Fiction: Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Our July 2010 challenge book. A re-read for both of us.

GirlReaction: I only got partway through before I had to set it aside (I was in the middle of summer classes) but of course Dad finished. My thoughts were really that I did not remember at all how hilariously funny some of the beginning is.

DadReaction: I can’t wait to read it again! To setout after the Pequod with crazy captain Ahab. You get bogged down a bit in the middle, with ALL the detail about how to actually kill whales, slice them up, et cetera…but at the end, you feel like you know what these guys do all the time.

There was a critic, Hugh Kenner maybe?, who had a quote about how all great American novels are really like instruction manuals. Hemingway: how to order a drink, what to look for in a bullfight, how to fish. Moby Dick: how to kill a whale.
But at the end, it really takes off. And the hunt when they actually spot Moby Dick, just sweeps you up.

GirlReaction: In one of my summer classes, there was a girl with the last name Melville, and EVERY WEEK during attendance, the professor would make some cracks about Moby Dick. Usually something along the lines of “They call it the greatest American novel. I don’t know if it’s the greatest, but it was really the first.” I wasn’t sure that was really true though.

DadReaction: You could probably call it the first American novel of stature.

Then we wandered off topic a bit and landed on the subject of Sir Walter Scott (thanks, I think, to Michelle’s blog post) and on to Last of the Mohicans by Fenimore Cooper, which while a romantic novel, and of less stature, was around before Melville.

DadReaction: The thing about Last of the Mohicans is people think of it along the lines of the movies. But the screenplay from the ’30s really streamlined a bad book with lots of idiot characters. The movies make him into more of a Hemingway-type hero.

And then somehow we came around again to Moby Dick and a bonus recommendation…

DadReaction: Did you ever read “The Great American Novel by Philip Roth? It’s about baseball, but based on Moby Dick (“Call me Smitty.” is the first line). There’s a pitcher named Gilgamesh who never loses a game, but then one day he throws a ball right at the ump’s throat. There’s a team in it called the Ruppert Mundys who have to play 163 away games. The league is so rift with problems that they just write it out of baseball history and all the towns that were in the league change their names. Hilarious.

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