Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"How wondrous familiar is a fool!" muttered Ahab

now re-re-re-reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

You may recall that one of my new favorite hobbies is reading the 1-star and 5-star reviews on Goodreads. The non-extreme reviews on there just aren't as interesting. But the 1-star reviews of crap like Twilight or The Almost Moon? Endless entertainment! Yesterday, I checked in with some of the love and hate for The Whale, and I observed the following:

1. The five-star people need an editor. Seriously. Their reviews are, on the whole, looooooong. Just because the book you loved is long and rambly, your Goodreads review does not have to be. Trust me on this.

2. The one-star reviews for the most part were flawed! Seriously. I found a few where there was just a straight up difference of opinion, and I totally accept that. But many of them stated things that weren't quite right! For example, one person's review says: "you only read (and I'm not exagerating) like 50 pages of actual story, and the rest is biological documentation," but that is not true. The "biological documentation" of the whales comes and goes (and I think most of it is hilarious - but that's another point entirely), but that person is totally exaggerating, even though she cannot spell exaggerating.

I am now on page 538 of Moby and I am so delighted by Melville, and so sad I can't meet him and tell him he's awesome and hang out with him. Let me give you a real example of what Melville does, lest you be dissuaded by inaccurate reviews on Goodreads. In Chapter 17, "The Ramadan," when Melville-as-Ishmael waxes philosophical about religion? He says that rather than arguing with Queequeg one should let him be, because "Heaven have mercy on us all -- Presbyterians and Pagans alike--for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." So that's a digression that's too boring and philosophical for you, oh 1-star reviewer? Really?

Yeah, and all these digressions about whaling? That's another popular complaint - a lot of people even say they read the book "but skimmed through some of the whaling parts," which, ewww. Then you did not, my friend, read the book. But here's an example of a "whaling part," from chapter 94, in which Ishmael talks about the blubber-room, where the spade man stands barefoot on a sheet of blubber chopping it into portable pieces:

"This spade is sharp as hone can make it; the spademan's feet are shoeless; the thing he stands on will sometimes irresistibly slide away from him, like a sledge. If he cuts off one of his own toes, or one of his assistant's, would you be very much astonished? Toes are scarce among veteran blubber-room men." - p. 458

Dude, Herman is funny! Moby Dick is a whimsical, profound work of genius. It occurs to me that in all my questioning of myself as to the genre of the Cuba book I have written/sort-of-almost finished, I should have long ago realized it's kind of like Moby Dick. All personal-voyage-quest-fiction-yet-fact-invented-character-narrator and stuff. I can only wish that my book will end up half as awesome. Wait, who am I kidding, an eighth as awesome. A hundredth.

You get my drift.

Read Moby Dick, people!

I also recommend it to people who liked Infinite Jest. I suspect a lot of Infinite Jest readers have already read Moby Dick -- I mean, you don't get to be an Infinite Jest reader by just succumbing to the endless 40% off crap the big retailers shove down your throat all the time -- but you know, for those others like me who maybe blew off Moby Dick once or twice three times in high school and college English (major) classes but still grew up to be real-live readers and thus ended up reading Infinite Jest first. Infinite Jesters will think nothing of the length of Moby so they won't be overwhelmed, plus they clearly are a lot who appreciate a digression or two. And they will be delighted to see how very Herman-like our boy DFW is. Was. Is?

Bonus, for law school-like peoples: there was a whole bit about a fast-fish or a loose-fish and to whom either belongs. It was totally all first-day-of-Property-ish when a fox, a duck, and a whale walk into a classroom...

It's going to be over soon. I can't believe I'm going to finish soon! It really has me in the mood to read more fabulous classic novels instead of going back to presidential bios.

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