Book Review: Moby Dick

I didn’t read this in high school, despite it being considered one of the Great American Novels. We read a selection of passages and a summary, then moved on. Many people have told me to be grateful and not pursue reading this now.

But, you see, this book supposedly has a small passage about how great Andrew Jackson is, and I kind of have to read it now.

The Book

800px-moby-dick_fe_title_pageMoby Dick
Author: Herman Mellville
1851
Gutenberg Project Link

This book is famous for being highly allegorical and, simultaneously, nearly unreadable. At the same time, with all the cultural references to this book, I thought I should give this a read.

Non-Spoiler Review

First, don’t read Moby-Dick like Ron Swanson.

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Don’t read Moby Dick like Steven Colbert:

Moby Dick

This wasn’t as difficult to trudge through as I had expected, but I wouldn’t say it was easy. The extended passages talking about the finer points of whaling definitely take a toll on this book’s readability, and it makes it quite difficult to appreciate any of the characters or actions. I think an abridged version of this book could take up perhaps a third or a tenth of the space and give you the same story.

At the same time, those extended passages of nonsense give the book an Old-Testament feel, wherein massive passages are just records of troops, measurements of buildings, or lineages. The passages in Moby-Dick are extremely reminiscent of these passages, so I don’t fault Melville for these horrifyingly boring paragraphs and pages.

The themes of Moby-Dick, from anti-racism to the deeper meanings of a relationship with God, are sometimes flaunted in your face while, simultaneously, riding in the undercurrent of all things. The names – good lord, all the biblical names! – require one to have a pretty deep understanding of the Bible in order to understand the exegetical importance of everything. I’m pretty good at Bible knowledge, but not as good as Melville probably was. The book is magnificently researched, extremely true to itself and to its time, and the writing style in and of itself flows smoothly.

So I think I enjoy the fact that I read this book, but I would not read it again.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Overall, the book proceeds much as you probably expect. The whaleship hunts whales, comes upon other boats that lead you through a Biblical expectation of prophecy. The dream of Fedallah was especially telling, and I hope you pay attention to that, especially, if you read it!

Otherwise, I’m afraid there aren’t many spoilers. The end of the book – a.k.a. the ruin of the Pequod and Ishmael’s survival – is something I think everyone expects. I think it’s supposed to be metaphorical of all the times Old Testament kings and rulers failed to heed generations of prophecy (which was symbolized, in part, by the meetings with the other boats).

Also, the Andrew Jackson passage was good enough but not great.

Next week:

It’s a new year! Will I keep reviewing books, or will I suck? Stay tuned!

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Moby Dick

  1. Pink Roses says:

    Moby Dick. I couldn’t read it, and I did try. I managed Ulysses, and The Brothers Karamazov, but two books defeated me – Moby Dick, and A Remembrance of Things Past by Proust. Now, back to Lee Child . . .

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I think everyone has those book(s) they can’t make it through. For me it’s Gabaldon’s “Outlander” and Thoreau’s “Walden.” I’ve heard recently that I just have to make it through the part where I quit in “Walden”, so I’m considering making another run. “Outlander” is dead to me.

      Same time, though, there’s a group of people that will defend “Outlander” to their dying breath. So I have no problem if people don’t like or can’t finish a book, haha!

  2. trentpmcd says:

    I agree, I think it is a “read once, but that’s enough” book. Melville had experience as a whaler, so understood a lot of it. He also studied, and was highly influenced by, the wreck of the whaling ship Essex, and even knew some of the survivors. He added some details from the Essex into Moby Dick.
    My big problem was that it read like three or four different books. The first book, or the first quarter of this one, was a comedy and would be super hard to read if you didn’t read it as a comedy. But then it changes… And those long passages about whaling. Wow. Anyway, a great read once, but no need to go back (unless you want to understand a lot of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, but that is another story).

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Honestly, an abridged version would probably be somewhat entertaining. There was enough story in the book and allegorical building that, without the boring folios, it may have felt genuinely interesting. That being said, I don’t plan on wasting my time with it again, haha.

  3. Peter Martuneac says:

    Honestly I looooved Moby Dick for precisely the reason so many people hate it. I’m the kind of guy who will stop reading or watching a movie to look up more about whatever they’re doing or talking about if I’m unfamiliar with it. So having detailed explanations of whaling right there in the book? *chef’s kiss*

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