::Literate Blather::
Monday, April 16, 2007
Reading Moby-Dick: Part Four
Chapter Four: World Traveler

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

- Jonah

It has been an uphill battle to finish this monstrous book. I’ve been neck-deep in whale lore for more than a month now and it has come close to drowning me.

My edition of “Moby-Dick” is as battered as a paperback can get. Dinged, dented, creased, and folded over. It’s lived inside my briefcase and computer bag for weeks and joined me on a couple of business trips and on a sub-tropical vacation.

The first trip was to London. I read a good chunk of the first 100 pages on the British Airways overnight flight from Logan to Heathrow. I remember the hum of the jet engines and the dim compartment lighting the color of whale oil. All around me most of my fellow passengers had fallen into that semi-sleep, partial-coma of airline slumber.

I read about Nantucket clam chowder.

From London, I flew on to Tripoli, Libya. I wondered if I owned the only copy of “Moby-Dick” in the country. Was that possible? I didn’t get to read much in Libya – only patches of chapters. Most of the time while ensconced in my hotel room with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

It seemed an apt setting for the topic of quarter decks on whaling vessels.

I read another whale-sized chunk returning to Boston; again in the silky yellow glow of the airline cabin. But I was exhausted from my work and spent more time watching movies “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Rocky Balboa.”

But I did learn about the Specksynder – which means “chief harpooner.”

Next was a business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I packed the novel poorly and it ended up with a creased down the back cover – nearly in half. I barely made any inroads on this trip. It was a quick 24-hour jaunt with stretches of long, soul-slaying meetings.

But I did get to experience the Pequod’s first kill as the second mate, Stubb, harpooned a Sperm whale. Except for the first 30 pages, it was the best part of “Moby-Dick” so far in the novel. When Melville focuses on the “story” of “Moby-Dick” his prose is wonderfully rendered. The words sing.

Then it was off on a week-long vacation to Naples, Florida. It was a hot and humid week and the book took major structural damage. One night, I left in on the balcony and the pages warped and folded in the damp air. The pages expanded and made an already enormous volume that much larger (and heavier).

But I made a major dent in the book. I ate up a lot of the story and also hit the most difficult and irritating part (which made the mind-numbingly boring “Cetology” chapter seem refreshing and breezy).

Chapters like “The Fountain” (all about the whale’s spout) and “The Tail” (yes, it’s an entire section on a whale’s tail) were bone-jarringly technical and contained more detail about whaling and whales than anyone in his right mind would want. I nearly tossed the book into the swimming pool.

But I got muddled through it.

It has taken me much longer than I had hoped to get this far along in “Moby-Dick” and despite strong urges to put it down or burn it or start something new (I’ve got a stack of new books on my shelf calling my name), I’ve been doggedly determined not to let Melville beat me this time.

I keep telling myself that the third time will be the charm. So I’m going to finish – even if I have to harpoon myself. The good news is that I see the end now. And the chapters about boiling whale meat and the critical review of what kind of whale may have actually swallowed Jonah appear to be behind me.

Soon Ahab and Moby-Dick will meet.

I’m eagerly awaiting that encounter and praying it lives up to Melville’s frustrating and hyper-detailed build up.

Progress to date: Page 530 of 655.

Reading Moby-Dick: Part Three

Reading Moby-Dick: Part Two

Reading Moby-Dick: Part One

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