Nataliya's Reviews > Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
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bookshelves: my-childhood-bookshelves, 2013-reads, books-from-childhood-revisited
Read 2 times. Last read October 5, 2012 to January 5, 2013.

I was that precocious brat who first read the whale-esque sized Moby-Dick at the age of nine. Why? I had my reasons, and they were twofold:
(1) I was in the middle of my "I love Jacques Cousteau!" phase, and this book had a picture of a whale on the cover.
(2) It was on the bookshelf juuuuust above my reach, and so obviously it was good because it was clearly meant to be not for little kids¹, and that made my little but bloated ego very happy.
¹ So, in retrospect, were War and Peace and Le Père Goriot and The Great Gatsby. In retrospect, there may have been an underlying pattern behind my childhood reading choices.
From what I remember, I read this book as a sort of encyclopedia, a bunch of short articles about whaling and whale taxonomy and many ways to skin a whale and occasional interruptions from little bits of what (as I now see it) was the plot. It was confusing and yet informative - like life itself is to nine-year-olds.

What do I think about it now, having aged a couple of decades? Well, now I bow my head to the brilliance of it, the unexpectedly beautiful language, the captivating and apt metaphors, the strangely progressive for its time views, the occasional wistfulness interrupted by cheek. The first third of it left me spellbound, flying through the pages, eager for more.

Just look at this bit, this unbelievable prose that almost makes me weep (yes, I'm a dork who can get weepy over literature. I blame it on my literature-teacher mother. So there.)
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."
Bits like this is what made me stay up at night, pouring over the pages. I could finally see what my nine-year-old past self did not care about (and appropriately so, in the light of literal-mindedness and straightforwardness that children possess) - Melville's constant, persistent comparison of whaling to life itself, using bits and pieces of whaling beliefs and rituals to illuminate the dark nooks and crannies of human souls, to show that deep down inside, regardless of our differences, we all run on the same desires and motives and undercurrents of spirit.
"Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form."
The elusive White Whale is what we are all chasing, in one form or another, different for all of us, different in how we see it and approach it and deal with it. It's what we all pursue - the difference is how. Melville gives us one of the extremes, the views of a single-minded fanatic, of one who puts everything aside, sacrifices everything (and everyone else) for the sake of a dream, of a desire, of a goal; the person who is capable of leading others unified in his focused, narrow, overwhelmingly alluring vision. We can call Ahab a madman. We can also call him a great leader, a visionary of sorts - had he only used the charisma and the drive and the single-minded obsession to reach a goal less absurd, less suicidal less selfish. Had he with this monomaniac single-mindedness led a crusade for something we think is worthwhile, would we still call him a madman, or would we wordlessly admire his never-altering determination? Isn't the true tragedy here in Ahab focusing his will on destruction and blind revenge, leading those he's responsible for to destruction in the name of folly and pride? Is that where the madness lies?
"...For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men."


Moby-Dick, the elusive and largely symbolic whale - until, that is, the last haunting three chapters where the chased idée fixe becomes terrifyingly real and refuses to humor Ahab's life goal - is a force of nature so beautiful, so majestic and breathtaking, so lovingly described by Melville over pages and pages (even though, in all honesty, he breaks up the fascination but trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade the reader that the amazing whale is just a fish).

Really, the idea of a mere human considering it his right, his goal to stand up to the majestic nature force, armed with a destructive deadly weapon, and bring it to the end after a long chase in the ultimate gesture of triumph - that idea is chilling in its unremarkability. Humans taming and conquering nature, bending it to our will and desires, the world being our oyster - all that stuff. It is not new. It is what helped drive the industrial expansion of the modern society. It is what makes us feel that we are masters of our world, that our planet is ours to do whatever we, humans, please. But Moby-Dick, finally abandoning his run from Ahab and standing up to him with such brutal ease is a reminder of the folly of such thinking and the reminder that there are forces we need to reckon with, no matter how full of ourselves we may get.
------------
Why only three stars, you ask, when clearly I appreciate the greatness of the classic? Because the metaphors and parallels and meandering narration at times would get to be too much, because I quite often found my mind and attention easily wandering away in the last two-thirds of the book, needing a gargantuan effort to refocus. This what took of a star and a half, resulting in 3.5 sea-stars grudgingly but yet willingly given to this classic of American Romanticism.
"Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan."
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 2, 2010 – Shelved
October 5, 2012 – Started Reading
October 5, 2012 –
0.0% "Call me Ishmael.\n \n And so it begins... 15 chapters to catch up to the group read. Who needs sleep?"
October 5, 2012 –
11.0% "Chapters 1-15 done. Highlights so far: the beautiful prose (especially Chapter 1), the unexpected humor, the touching relationship (of the bromance type in our crude modern speak) between Ishmael and Queequeg. So far it's been a rather enjoyable read!"
October 8, 2012 –
22.0% "Chapters 16-31: We get acquainted with Pequod (and what a nice ship she is!) and get not only a glance of the mysterious Captain Ahab but also a myriad biblical references that definitely seem to suggest that this voyage may not be a fun and lighthearted adventure after all.\n \n Love this book! Such lovely writing, and Melville's leisurely and poetic storytelling is captivating."
October 12, 2012 –
25.0% "Oh, I remember this long long chapter on 'cetology' - basically Melville's approach to whale taxonomy. Baffled me when I was nine, baffles me now still."
October 14, 2012 –
38.0% "Captain Ahab and his obsession. Honestly, the man is both fascinating and terrifying. By the way, Melville's way of having the whole story be comprised almost completely of asides on all aspects of whaling is quite interesting. Yes, occasionally a bit frustrating but interesting."
October 27, 2012 –
47.0% "Melville's meanderings range from fascinating to plainly tedious. One moment I'm loving it, the next moment I sigh and drudge through to the end of the chapter, hoping it will be mercifully short. And then again I'm rewarded for my patience with a bit of brilliance."
November 13, 2012 –
47.0% "Chapter 59 "Squid" - read by China Miéville for Moby Dick Big Read - http://www.mobydickbigread.com/chapte... \n My life is complete now."
December 17, 2012 –
55.0% "Can I finish this book before 2013? I think I can, I think I can..."
December 23, 2012 –
62.0% "I find myself struggling to maintain attention. C'mon, Melville, bring back the magic of the earlier chapters!"
January 5, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-45 of 45 (45 new)

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message 1: by Kerry (new)

Kerry Sounds like a wavy sea voyage. Up one chapter, down another.


message 2: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell You can do it Nataliya!!!


message 3: by Leonard (new)

Leonard One of the books I intend to read, but just couldn't pick it up.


Nataliya Leonard wrote: "One of the books I intend to read, but just couldn't pick it up."

Maybe it's because it weighs about 400 pounds? ;)


Michael Fierce Leonard wrote: "One of the books I intend to read, but just couldn't pick it up."

Nataliya wrote: "Maybe it's because it weighs about 400 pounds? ;)"

Try using a harpoon.


message 6: by Leonard (new)

Leonard Ok, I was thinking of the weight of the book. But, yes, the whale too.


John Carncross My favorite book. A lot of people get stuck in the middle, but I loved the fake natural history chapters. Ha!


Jason Only 3 stars?? Oh, I see how it is. This is payback for The Master and Margarita, isn't it? Hmph.


message 9: by Kerry (new)

Kerry I've had 3-4 editions of this book over the years (some w/pictures, notes, Norton commentary, etc...) and never managed to finish any of them.


Nataliya Jason wrote: "Only 3 stars?? Oh, I see how it is. This is payback for The Master and Margarita, isn't it? Hmph."

Well, this book was a mix of 5-star bits and 1-2 star bits, so I settled for the average.
As for TM&M, I'm still quietly seething over your review - but it was so funnily awesome that I could not hold the grudge ;)


message 11: by Srinivas (new) - added it

Srinivas at last u completed Moby-Dick


message 12: by Diane (new)

Diane Nataliya, congrats on finishing!


Nataliya Srinivas wrote: "at last u completed Moby-Dick"

Well, I can easily say it was a gargantuan feat.


message 14: by Diane (last edited Jan 05, 2013 10:02PM) (new)

Diane Nataliya wrote: "Srinivas wrote: "at last u completed Moby-Dick"

Well, I can easily say it was a gargantuan feat."


Well put!! I have it here, but have not tackled it!


Sesana I'm going to try to tackle the White Whale this year, but we'll see what happens. Congrats on making it!


message 16: by Brendon (new) - added it

Brendon Schrodinger Nice work on finishing that beast.

It's still on my 'currently reading' list and hovering around page 250 from memory.

*sigh*


message 17: by Linda (new)

Linda Great review!


Nataliya Linda wrote: "Great review!"

Thanks, Linda!


[Name Redacted] I read it at age 8! Go ambitious children! But I love it even more now than i did then.


William2 Time to reread? :-)


message 21: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell Awesome review Nataliya!! I remembered reading this book in high school and it was a bit difficult to understand what was going on, but your review made this book much easier to understand!


Forrest Started this one years ago and never finished. Maybe it's time I harpoon this thing once and for all.


message 23: by Ceecee (new)

Ceecee Lol, I think I was ambitious as a child too, reading all those classics, and often having my mind wander, so I didn't get most of them. Now I'm trying to reread them and really appreciate the writing (maybe especially Dickens). :D

Love your review, though I don't think I'll be taking on this whale of a book any time soon.


Nataliya Ian wrote: "I read it at age 8! Go ambitious children! But I love it even more now than i did then."

Ceecee wrote: "Lol, I think I was ambitious as a child too, reading all those classics, and often having my mind wander, so I didn't get most of them. Now I'm trying to reread them and really appreciate the writi..."

@ Ian and Ceecee - ambitious children of the world unite! Even though I did not understand so many classics I read at that tender age, I think they still contributed to the development of my taste in books. Last few years I reread a few of the books I first read as a child and did not quite appreciate, and it's amazing how much previously undiscovered depth and genius was there!


message 25: by Brendon (new) - added it

Brendon Schrodinger I hope you all still read The Famous Five and played LEGO.


Nataliya Brendon wrote: "I hope you all still read The Famous Five and played LEGO."

I climbed every tree in the neighborhood AND watched the Transformers cartoons - does that count? ;)


message 27: by Brendon (new) - added it

Brendon Schrodinger I climbed every tree in the neighborhood AND watched the Transformers cartoons - does that count? ;)"

I believe it more than meets the eye.


Michael Fierce description
  
    MOBY DICK LIVES!
    





Nataliya Michael wrote: "MOBY DICK LIVES!"

Damn right he does. Love the picture - the amount of cute is staggering. And I really want to know what that giant purple fish is, as big as the whale's head. Can she and Moby have adventures together??? Pretty please?


Robert If one could "like" comments, I'd "like" no.30!


Robert Nataliya wrote: "Michael wrote: "MOBY DICK LIVES!"

Damn right he does. Love the picture - the amount of cute is staggering. And I really want to know what that giant purple fish is, as big as the whale's head. Can..."


That's just perspective; Moby is really a mile away...


Nataliya Robert wrote: "That's just perspective; Moby is really a mile away... "

You know, once I think about it - it probably was not an iceberg that hit "Titanic"; it was probably Moby-Dick mistaking it for a giant whaling ship...


Robert Nataliya wrote: "Robert wrote: "That's just perspective; Moby is really a mile away... "

You know, once I think about it - it probably was not an iceberg that hit "Titanic"; it was probably Moby-Dick mistaking it ..."


I think you're on to something!


message 34: by Michael Fierce (last edited Jan 11, 2013 09:07PM) (new)

Michael Fierce Nataliya wrote: "Michael wrote: "So. I guess Ahab's still alive too."

Now this sentence did give me the chills. I'd be happy to imagine Moby living forever. But Ahab? *shudder*"


Nataliya wrote: "Michael wrote: "MOBY DICK LIVES!"

Damn right he does. Love the picture - the amount of cute is staggering. And I really want to know what that giant purple fish is, as big as the whale's head. Can..."


Robert wrote: "If one could "like" comments, I'd "like" no.30!"

It's a cool game as you can see! I think the fish is a Purple People Eater but I don't think there is a Finding Moby adventure (w/ friends!) coming out anytime soon, Nataliya, but we can always hope!

And thanks Robert!

You never know about Moby and the Titanic.

My theory that Moby, being a true Leviathan and Tuunbaaq, thus able to live for centuries, may just still be around to this day, so you never know. Many sighting have been reported and filmed. And then there's Nancy Collins story in Classics Mutilated. So. I guess Ahab's still alive too.

:)

description


Nataliya Michael wrote: "So. I guess Ahab's still alive too."

Now this sentence did give me the chills. I'd be happy to imagine Moby living forever. But Ahab? *shudder*


message 36: by Bill (new)

Bill Oates Who cares


message 37: by Miriam (new)

Miriam From what I remember, I read this book as a sort of encyclopedia,

Did you also read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea? I swear I did but it is full of encyclopediac marine information which I don't recall at all.


Nataliya Miriam wrote: "From what I remember, I read this book as a sort of encyclopedia,

Did you also read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea? I swear I did but it is full of encyclopediac marine inform..."


I did. Strangely, I don't recall much of this book. Maybe, just maybe, I will try reading it now - rereading books from childhood is always quite an interesting experience, in many ways.


message 39: by Miriam (new)

Miriam After reading it as an adult, I suspect I read a edited-for-kids version as a child.


Nataliya Miriam wrote: "After reading it as an adult, I suspect I read a edited-for-kids version as a child."

Ah, I really dislike those. They are like Disney adaptations - can really change the meaning and intent of the original work.
I read Robinson Crusoe in a kid-version, and it completely glossed over all the problematic areas of this book, making it little but a happy sunshiny adventure. Blergh.


message 41: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Yeah, I've read those, too. Hate 'em.
I think the version of 20k Leagues I had was just shorter and had most of the long informative sections about fish etc taken out to make it more exciting.


message 42: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 05, 2015 06:06PM) (new)

I gave a vote to this review a long time ago, but honestly, reading it again after having actually gone through the book, what a stunning review. I envy your powers of comprehension! :P


Oliver Only an Ahab can meet a Moby Dick on his own terms. Knee-knocking landlubbers should remain ashore lest they be borne adrift upon the deep of a fathomless briny black.


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

Sara Elbaroudi I honestly don't get the fascination for this book, it is pretty much average, forget the language and complexity, the pattern and sequence are not rhythmic or even intriguing. No wonder the author had only this book as a hit supposedly, I am half way through and it can get pretty boring!


Ashwini Hs I totally know what you mean! I recently forced myself to finally finish it. And I was happy. Like you mentioned in another comment, yes, there are a 5-star bits and there are 1&2-star bits, and even I gave 3.


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