Why Read Moby Dick?

Back in High School they held us down and forced Melville’s prose into our rebellious brains and we hated it. Later in college I actually picked up The Great White Whale on my own and read it one summer at the beach in between the earlier William Golding novels with the lurid covers. I liked it and considered Moby Dick an excellent exercise in converting well crafted prose into opportunities for literary analysis.

That was many years ago and I have read the novel, I believe, two more times, once with an online reading group. Like so many classics, each reading seems richer and more rewarding (this doesn’t apply to Jane Eyre which is the same every time you read it).

Why Read Moby-Dick?

I was surprised and interested when the New York Times included a review of a new book called Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. I certainly intend to read this one and suspect that a few other readers might also be interested. For those that have not as yet read Melville, you might be surprised at how readable he actually is (some of his earlier works like Typee are actually considered Juvenile Fiction so how hard can he be?).

So put Herman Melville on you near-future reading list and don’t forget Moby Dick.

2 thoughts on “Why Read Moby Dick?

  1. I don’t think I agree with you from a literary point of view but I understand how the gender thing might hold for more popular readers.

    They forced us to read Moby Dick in High School and for the most part I hated it, although the classroom discussions about fate and the like made it almost interesting. I’ve read the novel two more times since then, the last being with a Yahoo reading group. Now I find that all the details of ships and whaling are somewhat comforting. I think they create eddies in the narrative that allow the reader to slow down and take in some knowledge before once again setting forth in the chase boat after their destiny.

    One thing I became aware of, especially in some of Melville’s other, less daunting works, is that Melville is a good writer and his prose is easy to read, despite its age. Sometimes school teachers place unwarranted obstacles in the minds of the students and it’s a shame to hear about kids that are literally afraid of reading such a tough old bird as Herman Melville.


  2. Moby Dick is very much a man’s book with limited appeal for women (the male equivalent of Jane Austen, I guess). That said, I read Moby Dick a few years back and I quite enjoyed it. But that’s because I generally love adventure stories and tales of the sea.

    Thanks for the link to the essay. Really enjoyed reading it.


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