Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Here on Earth, our Comfortable Inn

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville
now also reading: a bunch of other stuff. mostly for work/projects

Totally have not been posting frequently about the Moby, but hereby getting back on the stick!

So. We had been thinking about Ishmael and Herman and religion. (Hadn't we? Who's out there reading this, anyway?) I know I'm still quoting from the first hundred pages of the book and it's high time to move along to the next centennial page grouping, but first:

"Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him." --p.94

First of all, you can tell we get kind of a Melville mix in this paragraph. Ol' Herman clearly is positive about Ishmael's live-and-let-live stance, while also taking care to emphasize that in order for a live-and-let-live stance to work, those who we let live also have to let us live, an often overlooked crucial point. In other words, no freedom for your religion once you start doing crazy stuff like oppressing women and killing people. That goes for everyone - no killing. No killing abortion providers, no killing women who commit adultery or wear comfortable clothes or show skin, no killing people whose oil you want, and definitely no killing "blasphemers" who depict an image of your prophet. (Three cheers for South Park!)

But also in the quote I like Herman's layered subtext, because Ishmael does what most of us do once we outline our broad, charitable philosophies: he starts carving out an exception for himself. This just further supports Herman's point in the first place about how dangerous we are when we hold fervent beliefs. I love this man. I also, by the way, love that he was BFFs with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Would that I could go back in time to have a drink at ye olde New England pub with those two. Or meet up with them in the afterlife, in which I do not believe. Religion.

The final thing to love about this quote is how Ishmael characterizes what happens when the religious person crosses the line: his religion becomes a "torment to him." That's what's so true! The zealot himself is tormented! Let alone the people around him, since it makes the world, for the rest of us, "an uncomfortable inn to lodge in."

Since Herman said it best, I have little to add about religion, but it is fun to consider what other sorts of things/people make "this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in." Some of my suggestions:
  • George W. Bush (obvio)
  • Wal-Mart
  • Bill O'Reilly
  • Fur coats
  • Long Island(ers)
  • Rock of Love
  • Post-1990 video/images of Michael Jackson
  • Also him talking
  • Twi-hards
  • Green Jell-O with carrots
  • Tequila
I'm sure there are more. But when those things come around, it is definitely "high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I owe you one (or more)

now reading: way too many books for various projects with a long to-do list
now falling: totally behind

I know, I know, I owe you a Moby Dick entry or two or three, but you'll just have to be patient. In the meantime, content yourself with a little feminism and/or National Poetry Month celebration, won't you?

Gloria Anzaldua - the self-described Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/feminist/dyke/poet/writer

Carolyn Kizer - the Pacific Northwest's own, with lots of "Pro Femina" poetry

Adrienne Rich - Activism, anti-Vietnam war, women's liberation, gay rights, she's got it all. Plus, W.H. Auden picked her out of the crowd nearly sixty years ago!

OK, that should tide you over, my adoring fans!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Unfinished Books of My Life

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Well, I may have reached the page where I stopped reading in my USC English class. Page 81/82 was folded, not in the corner-folded-I-need-to-remember-this-quote way (that Joe and Jodi hate!) but in the folded-in-half-I'm-too-lazy-to-go-find-a-bookmark way. I'm sort of disappointed that I didn't read any further, but I shouldn't have been expecting much more. I know I skipped ahead and read some of the later whale/ship/climax stuff, but it appears this is where I stopped actually reading reading. So sad. At least, that time. I really don't know at all what/how much I read the other time I "read" it in college, or the time I "read" it in high school.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about other books I have started but not finished. Of course, life as an English major is different because you're reading several books all the time, but elsewhere in life I have started books and then just not finished them. I thought I'd try to remember and go over the list to see if I should go back and revisit them, too. Let's have a look; these are pretty much in chronological order, too, as near as I can remember:

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
(p.s. It's so weird that it's called that, when we all totally call it The Diary of Anne Frank.)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Naked by David Sedaris
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by some lady
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
White Dog by Romain Gary
Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

So I didn't count books that I idly picked up at someone's house and read only a few pages while waiting for them or something, because then this list would be twenty times this length. These are all books that I legitimately was reading and then, for one reason or another, didn't continue.

There were all sorts of different reasons. I was too young for it (Jaws, around age 10?), I was bored (Anne, Ayn), I was bored twice - once in English and once in Spanish (Harry), or even that I bloody detested it and wanted desperately to throw it across the room and stop all others from making the mistake of investing the precious time in it that I had (The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Almost Moon).

I think maybe I should start a new paragraph to really drive home this point: The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Almost Moon are two of the worst books I have ever attempted to read. I got about 50-60 pages into TMKD and 200 or so into TAM and they both were just so awful that nothing, not will power or guilt or perseverance or ANYthing could make me want to finish them. Awful awful awful. Like, majorly philosophically flawed and a deep disservice to humanity and stuff.

But the others on my list aren't that at all. Many of them -- The Elegant Universe, Fierce Invalids..., White Dog, Naked, I greatly enjoyed what I read of them but circumstances just somehow forced me to put them down.

Then there are the averages: not throw-across-the-room awful, but not exactly calling out to me to finish. Kavalier and Clay - I'm sorry, Michael Chabon, because I adored every word you had written up to that point, but comic books? Really? Ugh. I tried, but I loathe comic books, I really do, and I also loathe all the comic-book-derived art that tries to invade my mind. AND you had to go and set it all WWII-ish...and my wall...anyway, you know I'll get back to you because it won the freakin' Pulitzer, so I WILL read it - like, after I read the Pulitzer fiction winners from 1917-2000 first. (Actually I've read a bunch of those already, making my way though the rest, so this really will happen.)

Don Quixote - one of my more recent ones. Since I read about 350 pages of it, I kind of feel I should get some credit seeing as if it were a normal length book then I would have finished it! (Same goes for Atlas Shrugged, by the way.) It was really entertaining but - I don't know. I'm actually considering redoing that one in Spanish because I heard it loses a lot in translation. That will happen soon; I was going to re-read Don Quixote for my big book this year in fact, but I am "re"-reading Moby Dick instead.

So, what do you think? Which ones should I quickly get back to? Which ones am I crazy for abandoning? Which times did I make the right choice? I'd love to hear your thoughts! But if you have anything positive to say about The Almost Moon then I'm scared of you. As for The Memory Keeper's Daughter, if you buy that this jackass could or should in any way tell such a lie to his wife and build their lives on such a lie, and you find this in any way acceptable, then you can just go ride off into the sunset with Benjamin Linus right now because ewwww. Move on folks. Nothing to be redeemed here.

Sermons and Stuff

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

In my head this post has a slightly more PG-13 rated title (in which the last word starts with the same letter, but is a wee bit shorter) but I try to keep it family friendly in case my sister ever decides to read it someday.... no just kidding, that's not why. Because she probably never will. I've never used vulgar words in an entry title, though, have I? Anyway, on with the show. I suppose I'm duty bound to write about the sermon. Don't we all love the sermon? I refer, of course, to Chapter 9, in which Father Mapple prattles on about Jonah. This contains all sorts of exciting talk about whales, foreboding, God, sin, doom, and the like, plus it makes modern day readers wonder why their preachers aren't half as cool as Father Mapple.

But I guess I just don't know what to say about it. Thoughts, oh ye who are reading along? I mean, Herman keeps giving lots of little jabs to religion ("I'll try a pagan friend," Ishmael thinks a few pages later, about Queequeg, "since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy.") But this sermon chapter is not so much of a jab. It's kind of an admiring mocking of preacher fervor, and congregation ("shipmates!") fervor, but without really mocking. It mostly mocks those who think they've got it all figured out, I suppose.

I even remember reading the sermon when I "read" Moby Dick in college, so I know I got at least this far before quitting. And there's a bunch of stuff underlined in these few chapters in my copy...

Meanwhile, there's a great phrase on page 62 that could slip right by you if you're not paying attention: for the nonce. It means "temporarily." Queequeg feels like he can't go back home to claim his place as a pagan king yet because he's been defiled by hanging out with all these Christians (another jab from Herman! love it!) but he'll go back eventually once he feels baptized again. "For the nonce, however, he proposed to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans."

"Sowing wild oats" lasted. Where did "for the nonce" go? I want to find this phrase. I want to read more 19th-century or 18th-century literature just to find this phrase. I want to see where I have missed it in things I have read before. I am newly in love with it. Nonce - the particular, present occasion, says Merriam-Webster, the time being. I hereby resolve to use "for the nonce" somewhere, somehow, sometime soon.

Like we didn't already know this, but everyone should read this book.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"What's all this fuss?" indeed!

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

There is something on practically every page of this book about which I could write! The "grand programme of Providence" Ishmael envisions in which Fate lists the solo "Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael" in between more "extensive performances"? The fact that Queequeg is out trying to get all his heads sold on Saturday night because "it would not do to be sellin' human heads about the streets when folks is goin' to churches"? Or, shall we just move on to Ishmael's movement from wariness through pretty well freaking out to curious observance to an actual acceptance of the situation of sharing Q's bed?

"The man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian." - p. 26

Wise words, my friends.

Friday, April 02, 2010

"Grub, ho!"

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

All I know is that I have officially added this to my Life Things to Do List: at some point, somewhere, I want someone to summon me to a meal by calling "Grub, ho!"

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Looming Questions

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

There's a lot going on with Moby Dick. Well, duh. But let's start with identities, shall we? The most famous three-word beginning ever, "Call me Ishmael," is both straightforward and deceptive. Call whom Ishmael? Call me Ishmael because that's your name, or call you Ishmael to assign a name to a construct of identity that will morph into an omniscient narrator while simultaneously rendering the account of a voyage through one man's reason even as he whimsically observes others' quests? Yeah, and that's just the first line. Oh, Melville.

I mean, our good buddy Herman (can I call you Herman? It's not as if anyone else does, ever. Maybe there's a reason for that? Maybe you wish you were named Ishmael?) also constructs other identities for himself/the narrator, like the "late consumptive usher to a grammar school" and the "sub-sub-librarian" who provide the Etymology and Extracts that actually come before that famous "first" line. Those are worth reading, by the way. Herman's sense of humor comes through, plus you learn about languages and get more ideas of things to add to your ever-growing list of literature to read. Or wait, maybe that's just me.

So anyway, Manhattan? I had totally forgotten about the book starting in the "insular city of the Manhattoes" with everyone gazing to the water. The last time I perused these pages I had not yet lived Manhattoes-adjacent. How can one not love taking the plunge into this novel, with our wandering narrator who's like, "Man, you know, every once in a while I just got to GO to the sea! I'm off!" Love this man. Also how he doesn't actually want too much responsibility in his job.

"For my part I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not." -p. 5

By the way, I am reading the Penguin Classics ISBN: 014-039084-7 but even if you don't own the book at all it is available online. (Although, shame on you if you have stopped buying real books and only read digital. Shame, shame.)

And, just a refresher for those who didn't get the memo, why am I reading Moby Dick? Well, you see I have "read" Moby Dick before. I have "read" it three times in fact, once in high school (hi, Ms. Freeland!), and twice in English major classes in college. And I blew it off all three times. I SUCK. So in a concerted effort to suck less, I decided to re-read/read it, and had pretty much settled on it being my Big, Classic Book of 2010. Then this past New Year's Eve, for whatever reason, someone said something I now can't recall about the whale hating Ahab. I immediately started debating this with Brian, and then via text message to several others: that's not quite right, is it? I mean, the whale doesn't hate Ahab. Right? It's Ahab who's a crazy f***er. The whale just wants to go about being his bad-ass whale self. I decided then and there to get on the Moby Dick stick ASAP, which worked out to be mid-March. And despite some minor blogging delays, here we go!

Join us!