There are some books which seem destined to sit forever on the to be read pile, occasionally picked up the pages perused before being replaced a few places lower once more to avoid feeling guilty about neglecting it. For me this is one of those books.
The problem comes when you know that at some point you will be forced to read it to complete a list or challenge, for me it features in the 1001 books challenge but it frequently features in top hundred books and therefore cannot hope to be avoided forever if you are interested in seeing the top 100 books according to the BBC click here. Despite having one of the most famous opening lines of any book ever
“Call me Ishmael.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Many who know those lines will have come to learn them from one of the film adaptations. The actual story itself if taken from the synopsis sounds fascinating, so one may reasonably ask why the reticence to read the actual book? Two things I think contribute firstly it is by no means a small book, not quite on par with Ulyssess yet still fat enough to be daunting, then the second and possibly more important deterrent is the language.
“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for avast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Melville certainly is reflective of the time at which he wrote this, long overly complicated sentences and descriptions which conjure up the most obscure images many of which would appear to have little to actually do with the subject of the book.
But fear not if this features on a list you are working through there is another option!
Technically I know audio books are cheating however this is not an actual audiobook rather it was a project to encourage people to read the Classics.
In 2003 the BBC canvassed opinions and created The Big Read a list of the top 100 books voted for by the people as those everyone should read. You can find the list here
. From there it was taken a step further by a group of people who loved the book and wanted to share it Peninsula Arts along with Plymouth University approach various people in the public eye, actors musicians, actors, even a politician or two and asked if they would be interested in creating something special.
Each of the chapters is read by a different person making a total of 134 guest stars willing to donate their time and energy to this project. As you can imagine some are more pleasing to listen to than others and it can be a little distracting at times if the reader is not one you care for, luckily as most chapters are only ten to twenty minutes this is not as detrimental to the project as it could have been with one person reading it.
I am glad I found this and am counting listening to it as allowing me to tick the book off though I will not allot it stars based on someone else reading it to me. The more I listened to the more convinced I am I would never have made it through the full book but listening to it is not a painful experience and in parts quite enjoyable.
I have to say overall unless you have a real thing for history, whaling and long-winded at times confusing prose then give this a miss, listen to the audio book or watch the film. It is one of those ‘classics’ that I suspect would struggle to find a publisher today. I am sorry to say I found it very disappointing and am glad I found a different way other than being forced to read it to tick it off my lists.
If you would like to listed to Moby Dick Big Read click here
and it will take you to the website.