It’s an exciting life we lead here at the Doublewide Ranch. Always something new to share, like the pink blossoming of the peach tree or the thrill of new bluebirds nesting. Or getting to visit with our children over Spring Break. Or the fact that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man just finished reading Moby Dick.
Moby Dick? Maybe you’re wondering, as I did, why Moby Dick? Well, partly for the intellectual challenge, according to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. But also…Providence. He felt like he was destined to read it when he got it for free in a book discard pile where he works. But after hearing his description, you couldn’t get me to read the book if the Lord Himself appeared to me in a radiant, holy vision, a chorus of angels singing in the background, with an illuminated copy of Moby Dick in His hands. (Unless, of course, the Lord told me to read it.)
Oh, it starts out promisingly enough. Right off the bat, in the first sentence, the narrator introduces himself (“Call me Ishmael.”) and explains in the first paragraph why he was heading out to sea.
“…whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself …pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet” and when “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking peoples’ hats off, then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
Oh yeah, I get that. I felt like that when I first went into menopause. Wanting to knock peoples’ hats off, that is. Not so much the “pausing before coffin warehouses” part though.
Anyway, things get even more interesting when Ishmael ends up (after looking for a place to stay) having to share a bed with a cannibal named Queepueg. Now, in case you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sleep with a strange cannibal, well, Ishmael tells you, in considerable and often humorous detail. And in case you’re thinking, “Hey, no way I’d sleep with a cannibal!“, well, I like what Ishmael says about that:
“…the man’s a human being, just as I am; he has just as much reason to fear me as I have to be afraid of him. Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
Ha, ha…yeah…that’s what I always say.
My interest in the book was piqued even more when I heard about Ahab, the captain of the ship Ishmael was sailing on, who had only one leg because the other was bitten off. What’s that you say? Oh my goodness, no,…ha, ha…not by the cannibal! It was Moby Dick, the white whale, who did the deed. And, boy howdy, is Captain Ahab ticked off! So ticked off, in fact, that he’s setting sail just to find Moby Dick and avenge his bit-off leg. It’s understandable and all…I mean, how would you feel if a whale bit your leg off?
Anyway, they head out into the stormy deep and it’s all downhill from there. This is the place in the book where Herman Melville can’t decide if he’s writing a novel or a treatise on whaling. He goes off on tangents where he holds forth for several pages about subjects ranging from why the Pacific is his favorite ocean to a graphic description of the skin and blubber of the whale. You would think that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, being a carpenter, would have been interested in Melville’s long exposition about the ship’s carpenter, but how could he be when the description contained sentences like this?
“And this it was, this same unaccountable cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes ; or rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there and talking all the while to keep himself awake.”
Hey, maybe that’s why Melville soliloquized so much in the book—to keep himself awake! Unfortunately, those of us slogging through his long, excruciating soliloquies on “the honor and glory of whaling” are not so lucky. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
The action does pick up near the end when they finally encounter Moby Dick (“There she blows!”) In case you actually want to read the book, I won’t tell you what happens, but we did learn some valuable lessons. Like, sometimes it’s best to let bygones be bygones. And if the whale is bigger than your ship, maybe you should leave him be. And, well, you should probably stay off the ship in the first place if the captain’s a crazy man. Also… coffins can float! Who knew?
Anyway, I’m proud of Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. He persevered and finished that thing. I’m thinking about getting him a shirt that says, “I Survived Moby Dick.”
Which brings me to my question. A serious question, believe it or not. As you know, neither Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man nor I went to college and though we are fairly well-read, we’ve wondered if we should read more of the classics. To be honest, I feel a bit like Mark Twain when he said, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” But as an aspiring writer, I feel that there might be “classics” that I could learn from. (And I should say here that there are many learned people who consider Moby Dick a masterpiece, so maybe we just didn’t get it.)
So, I ask you, my discerning and erudite readers: What classics should we read? And, if not the classics, what books do you think would make us better writers and help make up the education we never had?
Bonus questions: Would you sleep with a cannibal? And…what would you do if a whale bit off your leg?
And finally…which would you rather do? Sleep with a cannibal, have your leg bitten off, or read Moby Dick?