Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review of the Day: Moby Dick

Moby Dick is one of those classics that I never got around to reading. So, while I am on a 19th Century lit jag, I picked up the audio version from the library.

(Melville-like aside: I prefer audio books for older literature because I find them easier to follow. Someone else has parsed the dense, long paragraphs and figured out the proper phrasing, the use of different voices for the characters make them more engaging, and the books are just more lively. To me, it is the same as the difference between trying to read a Shakespeare play -- difficult -- and watching one performed -- enjoyable.)

I was worried that Moby Dick would be really boring, but I loved it. I thought the search for the whale would be slow, but it was a lively high seas adventure. I thought the deeper, allegorical themes would be heavy handed, but it was not so bad. There is definitely a lot there -- I can understand how scholars could spend careers (or at least graduate programs) analyzing the details -- but it was not a chore to read. It moved right along and there were funny parts.

What surprised me the most was how Melville played with the book. He used several "tricks" that were almost post-modern, such as inserting theater directions and actors' dialog; having Captain Ahab and others make Hamlet-like soliloquies; talking to the reader about his writing ("This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!"), and taking breaks from the story to insert his research notes about whale science, history, religion, and other background topics. I was not expecting such deviation from a straightforward tale and it really made the book interesting.

I wish I had not waited so long to read what is now a favorite.>


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


  1. I never really understood why people like listening to some books better than reading them, until you made that comparison to Shakespeare plays. While I do like reading Shakespeare now and then, seeing a theater production is much more enjoyable.

  2. Yes, audiobooks some times are better. I like explanation as to why!

    I read this book in college and likewise didn't mind the background chapters about whales, even though our teacher told us we could skip them (can you believe that?). I look forward to reading it again, probably next year.

  3. Always nice to discover the classics are classics for a good reason!

    Now I am intrigued with audiobooks. After a bad experience years ago, I have avoided them, but will try again based on your reasoning. Thanks!

  4. Skip the background chapters!? It's those chapters that make the book such a crazy mixed up smorgasbord. They really bring the reader inside the mind of Victorian-era whalers with their obsession on science, exploration, religion, and, yes, whales. Without them, all you have is a pretty good (although depressing) adventure story and some heavy-handed allegory.

    And I am definitely a proponent of audiobooks now that I got an iPod and can download several books to it at a time. I like being able to "read" while I drive, do the laundry, etc.


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