Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Club: Moby Dick

Call me obsessed.

Moby Dick ignited an obsession within me.  I can not get enough of whales lately.  I read the book with wikipedia opened next to me so I could check facts and look at pictures of sperm whales.  I would guess that I have spent hours looking at pictures of whales and reading about them since I started the book.  Did you know that they still use "spermaceti" as a lubricant in space?  True story. Did you know that Starbucks original name was Pequod but the board of directors nixed it so they had to go with Starbuck?  Also true story.

My next big plan is to go whale watching.

I am sorry that this isn't a real book club where we are sitting around and eating treats and talking about the book because there are a couple of things I would like to hear your opinion on.  So, I'll just ask, and you can tell me what you think in the comments.

1. Ishmael.  I am still trying to get my head around his role.  Do we trust him?  And if we know that he is the narrator and he was actually on the ship why is the book full of stage directions and siloques.  The reason novels have narrators is, presumably, to tell the story so why does this one require stage directions?

2. Lunacy.  Oh, the crazy people who inhabit the pages of this book.  Some, the world deems crazy (Pip, Elijah) but they are the ones who seem to have a deeper grasp on reality and some, (Ahab) are actually made ship captains and sent to sea to make fortunes.

3. Heathen/Religion/Prophecy.  I think the Quequeg is my favorite character.  He is the person who first hinted to me that I would love this book.  I was sorry that his role vanished as the book went on.  I loved how he is, perhaps, the most Christian character of the book (even though he is a cannibal).  Maybe prophecy should have it's own topic, but it does seem to fit with religion and heathenism.  But why do we need 100 prophecies that Ahab will fail in his venture?  I actually thought the prophecies were a little heavy handed. 

4. Anthropomorphism. My book from the library was more than 700 pages long.  On my phone it was more than 2300.  When an author dedicates that many words to such a singular mission, killing the white whale, it's easy to get caught up in the furry.  When the moment came (I should say here that Moby Dick actually only appears in the last 3 chapters of the book--maybe a total of 40 pages) for Moby Dick to arrive on the scene I found  myself a little scared.  So many captains and ships had met him and told of his cruel nature--the way he maliciously smashed ships and carried off sailors and sons--that I found myself just waiting to see what this cruel creature would do next.

Then I had to remind myself.  Moby Dick is a whale.  He is not trying to kill innocent sailors.  He is just trying to survive.  There's no malice in his actions.  He is all nature, a look at Darwin's "Survival of the Fittest" in action.

I think that we do this in our lives all the time. I find myself doing it with Claire.  Claire is just on the brink of really talking.  She says words all day long and only about 1/2 of them are distinguishable.  Pass (short for pacifier)  and bus sound almost exactly the same. And as I try to understand what she is saying there is often lots of crying and frustration.  I have found myself (in Claire break down sorts of moments) thinking, "Why are you being so manipulative?  Why can't you just be a little more patient?  Why are you trying to frustrate and fluster me?"

Sometimes I have to step back and remind myself that she is not being manipulative.  She is just trying to get what she needs and she is communicating in the only way she knows how.  I think that applies to grown ups too.  Of course, maybe the grown ups we deal with in our own lives are trying to be manipulative but maybe they are just trying to communicate in the only way they know how.

This leads to one of my favorite quotes of the whole book.  Starbuck and Ahab are fighting in the cabin because Starbuck thinks that it is suicide to pursue the white whale.  The language is strong and threats may have issued forth but Starbuck closes with,

"Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, Sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man."

I think that's wise advice for all of us....beware of thyself

Okay.  Comment away. And Clarissa, please post what book we're reading next.


  1. I am not through with Moby Dick yet, but I am loving it. I agree with you about Queequeg; he's awesome and doesn't get enough face time. At this point I'm about 3/4 through the book, and I really like Mr. Stubb. Also, I would like to read Jane Eyre next.

  2. I'm not finished yet with MD, but I've decided that the book doesn't really have a plot--and as far as having part in the book except setting the general goal of the voyage, Ahab's not a real player either. I am learning a lot about whales and I will write something more about this "journey" book when I've finished. Bless Clarissa for choosing Jane Eyre, one of my favorites.