Sure, it's "the great American novel," but who actually reads the damn thing? Well, I did. They made me read it. I didn't wanna do it. But in my junior year of college, I took a class on pre-Civil War American literature, taught by Jane Benardete, who worked through the first 75 years of the Republic before midterms and devoted the whole second half of the class to Melville's epic. So, here's what stuck:
The first 100 pages are actually pretty good--before the Pequod sets sail--as are the last 50, which comprise the final battle with the white whale. Those 700 pages in between, though, will kill you.
Call me Ishmael. (Note: Do NOT insert a comma, or the sentence becomes a desperate plea from a needy lover.)
Queequeg the harpooner, a heavily tattooed Polynesian sort. (Also the namesake of Scully's Pomeranian in "The X-Files.")
The aforementioned Professor Benardete distributed to the class a list of about five chapters, of which students had to choose one to do a close reading. I chose "The Cabin Table," so I remember about as much of that chapter as I do of the whole rest of the novel. Basically, the chapter juxtaposes the mealtime activities among the common folk (the harpooners and common sailors) with those of the members of the ruling elite (Ahab, Starbuck, and the other officers). In a nutshell, the common folk have a lot more fun. The chapter may be read as Melville's commentary on the superiority of the democratic lifestyle to that of the aristocracy--all part of the author's attempt to celebrate the more egalitarian spirit of the new American Republic as compared to the hidebound rituals of the old ruling class. Or something like that.
Rather a lot about ice and the color white.
Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay of the Gregory Peck film version--but I guess that's not really relevant to the topic under discussion here.
Oh, yeah, and the whale wins.
Love Means Never Having to Remember
Like many people, I love books. And like many people who love books, I am almost never able to remember much of anything about the books I read. This blog features my own impressionistic non-synopses of books I've read at various points in time. If you would like to fill in additional details, please do so in the comment section. And if you'd like to contribute your OWN "Everything I Remember About. . . ," shoot it to me in an e-mail. I'd love to hear from you.