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Moby-Dick, Chapters 17-22

Chapters read: xvii. The Ramadan, xviii. His Mark, xix. The Prophet, xx. All Astir, xxi. Going Aboard, xxii. Merry Christmas

Page reached: 101 of 522 (19.34%)

Status Report: You know, despite all my grousing (though, given the setting of the novel, "carping" might be a more appropriate term), I am enjoying the book so far. It is not what I expected at all. I was bracing myself for 500 pages of turgid, byzantine prose, so steeped in symbolism that the plot was little more than a hook onto which the author could hang pages upon pages of religious allegory. In truth, Moby-Dick is, first a foremost, a fairly straightforward adventure yarn, a classic tale of "Boy Meets Whale, Boy Loses Whale (and Leg), Boy Goes in Search of Whale" story.

As for Melville's logorrhea ... well, I'll tell you a secret. I like long-winded authors. One of my favorite contemporary writers is John Irving, famous for his ability to bury a 100 page story in 400 page book. And the novel I've most enjoyed in the last few years was House of Leaves, a book which, like Dick, has more asides, tangents, and digressions than actual narrative.

The atomic story unit in Moby Dick, I've discovered, is about twenty pages; that is, some major event that advances the plot happens about once every score of pages. I'm now on page 100, and I'd say about five things have really transpired: we met Ishmael, Ishmael met Queequeg, the two traveled to Nantucket, they signed papers to serve on the Pequod, and the Pequod set sail (at last, in the final line of chapter 22).

This works out great for me, as I reading the book in twenty-page chunks -- 20 x 30 days = 600 pages, which means can take four days off and still finish it before December. So, really, it's like tackling a chapter a day. And each evening, as I tuck into the novel, I feel like I am reading the next installment of a serialized adventure story found in the back of Boys Life magazine.

Words looked up::

  • Investing ("... a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck): To clothe; adorn. To cover completely; envelop.
  • Confluent: flowing or running together; blending into one

Posted on November 06, 2006 to NaNoReMo


I must say I'm really enjoying this idea. So much so, that when I dropped out of NaNoWriMo (damn law school and its monopoly on my time) I decided to try and finish my own "Moby Dick": The Brothers Karamazov. I think it's a suitable spiritual sister to reading Melville; a bit steeper on the wordcount, though.

To good blogging!

Posted by: Initial R on November 7, 2006 5:18 AM

For cripes sake, write something funny soon. The idea of experiencing Moby Dick secondhand for the entire month is driving me to drink.

Oh and let's hope we run Rick Santorum out of office tonight in PA.

Posted by: Shawn on November 7, 2006 5:27 AM

I bought House of Leaves on your recommendation, because I had so enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife. I wish I had known this deep dark secret of yours before purchasing HOL. For God's Sake, there's so many asides, I actually forgot what the book was about. It now sits sadly in my living room under a layer of dust.

Posted by: MelissaInAz on November 7, 2006 7:00 AM

I found you via 50 Books and am enjoying following the Moby Dick experience so far. It has made me kick myself for getting rid of my copy at the end of the summer. I had pretty much given up on it in exactly the same way you did but now I'm wishing I had kept it a little longer.

I've enjoyed your archives so far too, but your comment about John Irving in today's post has won me over completely :) He is one of my all-time favourite authors as well. Not only is he extremely talented at burying a 100 page story in a 400 page novel but also at burying what is essentially the SAME story in multiple novels and selling it as something new each time (though this is mostly true of his pre-Owen Meany novels).

Anyway, that was my longwinded way of saying I'm enjoying your writing and looking forward to reading more!

Posted by: RocketGirl on November 7, 2006 8:01 AM

Don't you love when randoms criticize the humor level on your blog (for which you receive no compensation of any kind)? Start your own website, dude... I'm sure it will be a SCREAM.

I think this series has been hilarious and it's a great idea. Keep it up.


Posted by: rich on November 7, 2006 8:42 AM

I started HOL and got about a third of the way through it. I was enjoying the story about the house and was tolerating the story about Truant and Zampanoís manuscript. However, when the author started really playing with the page layout, I couldnít take it. Iíve been meaning to give it another shot, but perhaps Iím just too stodgy for this book.

BTW, Iíve started reading MD again, thanks to you, and Iím just a few chapters behind. Youíre vocabulary lessons prior have been particularly helpful.

Posted by: Rob on November 7, 2006 8:54 AM

You're approaching one of my favorite chapters, "The Lee Shore". It's a short one, but a good one.

Posted by: J.D. on November 7, 2006 1:07 PM

I too am fighting through an epic tome, my nemesis being M. Proust. For a very funny short commentary on huge books, read Russell Baker's piece on "Crawling up Everest". We could all use a reading Sherpa once in a while.


Posted by: Matt on November 7, 2006 3:09 PM

MCLars - Ahab (3:20)

Posted by: :D on November 7, 2006 4:10 PM

How can you possibly compare House of Leaves to Moby Dick? I understand the attempt, but House of Leaves' own format was a crazy tangent within itself.

House of Leaves is a fantastic book, though, if only for the spontaneous formatting and dampered realism. Have you listened to Poe's accompanying album? (Her and the author are siblings.)

Posted by: Jet on November 7, 2006 4:39 PM

Is it too late for voter propositions?

Gravity - a law we can live with!

Posted by: Lily on November 8, 2006 8:59 AM

Is it too late for voter propositions?

Gravity - a law we can live with!

Posted by: Lily on November 8, 2006 9:01 AM

Glad you're liking it. I remember reading it fondly - as much for the book itself as for the event "I'm Reading Moby Dick!" I too found it a plaeasant suprise once you get into it. It's a great yarn with lots of detail about an industry that I knew absolutely nothing about - reading about the details of nineteenth century whaling techniques is a lot like reading science fiction - it's so bizarre. It's also a bit like "Seabicuit" in that way - great story, and a fascinating look into things like how jockeys keep the weight off, and the nuances of handicap racing.

Posted by: John I on November 8, 2006 12:50 PM

I think Moby Dick is one of the funniest books I've read, mostly because it's humor was a total surprise. Those first scenes with Queequeg trying to share a room/bed were hilarious!

Posted by: Henitsirk on November 10, 2006 12:37 PM