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  1. #1
    Registered User Zsinj's Avatar
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    Moby Dick; worth the read?

    Lately, from sites such as Project Gutenburg, manybooks.net, and feedbooks.com, I've been downloading a lot of free classics in nearly all the genres on my computer such as the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Rafael Sabatini, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Max Brand, Zane Grey, and many others.
    I was wondering, is Melville's classic Moby Dick worth the read? I've heard some call it very boring and dry, but most of those were from the teenage crowd. I have to say the idea of an insane captain relentlessly and obsessively pursuing a whale until it drives him clear out of his gourd intrigues me somewhat. So what does everyone here think who has read it?

  2. #2
    Hi, Zsinj.

    Tough question. I consider it one of the two finest American novels I've read, alongside William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom. Both require the reader's attention and patience.

    The first time I read Moby Dick was for an undergrad class and I slogged through it, thought it would never end and couldn't imagine myself ever reading it again. About 10 years later, between grad courses, I read it again largely for my own satisfaction and was amazed at how well it had aged. (*Cough*) Many readers get impatient with the digressions but on second reading I found them fascinating, and the main story is as epic as any fantasy I've read.

    Still, I have a friend who has more drive than I do. He's read all of Faulkner's published work, much of it multiple times. A couple of years ago he finally plowed through Anna Karenina and War and Peace, he's read and reread Dostoyevski, too. But he can't get more than 50 pages into MB without dropping it and going elsewhere, and he's tried multiple times.

    One possible approach, if you do decide to try it, maybe read some of Melville's shorter work first, like "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and "Billy Budd" as a sort of literary inoculation, so you know the kind of writing you'll face going in.

    Is it worth the effort? Well, I'd have to say, yes. But I also recognize that it is not a book that will appeal to everyone.


    Randy M.

  3. #3
    Damn fool idealist DailyRich's Avatar
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    Melville does love to delve into the minutiae of 19th century whaling, but those passages shouldn't put you off from reading the book. It's most definitely worth it, if for nothing else than to get all the references from Wrath of Khan.

  4. #4
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    It is a bit bitty. In one chapter Meliville talks rubbish about a Nantucket Empire and another is written like a play.

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    I tried reading it recently and three hundred pages describing the interior of a dockside inn was enough for me.

    I think I'll try reading it again sometime and start from the middle this time.

  6. #6
    Registered User Zsinj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward M. Grant View Post
    I tried reading it recently and three hundred pages describing the interior of a dockside inn was enough for me.

    I think I'll try reading it again sometime and start from the middle this time.
    Good God! Are you serious?!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Zsinj View Post
    Good God! Are you serious?!
    He is exaggerating. Though, in fairness, for some readers it may feel like 300 pages. Or more.

    One thing that helped me the second time I read it was a greater awareness of tonal changes. I'd been reading more literary works by my second reading, and was better able to roll with the passages where the subject didn't grab me but the exuberance of the narrative voice pulled me through. Other passages are tongue in cheek, others display great passion.

    Really, give it a try. It's the only way you'll know if it's for you.


    Randy M.

  8. #8
    When I read it the first half was slow going. But the second half seemed to pick for whatever reason (I got used to it or it just picked up) and it was hard to put down.
    I would recommend it before anything else on your list.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy M. View Post
    He is exaggerating. Though, in fairness, for some readers it may feel like 300 pages. Or more.
    Yeah, the part before they get on the ship just seemed to go on forever. It felt like Melville had spent a lot of time drinking in dockside inns and wanted to make good use of the experience, but compared to modern pacing it's dreadfully slow.

    I should add that I've read most of Dostoyevsky's doorstop novels (some of them more than once), so long isn't a problem in itself. As with Lord of the Rings, much of the descriptive writing just seemed irrelevant to the story and left me waiting for something to happen.

  10. #10
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zsinj View Post
    I have to say the idea of an insane captain relentlessly and obsessively pursuing a whale until it drives him clear out of his gourd intrigues me somewhat. So what does everyone here think who has read it?
    Not one of my favorite books entertainment-wise, but it certainly has stayed with me as a great book (if that makes sense). It so perfectly captures obsession, and that aspect alone has served as an emotional -- even moral -- touchstone for me whenever my own obsessive tendencies raise their head. It has similar value in its lessons about revenge. It was written during an age of great moralizing, so there's no point ignoring these intents, even if we currently prefer less preachy stories.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward M. Grant View Post
    Yeah, the part before they get on the ship just seemed to go on forever. It felt like Melville had spent a lot of time drinking in dockside inns and wanted to make good use of the experience, but compared to modern pacing it's dreadfully slow.
    If you want to read a book that makes slow progress, try Morte d'Arthur by Mallory. Whenever any of the Knights ride anywhere they always have to joust couple of varmints, rescue a maiden and slay a giant or two.

  12. #12
    Let's not exaggerate how slow Moby Dick is. It is not that bad. I still have not been able to get into Ulysses. Or Red Mars for that matter. The first maybe 100 pages of Les Miserables is a description of how good a person the bishop is.

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    It took me three efforts before I finally got through MB (the first two were for classes; the last, I felt lousy for quitting on the book after going 3/4 of the way in the first two times and plowed ahead). There is no getting around the fact that it's drenched in minutia. Mellville clearly knew his stuff, and he wasn't afraid to brazenly show it. Provided you don't skim, you will end up very knowledgable about the 19th century whaling industry, from it's large-scale economics to the exact process of extracting lamp oil.

    That said, Ahab is a wonderful character, and very compelling, and Melville really did capture fixation/obsession.

    If you go into it expecting it to read like a Lee Child novel, you will likely throw it across the room. And possibly kill someone--it is big. But if you approach it on its own terms, and accept its pace and uber attention to detail and tangents, it is a pretty fascinating book.

  14. #14
    Man of Ways and Means kennychaffin's Avatar
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    It's a classic for a reason.

  15. #15
    Registered User spiralguru3d's Avatar
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    I tried to read Moby Dick a few years back and got about half way before I lost interest. It was one of the first books I tried to read after being a keen reader in my teens, and then vanishing down a computer programming rabbit hole for most of my twenties.

    Since giving up on Moby Dick I've done a literature course and read around a hundred novels in my own time, half of which would be considered classics. I am looking forward to going back to Moby Dick and seeing what I missed out on. I'm very sure it was just too much to bite off after my hiatus, but I'm reading faster and more widely now than ever.

    As a previous poster said, it requires patience and concentration to reap the reward. Hopefully I will be up to the challenge on my next attempt!

    p.s. I think I may treat myself to a nice atmospheric hardback edition to whip up my motivation when the time comes.

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