On Reading Moby-Dick
Last month, my book club decided to try something a little different, and read a classic. It doesn’t get much more classic than Moby-Dick, so despite the heft, we decided to dive right in. (pun intended). Herman Melville’s giant of a book about whaling and Ahab’s doomed quest is hailed as a masterpiece of American literature, a title I don’t contest. However, I can’t say that it was exactly an enjoyable read for me.
I began around Christmas time, wanting to give myself plenty of time to finish the book for our meeting. It’s a good thing I started so early, because it ended up taking me far longer than I expected. A little more than halfway through, I had hit a wall. I found myself dreading pulling out the huge book on the subway (where I do a large chunk of my reading), only to stare at pages of dense text about the intricacies of whaling, full of terms I didn’t know and allusions I didn’t quite understand. Was I too dumb for Moby-Dick?
After I hit the wall, I decided to take a step back. I left the book at home, and started a new one to bring on the train with me. Every night, I would set aside a half hour or so to read a few pages from Moby-Dick, but no more than 15-20 at a time. Doing that, I was much more able to appreciate the subtleties of language and the genius sentences because I wasn’t just staring, resenting the page in front of me. I knew that by reading small chunks, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I wouldn’t be spending the next hour hopelessly frustrated and bored. And so, I finished Moby-Dick the day before our book club meeting. I vanquished my literary white whale.
Have you read a book that took you forever to get through? How did you finish it?