Right Back At’cha

In The News:

Encouraging audience participation from thousands of Republican loyalists at a rally, Bush said Democrats should be asked, "What's your plan?" for winning in Iraq and a host of other national security issues separating the parties.

"What's your plan?" the audience yelled back.

As well they should.

Come Aboard!

The crew of the S. S. Melville continues to swell: so far my in-real-life buddy John, as well as a number of LiveJournalists, have agreed to join me in my quixotic quest to get this novel under my belt by November 31st. (Only 30 days in November? My scheduled is fuxx0red!)

In the Day One thread, Debra writes “Wish I’d known this sooner as it would be fun to read and blog along with someone on the same book.” Ah, but peoples: this is why I am providing links to each chapter as I go. Read along in comfort of your own cubicle in lieu of work — at least until you can get to your local thrift store and pick up one of their 30 copies.

If you start late or don’t keep pace, you can still read these posts in order as you go, whenever that might be. But it would be more fun, obviously, to have you up-to-date and contributing to the conversation in the daily thread..

If you’re joining the crew, drop me an email or mention it in the thread of this post.

Moby-Dick: Chapters 2-4

Possible Pitfalls Of Liveblogging The Reading Of Moby-Dick

  1. Some graduate of Teh Intarweb School O’ Comedy might send you a one line email, ruining the ending of the book for you.

Well, hell.

I suppose I could switch to another book, it’s only Day Two. But, if I did, I’d have to keep it to prevent a reoccurrence of this kind of asshattery. So most of my entries would read like this:

Got to page 144 today. The chapter where the guy did the thing really moved me, though I frankly found it pretty unbelievable that those two people would run into each other in that building, considering how they had already met during that big event and then again at that place near the other place.

And so, we persevere.

Chapters read: ii. The Carpet-Bag, iii. The Spouter Inn, iv. The Counterpane

Page reached: 28 of 522 (5.36%)

Status report: Here’s why I will never produce a Great American Novel. If I were to have my narrator stay the night at a inn, I would write:

And so he checked into a local hotel, spending most of the evening watching softcore porn on HBO2.

Melville, though — this guy acts like his paper is ablaze and he’s trying to quench the flames with ink.

Chapter two has Ishmael ambling around town, looking for a place to stay. And one point he stops in front of an inn, and Melville devotes a few paragraphs to describing it, before the Ishmael wanders off. Some of my precious, few remaining brain cells now contain the description of an inn I strongly suspect will play no further role in this story.

Chapters three and four cover Ishmael’s night at the “Spouter Inn,” where he winds up sharing a bed with a savage named Queequeg. The name Queequeg seems vaguely familiar to me, so presumably he’s a major character and not just some one-night stand.

One thing that several people remarked upon in yesterday’s thread was the abudant humor in the book, which some people manage to overlook, apparently. Chapter three is ripe with it: the interaction between Ishmael and Queequeg boarders on farce. One thing I was worried about, going into this, was that this book about the sea would be thoroughly dry. My concerns appear to be unfounded.

Despite Melville’s volubility, I am enjoying this so far.

Words looked up:

  • Grapnels: A small anchor with three or more flukes, especially one used for anchoring a small vessel.
  • Settle (“I sat down on an old wooden settle”): A long wooden bench with a high back, often including storage space beneath the seat.
  • Tar (“At one end a ruminating tar was still further adorning it with his jack-knife”): A sailor.
  • Catarrhs: Inflammation of mucous membranes, especially of the nose and throat. Ah, delightful.
  • Fain (“We were fain to button up our monkey jackets [due to the cold]”): Constrained; obliged
  • Farrago: A confused mixture; hodgepodge; medley. Oo, that’s a good ‘un.

Moby-Dick: Preamble and Chapter 1

Chapters read: Etymology, Extracts, i. Loomings

Page reached: 6 of 552 (1.15% compelte)

Status report: Page six?! Jesus, what a rip-off. I read fourteen pages of preamble and get no credit for it whatsoever.

Actually, to be honest, I kinda skipped around the “Extracts” part, skimmed here and there. Yes, I was cutting corners even before I got to page one, but come on. I feel like Joanne from “Office Space”:

You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?

Right. Exactly. And you know what, Melville? If you want me to read a dozen pages of whale descriptions, why don’t you just include it in the book proper, give those pages nice American numbers like “4” and “11,” instead of this roman numeral crap. According to my calculus, x = optional.

And, anyway: I have the benefit of a quality, late 20th-century public school education, so I already knew what a whale was before I even opened your tome, thank you very much.

In chapter one, the narrator (a guy I like to call “Ishmael”) goes on an on about how every man, woman, child, and housecat feels the inexorable call of the sea:

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?

Already I feel like I’m on a date with someone who does not share my interests. Yes, I have felt vibrations while sailing on ships, but they were more gastrointestinal than mystical. And I’ve never felt crazy to go to sea. Me, I’m a big fan of land, the sort of terrain you can ride a bike across and build a bagel store on. If empathizing with the narrator’s hydrophilia is a prerequisite for enjoying this book, I may be in trouble.

Favorite passage: “The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

Words looked up:

  • Mole (As in “downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves …”): A massive, usually stone wall constructed in the sea, used as a breakwater and built to enclose or protect an anchorage or a harbor.
  • Decoction: An extract obtained from a body by boiling it down.
  • Orchard thieves (Melville refers to having to pay for things as “the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.”): I have no idea what this alludes to. Update: D’oh! I am dumb. I (repeatedly) misread this as “orchid thieves,” no doubt because I recently read the book of the same name. Yes, the meaning of “orchard thieves” is clear.

Moby Dick Liar

The following is an encore performance of this entry, which was first posted to dy on July 30, 2003.

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. 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?