Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Whale Of A Confession


I was going to blame all of this on Eva because she brought it all to the front of my mind again, but really, I can't fault her for things that started before she was born.

In the summer of 1985, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, I was going to graduate. Filled with hopeful joy (joyous hope?) I signed up for two upper-level English classes: "The American Renaissance" (Emerson, Hawthorne and Melville) and "Seminar: Jane Austen" (all 6 of Austen's novels, including the juvenalia and her uncompleted work).
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Before the 8 weeks was up, I had severe eyestrain, a perpetual headache and for the first time in my life, I hoped never to read so much as a recipe or the back of a cereal box for as long as I lived.

Luckily, I had a few weeks to get my mind right before the fall semester started and I would be taking a once-a-week night class called "The American Novel". The class was a decade-by-decade look at some of the greatest hits in American Literature. The professor presented us with our reading list on the first evening. My eye fell on the first two items with dismay:

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick

Aaaarrrgh! I was stuffed to the gills with those two! Luckily, I had read The House of the Seven Gables in the "American Renaissance" class. Moby-Dick was a different matter. We'd read (and read and read!) practically everything by Melville in that same class -- Typee, Billy Budd, The Confidence-Man and the one I hated most of all: Pierre -- but no Moby-Dick.

No way. No more. I decided that I would read all of the other books on the list with great care and attention, but not Moby-Dick. I was still pissed at Melville for Pierre. If readers could break up with writers, then we were quits. Splitsville. In the end, I bought the Cliff Notes for Moby-Dick and watched the 1956 John Huston movie with Gregory Peck as Ahab and that was as far as I was willing to go for Melville.
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Until now.

I still cringe at the thought of Pierre and since there's a copy of it in my library, I have the opportunity to cringe before that as well, but all distasteful cringing aside -- Hermie, I'm not angry anymore! I haven't been in some time. When I read last month
that Eva was reading Moby-Dick, I resolved that now was the time to kiss and make up with Melville.
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2010 will be my year to rectify a literary wrong and read this 1851 classic. Eager to strike while the resolution was hot, I found a copy last weekend at What The Book? and it's up next in my reading queue.
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How strange...I almost typed Queequeg instead of queue.

11 comments:

Eva said...

I hope you enjoy Moby Dick! Otherwise I'm going to feel really bad, lol. I read House of Seven Gables last winter (I listened to it on audio actually), and I was surprised by how much I liked it. :) Still, in a choice between British and American classics, I come down heavily on the British side!

And I have TOTALLY broken up with authors before!!!

Jenny said...

How was Confidence Man? I've been wanting to read it but been nervous because of how much I hated Moby Dick. TWICE at university I had to read that book. I loved "Bartleby the Scrivener" though and just can't decide which represents the true Melville.

Bybee said...

Eva,
Just started the book...I noticed that Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne.

Jenny,
I remember liking The Confidence-Man. It takes place on a riverboat, I think, which represents the world and if I remember correctly, the CM is supposed to be Satan.

infogoddess said...

I'm not sure if you are an NPR fan or not but on Studio 360 they recently did a show dealing with Moby Dick http://studio360.org/americanicons/episodes/2006/08/18

Kathleen said...

Good luck with Moby Dick. I've always shied away from reading it...I was probably intimidated more than anything else! Eva's review got me thinking I might give it a try also! I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

Autodidact101 said...

I've tried to read Moby Dick twice. It starts out so well and then your eyes start to roll back in your head and you want to die. You've seen my insanely long reading list- of all of Susan Wise Bauer's reading suggestions and Clifton Fadiman's the only two I left off my list is Moby Dick and Adolf Hitler's Mien Kampf.
But hey, maybe you'll like it, some people do. It's good to try things and make up your own mind.

Bybee said...

Infogoddess,
Thanks so much for the link!

Kathleen,
I know that it can't be worse than Pierre. Last night, I was looking at some articles about Pierre, and this book was Melville's way of flipping the bird at the reading public. So he flipped me off, eh? Well, I was right to break up with him and sulk for almost 25 years!

Autodidact,
I'm hoping for the best; I truly am.

Stacey said...

Oh, I'm impressed. I was once assigned to read excerpts and thought it might kill me.

Then I read "Ahab's Wife" by Sena Jeter Naslund and loved it... and wondered if maybe "Moby Dick" wasn't so bad after all.

I'll let you take the plunge for the rest of us, though. :)

Watching from the shore --

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

You are so brave, LOL. But I completely understand your need to do this...I've got several books that fall into this category for me and I fully intend to rectify the problem this year. :)

Care said...

I picked up a map of Melville's New Bedford yesterday in honor of my possible attempt at Moby Dick. Tying books to personal places I can visit sometimes will reel me in. Best to both of us on this! I just had too many books to cram in by the end of the year to be willing to do this latest readalong. but it would be (and I'm loving all the ongoing posts on MB) to read this way.

SFP said...

I read Moby Dick in high school. I remember I was the first (and one of the few) to finish because I had such an awful head cold I wasn't able to take advantage of several glorious snow days we had and had nothing better to do. Truth was, I liked it, and read it again with my son three or four years back. He still seethes about it, although it's his own fault because I was certainly okay with him skipping a lot of the chapters.

My theory is if the chapters on Ahab's obsession with one particular whale were separated from Ishmael's obession with anything to do with whales were separated, and people were left to read the whale essays nights when they were having difficulty sleeping, not as many people would hate the book.

One of these days I want to read The Confidence-Man. I have a feeling it would tie in with my obsession with AS&J.

The book I've never been able to read is House of the Seven Gables. I tried, decided the first day the old woman opened the store was never going to end, and returned it to the library unfinished.