Read Moby Dick

David Sedaris says he read Moby Dick. The liar. Well, I assume he’s lying, because (a) he’s a humorist (i.e., professional liar) and (b) it’s well known that 71% of all Moby-Dick-reading claims are lies. But Sedaris provides a fairly believable account of how he managed to pull it off, so, I dunno — maybe he did read it. It’s possible, I guess.

In any case, even if he tried he probably got further into the book than I did. Earlier this year I, too, decided that, at long last, I would tackle Moby Dick. So I checked it out from the library, brought it home, and then assiduously ignored it for a few weeks while I read Nero Wolfe mysteries and graphic novels. Finally, one evening, I decided to bite the literary bullet. As I lay in bed before turning off the light, I picked up the well-worn volume, turned to Chapter One (“Loomings”), and prepared to fulfill a lifelong goal of mine.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me …

Wait, what? Driving off the spleen? Whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me?

Unnerved, I pressed on.

… whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

I put the book back on my bedside table, turned to The Queen, and said “Hey, just FYI: I am not going to read Moby Dick. Like, never, in my entire life.”

The Queen gave me the briefest of glances, shrugged, and went back to reading her own book. This is why I married her.

I enjoy crossing things off my “To-Do In This Life” list, and I’ve been x-ing out a lot of them in the last couple years. Not accomplishing things and then crossing them off, oh no; just attempting (or mentally reevaluating) them and then announcing “Yeah, that’s not happening.” Like, I always wanted to run a marathon. And, point in fact, I’m sure I could do the Seattle Marathon in November if I wanted to. But I recently ran a half marathon and, oh brother, whatta freakin’ drag. By mile 8 I was totally bored. By mile 10 I was wishing I’d brought a magazine. The idea of running 13.1 miles twice — hell, if I wanted that kind of excitement I’d buckle down and read Moby Dick. Which I could also do. If I wanted to. Which I don’t.

Ten years ago, if you asked me if I had read Ulysses, I probably would have just scoffed “of course” or hedged with an “I’ve been too busy reading Milan Kundera” or whatever. Now, at the age of 32, I not only lack the initiative to read boring classics or run marathons, I don’t even feel the urge to lie about it any more. “Never read Ulysses and never will,” I’m likely to say today. “I got shitfaced in an Irish bar once, and I figure that’s close enough.”

Some people might say that lowering your standards is no way to meet your life goals. But those people are a bunch of 20-something Moby Dick liars, so, seriously: who cares what they think?

56 thoughts on “Read Moby Dick

  1. Forget about finding symbols or whatever in Moby Dick and just enjoy it as a funny book. There will not be a dumb test at the end.

    Once you’ve gotten farther into the book with the right attitude, I think you’ll come to find phrases like “whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses…” more humorous than serious.

  2. I’ve never read Moby Dick or Ulysses, but I have (at least once) gotten two-thirds of the way through Joyce’s Finnegans Wake before zoning out and waking up with a serious headache from trying to figure out all the English/Gaelic/pure gibberish or whatever. Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth is probably more fun, in either language…

    Incidentally, my Mom had to read Moby Dick in high school, and it bored her senseless.

  3. I never thought to read Moby Dick; its reputation is poor and who needs to plough through an overwrought 400-page of absurd symbols? But the first paragraph you posted sounds fascinating. I shall try to read it forthwith.

  4. Has anyone gotten through Vanity Fair? The only book in my English degree I simply could not read.
    (I never had to read Moby Dick – heh)

  5. heh try Sons and Lovers by D H Laurence.

    the book is about a young bloke getting laid, and when he finally does he moves on. Not only did i not realise what it was about, i didnt understand when he got laid, even after the teacher pointer out the text that stated (?) he did. I read that bit 15 times and thought it was about a tree. Serious insanity.

  6. I did not read the book yet I watched the movie. i thought it was a great piece of lit. showing symblosim. Not only does the whale symbolize death in it self it shows one mans will to conqur death. Although he fails at it. It reminds us again that we have a higher power who we must look up to and not think we are better than him!

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