Moby Dick

I can't stop thinking about Moby Dick. I read Melville's novel on a beach in China in 2005, loved it, and now feel an almost magnetic pull towards re-reading. Perhaps it's because I listened to this Peabody Award-Winning Podcast on all things Moby-Dick-related, or perhaps it's because I've been reading Philip Hoare's The Whale-- a truly great work of nonfiction that goes over much of the same territory as Moby Dick, and includes great commentary on the book. If you're into whales but afraid of Melville it's a good place to start.

Or maybe I can't stop thinking about Moby Dick because he is the greatest symbol in American literature. At least one of the greatest. Any better ones you can think of? (I mean that genuinely, I'm curious.) Anything better than a huge, white, simultaneously evil and innocent animal, something ancient and yet a source of energy and modernization, one of the largest creatures to have ever been on the planet and yet impossible to find? I love that guy.

A month or so ago I was sitting in my cubicle and, horrified that no one in my workplace had read or loved Moby Dick, I read only the first paragraph aloud to everyone. I threatened to read a paragraph a day until we all appreciated it but I don't think anyone liked that idea.  I reproduce the first paragraph here for your enjoyment. (I used to have this memorized.) May it not be a damp drizzly November in your soul today.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.