Classic literature review: Moby Dick

I just finished reading Moby Dick. Wow! What a great story! I can’t believe how big that whale was. And so white! That’s pretty crazy. I’ve seen whales a few times, but they were all very dark gray. The whale from Free Willy had white spots, but it was mostly black, definitely not what anyone would call a white whale. The book was awesome, but I kept wondering why the crew never tried to go inside the whale. It seemed like an obvious solution. They could have cut down on the majority of those repetitive chase scenes. Once they made it inside, and the whale started its dive, they would be in the perfect position for a pursuit. And maybe they could have found Ahab’s leg while they were in there.

People had warned me all about how challenging it is to read Moby Dick, but I didn’t really understand the difficulty. Well, there was this one chapter I had to reread a few times because I mistakenly thought the whale had taken over as narrator. Although after realizing my error, I was surprised Melville hadn’t even attempted to write at least something from the whale’s point of view. I mean, this guy’s a writer, right? Where’s the imagination?

OK, I’ll be real. I’ve never read Moby Dick. But there is this guy at work who spent like eight months reading it. I felt like I read it vicariously through him. Every day I had to see him walking in with this ridiculously oversized book. It didn’t even fit inside his bag. At first I thought it was just a joke, some sort of a prop. Maybe he planned on hurling it at would-be attackers on the train. But week after week he would walk into the restaurant and plop down his novel while I’d be forced to take note of his white whale-shaped bookmark, swimming slowly but surely towards the end.

At first I mocked him silently in my head. “Ha!” I thought to myself, “That guy isn’t going to make it through the first chapter.” I imagined him carrying it around to appear a little more interesting, a little bit more sophisticated than everyone else. What a jerk. But he didn’t give up. Then I thought he was just taunting me. Every day, I thought, he might just move the bookmark just a little bit ahead, just to show how much smarter than me he thinks he is. But then he started having these really deep, really interesting sounding Moby Dick conversations with the ice cream scooper. I started to worry that he might actually be reading the book.

The whole idea of actually reading it is completely ridiculous. I always thought it to be some sort of a big national joke. Like every other high school junior in America, I was assigned to read Moby Dick. We spent maybe a day or two taking turns going around the room reading passages completely devoid of context that did absolutely nothing to capture anybody’s attention. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure only select chapters were required reading, not even the whole book. I’d even bet good money that our teacher had never so much as cracked it open outside of his own classroom. We had a stupid quiz at the end of the week, but it didn’t matter, because we had quizzes every week, and the lowest two or three quizzes of the trimester would always get dropped. For the final exam, the teacher just repeated the same questions from the quiz, so it was just a matter of looking up the answers to get right a very small fraction of a very stupid test to get a couple of nonsense multiple choices correct which, by the way, even if I didn’t put in any of that effort, I still had a one in four chance of getting right.

The closer my coworker got to the end, the more infuriated I would become every time I even so much as thought about his face, buried inside of his precious book, his eyebrows furrowed in such a way as to show everyone just how pensive he is, just how well-rounded this amateur English professor is, scratching his chin in mock confusion, but only for a brief moment, before he lifts a finger subtly in the air and opens his mouth slightly, as if to say, “Ohhhh, I get that part,” then giving himself a small smile of satisfaction, nodding almost imperceptibly once or twice before taking that finger out of the air and bringing it to his lips, where he wets the tip and uses his moistened digit to very slowly turn the page over, starting the whole maddeningly impossible process all over again.

I hate Moby Dick. I wish I could read it, but I know that the task would be so daunting, so hopelessly huge that it would consume me, it would drive me mad. I’d lose my job. My family would abandon me. I’d wind up on the streets. But still I would press on, reading every word slower and slower until the book would ultimately devour everything that I am. I don’t want that kind of a life.

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