My Year With Moby Dick

My Year With Moby Dick 

In 2017 I, along with my children, began to read the American classic tome, Moby Dick. This book has taken up real estate on my shelf for almost a decade. It's been on my to-read list for even longer. I read In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick in 2016 and watched the movie based on said book as well. When I read that the events that took place In the Heart of the Sea inspired Melville to write his masterpiece,  it spurred me on to finally read it.

Since I had just the one copy of Moby Dick, I downloaded a digital copy for my kids to read on their Kindles. Moby Dick is available in the public domain so this cost me nothing but the time it took to download it. I also decided that maybe listening to it as an audiobook would be a good addition to our little book club. I checked out, and they had many options that are probably really fantastic, but I decided to go in a different direction.

Through my online search for an audiobook I came across Moby Dick Big Read (MDBR). MDBR is a "not-for-profit" venture. It's free to listen to and if you feel moved to do so, you can donate to the  Whale and Dolphin Conservation,  "the international charity which works for the welfare of the animals about which Herman Melville wrote so eloquently, and so movingly." The book is narrated by the familiar voices of Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, Nathaniel Philbrick, Benedict Cumberbatch, plus many more. Each chapter is narrated by a different person. Some narrators do a phenomenal job, while others were just okay.

So once the decision was made on which audio version we'd use, we jumped in. Our reading schedule varied. We read for about thirty minutes a day. However, sometimes school schedules and work schedules and after school activities got in the way. Not to mention we took about a seven-week break during the summer. Finally finishing just before school got out this year. I'm not going to lie to you, sometimes it was just plain hard to read Moby Dick. For all of us. Sometimes it was boring. And it took a little bit of time to get used to Melville's writing style, and yes, some of the vocabulary, phrases,  and jokes went over the kids' heads. Sidebar: One reason I like the Kindle is that if you come across a word you're unfamiliar with, you just touch the word and the definition appears.

About 90% of Moby Dick is the whale in all its glorious splendor. From the anatomy to how they get
the oil. It reads more like a textbook than a work of fiction. Maybe Melville should have titled this book: An Ode to the Whale. Whales are really amazing. I don't wonder at his characters marveling at the creatures, but at times Melville seemed a little long-winded in his descriptions.

So the remaining 10% is the more exciting parts of the book. We meet Ishmael, who is bored with his life so he decides to go to sea. He meets a South Sea Islander and harpooner named Queequeg and they become bffs. They sign up on the Pequod on a three year expedition to hunt sperm whales. You meet the other crew members, who are peculiar in their own ways. Meanwhile, this whole time whispers are going around about the strange Captain Ahab. Usual rumors are over-exaggerated, but in Ahab's case, I think they were under-exaggerated. Because Ahab is off his rocker. And the crew recognizes it as well.

So the Pequod takes off on its journey. Once they're out to sea, Ahab basically tells them that while they may gets some sperm whales in the progress, they're only real goal is killing Moby Dick. The whale that took his leg. Ahab's done nothing but fantasize about his revenge for some time. At first the crew is like, "Wait! What?" But then Ahab offers them money and they consent to his crazy plan.

The Pequod travels far and wide. They meet other whaling ships, trade stories, go through storms, equipment breaks down, etc. Weird stuff happens. Many WTF moments. Ahab makes a 'special' harpoon. Coffins are built. And eventually I began to wonder if they were ever going to find Moby. Then it happens. Moby is spotted and chaos ensues. And I have to say, for me, the end was fitting. I couldn't imagine it ending in any other way. I will also include there is racism in this novel. I found this to be a great teachable moment for the kids. But there were some things we didn't go over, like wearing the whale penis as a raincoat. Yeah, I didn't know how to explain that one . . .

My youngest wasn't a fan of the book, but my oldest was okay with it. I'm not sure if I'll ever re-read Moby Dick, but I'll never say never. I can understand why it's considered an American classic. It has its faults, but it also has humor, gore, revenge, symbolism, and much much more.

Now that I'm finished with Moby Dick I might venture to read more of Melville's work. I've read Bartleby the Scrivener many years ago. So which book should I choose next?