Friday, November 18, 2016

Moby Dick

Today I'm going to write about Moby Dick, a book I have never read.  Hmmm, you're thinking: she's going to use 350 words on a book she's never read?  Listen, Bruce Springsteen wrote thousands of songs on subjects about which he knows NOTHING.  Has he worked in a factory?  He has not. Been a member of a union?  Nope.  Tried to be a gangster? Absolutely not.  So anyway, what I know about Moby Dick is roughly this:
--it's a novel about a man obsessed with killing a very specific whale he has named Moby Dick;
--it may have inspired Robert Benchley to write Jaws;
--the first line, "Call me Ishmael"--why? What's your real name?  Are you writing under a pseudonym because you fear repercussions?  Or is your real name unpronouceable?  Is this like when you meet a foreigner and they tell you to call them Joe, and you're like, "Come on, I'm not a total youb, what's your real name?" and they rattle off some 4 syllable word that involves vowels we don't even have in English, and you're like, "Okay!  Joe it is."
--it has a character named Queequeg, which was not a common Colonial name;
--it may or may not have a peg-legged character, or a character named Peleg, which was a common Colonial name for men (why?  what does it mean? was it Biblical?  I don't think so; many odd Colonial names were, but there are an equal number of off Colonial names that weren't.  Odd Colonial Names may be a future post).
   So you can see I am reasonably ignorant of Moby Dick.  It's had a popularity resurgence recently.  Various celebrities have recorded themselves reading chapters online and towns have staged 24 hour readings.  All of which Melville himself would find amazing, since his work was not particularly appreciated at the time. His buddy Nathaniel Hawthorne was more popular, writing the 19th century equivalent of chick-lit.
     I have a bunch of friends listening to Tilda Swinton read from the book, and I've absorbed references to it over the years; after all, there are restaurants and X Files characters named Queequeg.  Fairly recently an illustrated volume was released.  I thought about reading it then, but now I'm considering listening to Tilda Swinton instead.  I suppose I should find out why this book has endured--and more to the point, why people are newly revisiting it.  I think they must be finding some modern relevance in it.

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