Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Dissertation on Whaling Practices and Their Moral Implications That Will Bore You to Tears

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Whoever labeled Moby Dick as a novel clearly didn’t recognize that Herman Melville was actually attempting to complete his PhD in whaling and that in reality this was his completed dissertation. Unfortunately for him, most of his conclusions about whales have since been disproved. Unfortunately for readers everywhere, we have been viciously fooled into believing we would get a story when we picked up Melville’s classic.

Given that Moby Dick almost lasted as long as the voyage Ahab takes to find that damn whale (which – spoiler alert – happens, I kid you not, about 30 pages from the end of the 586-page book), I’m going to keep this blog post short and sweet.

Basically, my feelings about this book can be summed up through the following series of comics from the strip Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman:

 In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, my experience reading Moby Dick was far from pleasurable. It was actually the first time in a long time that I considered picking up my book a chore; an obligatory task that I had taken on and refused to give up on. While it had some lovely moments of prose and has oddly sparked my interest in the zoological study of whales, the book was exceptionally tedious. For every sentence of plot, there was about twenty pages of tangential, detailed descriptions of all aspects of whaling: the technical, the mechanical, the philosophical. He would describe the equipment necessary, the various types of whales hunted, the difference in the oil they produced, the dimensions of the boats, and pretty much every other mundane detail about whaling imaginable. Hilariously, he would often introduce these completely irrelevant-to-the-story bits of information with phrases like, “This begs the question what is…” or “Of course, it is now necessary to explain…” when I can’t imagine a single person reading this book has had the burning desire to know whatever it was he then explained.

I must admit that I think that Moby Dick is one of those rare breeds of books that’s actually better to read in smaller chunks over a long period of time. Because it is so dense and information-packed, every chapter is so full it’s practically impossible to absorb more than one chapter at a time. Bear in mind, most chapters averaged about three pages. I’m talking mercury-levels of density here. If you have a year to casually, slowly make your way through this book, it might be worth the effort. There’s no fear of ruining the pace of the plot because it already moves at a glacial speed so taking your time is probably preferable.

I’m both glad and proud that I have officially read this well-known classic. And I’m even gladder that I’m done with it.

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