tangents, but I did not care, as the author did it so artfully that it was mesmerizing and pleasurable to read. Nonetheless, I did like your usage of the English language, so I am definitely pressing "like."


message 28: by Lola (new)

Lola It's about a man's quest in confronting his own homosexuality actually...


message 29: by Andrea (new)

Andrea I thoroughly enjoyed this review. Thank you for writing it.

Moby Dick is on my list of books that, for the sake of its stature, I feel the need to wade through. It's good to know what I'm getting myself into ahead of time.


message 30: by E.V.Franzmnn (new) - added it

E.V.Franzmnn E.V.Franzmnn Oh my god,,, I'm so relieved,, I'm not a bad person after all,, well, at least not for not liking this book,,,
My attention span is of a 5yo,, so you can imagine how much pain I'm feeling right now.. Yep,, pain,,
Ok,, but I still need to finish,, it's for school,,


Emily I read MD the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school for an AP English class. I couldn't stand it then and swore that it was the only book I truly hated. As a senior English major, I am almost finished reading it for an American lit course and I'm surprised by how much I am enjoying it! My professor is incredible (a far cry from my high school teacher) and is well versed in all things Melville. He provides insight on the rich context surrounding this novel, making the subtleties of allusions and symbolism come alive. I never would have understood or appreciated this novel if I was not explicitly taught as I was reading it. Your criticism certainly has validity- I would never challenge that- but perhaps it is the way that we read or "study" the novel that has the greatest impact on our impression of it.


Karen Chung Thanks, Matt - I just finished an audio version of the book, and enjoyed your thoughtful, heartfelt comments a lot!


Abigail I thought this was a really, really good review.

Except I really loved the book.

But I'm cool with that. I liked your review :]


message 34: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan I finished the book about two years ago, and since then I've been wondering what I read. The Ahab - whale obsession - revenge - death plot seems to take up very little of the book's girth. I thought I read more about the whaling industry than the plot. I wondered what was wrong with me that I didn't "see" the point. Thanks for writing your commentary, because now I see that I am not alone. I will try rereading it, though, at some point before I leave this earth.


message 35: by Danielle (new)

Danielle I'm only 11 pages into the book and can agree with most of what you've said. Right from the get-go I've found myself wandering away while Ishmael digresses left and right! Also, you hit the nail on the head about the "olde English" language and out-of-date sentence structure; it's driving me mad!
I'm reading this as part of a book challenge and feel that 11 pages is not enough to stop and say "I just couldn't do it" and I'm also one who hates to leave books unread, so I'm going to try and stick it out! But I just wanted to say that your review makes me breathe a sigh of relief to know that I'm not the only one wondering "why don't I like it?"

Maybe my attitude will change after I've read more, but I doubt it...


message 36: by Richard (last edited Jan 04, 2012 11:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Richard Matt, I can identify so much with your experience it isn't funny (well, actually, it is pretty funny). I had the same sort of reaction to a few other "classics" as well.


message 37: by Kati (new) - rated it 1 star

Kati I was going to write a review for this book simply as a means of expelling the RAGE I have acquired from trudging through it, but I think that you have said it all much better than I could.

That being said, I might still write a review, just for some release. Like punching a wall or screaming into a pillow.


Karen Chung Rage? I'm just glad to have slogged through it as - relatively - painlessly as I did - I listened to it as a Librivox audio book. I found myself longing for it again when I tried Ulysses - and it's consoling to see I'm not the only one put off by it. Don't know if/when I'll try that one again. Moby-Dick was like listening to a bedtime story in comparison.


Richard Karen wrote: "Rage? I'm just glad to have slogged through it as - relatively - painlessly as I did - I listened to it as a Librivox audio book. I found myself longing for it again when I tried Ulysses - and it's..."

I'm getting read-rage all over again just thinking about Ulysses. It took me 3 tries to finish it!


Karen Chung Richard: And did you find Ulysses worthwhile? If so, how and why?


message 41: by Richard (last edited Jan 05, 2012 11:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Richard I found it somewhat worthwhile, because it gave me a sense of closure to finish the novel. It's as if I climbed Mt. Everest "because it was there."

However, the feeling that predominated was still frustration. I felt that there were many things I was just missing. The structure of the book is supposed to parallel the structure of Homer's Odyssey but most of the time this didn't really leap out at me. I also felt that there were a lot of references to Irish history and popular culture of the day that I just didn't get.

It's like being at lunch with friends who are working at a job about which you know almost nothing. They spend most of the lunch-hour "talking shop" and only occasionally remember to explain things or include you in the conversation. That's really how I felt while reading Joyce.

It's too bad really, because I actually rather liked Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist.


Karen Chung Thanks, Richard. I also liked Dubliners and Portrait. This gives me a better picture of what to expect with Ulysses! Maybe I'll get to it yet, but it's not a priority - I plan to finish some Rousseau and maybe the Federalist Papers and who knows what else first!


Richard Karen wrote: "Thanks, Richard. I also liked Dubliners and Portrait. This gives me a better picture of what to expect with Ulysses! Maybe I'll get to it yet, but it's not a priority - I plan to finish some Rousse..."

That is only my experience. But apparently there are books that help dispel the gloom of confusion, such as the ones mentioned in this blog entry:

http://readingenvy.blogspot.com/2011/...

BTW, I have never communicated with Jenny, but she is on goodreads too. I happened to see one of her reviews one day and went to this blog, but can't seem to find her profile back. So if you ever bump into her yourself, tell her Richard says hi and thanks!


message 44: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Nis wrote: "Your review should have a "spoilers" warning in it where you talk about the ultimate outcome. I didn't want to read that..."

I don't think there's such a thing as a "spoiler" in a 161 year-old book.


message 45: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Nis wrote: "Sorry to disagree, but you reveal what the most important event in the book is - the ultimate outcome - to people who have not read the book. That's a spoiler. Doesn't matter how old the book is. Y..."

Yeah, we're going to have to disagree. Everyone has a different definition of spoiler, and how long a reviewer must wait for the rest of the world to catch up. If you've somehow gone this long without knowing the end of Moby Dick, I'm shocked.


message 46: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Nis wrote: "Sorry to disagree, but you reveal what the most important event in the book is - the ultimate outcome - to people who have not read the book. That's a spoiler. Doesn't matter how old the book is. Y..."

Yeah, we're going to have to disagree. Everyone has a different definition of spoiler, and how long a reviewer must wait for the rest of the world to catch up. If you've somehow gone this long without knowing the end of Moby Dick, I'm shocked.


message 47: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Nis wrote: "Matt wrote: "Nis wrote: "Sorry to disagree, but you reveal what the most important event in the book is - the ultimate outcome - to people who have not read the book. That's a spoiler. Doesn't matt..."

There is not only one definition of spoiler. The word "spoiler" didn't even mean what you think it means until the 1980s. The question of what constitutes a spoiler is really a philosophical one, see, for example, this article (http://gawker.com/5817104/) about spoilers in film and television.

But enough about that. You don't seem to have much of a sense of humor, and you're also quite rude. So go away.


message 48: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Nis wrote: "There is only one definition of spoiler. You can look it up. And there are lots of people, even educated ones, who, for whatever reason, may not be aware of what the ending of Moby Dick is. However, I’m not “shocked” that a sanctimonious prig like you wouldn’t be aware of that."

This is an informal site where the *spoiler* tag may be a courtesy but it is deployed at the discretion of the typer. In this case, I think there are quite a few other reviews for this book that "spoil" the ending - if you watch tv at all, movies, read other books, it's very difficult to have avoided having the ending of this book "spoiled."

Most people don't even read this particular book for thrills and cliffhangers anyway. If it bothers you so much, remember your own words, you douche:

"Just reminds me that I am going to have to stop reading the reviews on Goodreads until I have finished the book."


Esteban del Mal According to my very (un)scientific study of Moby-Dick reviews on GR, this is the highest rated review of said novel.

I hate you, Matt. I hate you so much.


message 50: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! And he caved and slapped a spoiler on it!


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