<< Right Back At'cha | Moby-Dick, Chapters 10-16 >>
Moby-Dick: Chapters 5-9

Chapters read: v. Breakfast, vi. The Street, vii. The Chapel, viii. The Pulpit, ix. The Sermon

Page reached: 47 of 522 (9%)

Status report: A friend of mine once announced that he had deduced the secret to Stephen King's success.

"Short chapters, man," he told me. "Those things are like potato chips. You read one, and then you flip ahead and see how long the next one is, and you're, like, 'shoot, I can read three more pages.' And then suddenly you've finished a 900 page book."

Of course, King usually just enumerates his titles rather than give them titles; when he does employ titles, they are typically cryptic. You're willing to invest in three more pages because a chapter with a title like "34" or "Home Base" might involve a cat coming back to life or someone getting run down by a '58 Plymouth Fury.

Not so with Melville. When you see a chapter entitled "Breakfast," you know full well which meal is going to be described in detail.

Each chapter in Moby-Dick is like a door reading "Broom Closet," behind which you find a closet containing brooms. Outlandishly overwrought brooms, admittedly -- with handles carved from cherrywood and quetzal feathers as bristles -- but, still, pretty much exactly as advertised. And when you see a series of titles like "Breakfast * The Street * The Chapel * The Pulpit * The Sermon," you know the exact sequence of events that will unfold over the next five chapters, like a route plotted on a Google map. It's like Melville first outlined his book using one and two-word phrases, turned those into chapter titles, and then built upward, adding a few thousand words here and there to flesh things out.

If I were to do this all over again, I might have chosen to simply read through the Table of Contents over the course of the month.

Favorite passage: "In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers."

Words looked up:

  • Goodwin Sands ("[dead men] tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands."): "The Goodwin Sands are a 10-mile long sand bank in the English Channel ... More than 2,000 ships are believed to have been wrecked upon them."
  • Cenotaph: A monument erected in honor of a dead person whose remains lie elsewhere.
  • Canticle: A song or chant, especially a nonmetrical hymn with words taken from a biblical text other than from the Book of Psalms. Somehow I read A Canticle for Leibowitz in its entirety without knowing this.
  • Spile: A post used as a foundation; a pile.
  • Parricide: The murdering of one's father, mother, or other near relative.

New Crewmates: albiewise.

Posted on November 03, 2006 to NaNoReMo


And I've listened to Pink Floyd's Southampton Dock a mazillion times without knowing what a cenotaph is.

Posted by: ken on November 4, 2006 7:23 AM

This is the first reference I've seen to quetzals since I did a report on them in the 4th grade.

Yours was one of the first blogs I ever read regularly--I mean to say, I'm a fan, and have been--but this Moby-Dick series has me enthralled. LOVE. IT.

Posted by: Belinda on November 4, 2006 2:59 PM

Enjoy these first few chapters or about the first 100 pages because they are the most exiting in the book. After that it all goes down hill to endless pointless desripses.

Posted by: Victoria on November 4, 2006 3:18 PM

I would think that the final chapters would inherently be more exiting than the initial ones, but what do I know?

And they may be pointless, but no one used desripses like Melville. Be sure to look that one up, Matthew.

Posted by: James on November 4, 2006 3:53 PM

Keep at it, dy! At least hang in there until Chapter XCV, "The Cassock."

My first experience with the book was in high school English class, taught by a man who was perhaps obsessed with the book. I didn't acquire Joe Suter's obsession, but a good amount of admiration for the book rubbed off on me. I went back to read it again about 20 years ago.

If you're not emotionally invested in the edition you're using, you might want to consider the Norton Critical Edition. Most of those pesky vocabulary challenges are glossed in footnotes.

Posted by: David Gorsline on November 4, 2006 3:57 PM

RE: comment by James --
OMFG, James, how DO you evince that tone? Your comment made me laugh loud enough to annoy the dogs. Best ever in the short and not-quite-sweet category.

PS: Matthew, bless you for saving me from this book.

Posted by: Anonymous on November 5, 2006 9:37 AM

RE: comment by James --
OMFG, James, how DO you evince that tone? Your comment made me laugh loud enough to annoy the dogs. Best ever in the short and not-quite-sweet category.

PS: Matthew, bless you for saving me from this book.

Posted by: bc on November 5, 2006 9:38 AM

I'm joining the read along! I'm only 3 pages into it, though. I have some catching up to do! I was supposed to have read the book in college, so I have many passages underlined and commented upon in the margins, dutifully done under the command of my professor. Maybe I'll finally find out what she was talking about lo those many years ago.

Posted by: Betsy on November 5, 2006 10:41 AM

Recently I read _Moonraker_ by the Ian Fleming, and I had cause to look up "Goodwin Lightship". To save you the trouble, Goodwin Lightships are ships used as floating lighthouses in order to prevent the shipwrecks on the Goodwin Sands. They are now automated, but used to have a small handful of crew.

Last week I found that Penn Jillete (sp?) of Penn & Teller fame constantly re-reads _Atlas_Shrugged_ ... and _Moby_Dick_.

Posted by: Mister Man on November 6, 2006 10:47 AM

I think the "chick lit" equivalent to Moby Dick is Clarissa. Seriously, after I read it I burned it in triumph in the parking lot of my apartment and danced around the flames in triumph. There is approximately 1,000 pages of a young girl arguing with her family about the guy they want her to marry. I thought I would die before I finished it and I was only 20 years old.

Posted by: Anonymous on November 6, 2006 7:52 PM

I'm totally using that quote as a tag over my avatar. What should my avatar be now though to go with the quote? I was thinking 'vulture'.

Posted by: ozma on November 7, 2006 1:03 PM