Fat Books & Thin Women

30 Day Book Meme, Day 8
August 9, 2011, 5:34 pm
Filed under: 30 Day Book Meme | Tags: , , , ,

Most Overrated Book:

For years I thought there must be something to Moby Dick. It’s an American classic, it’s the book that everyone says they plan to read but never do, it’s a monster of a book that defeats reader after reader, it’s got whales and a crazed captain and shrunken heads. These are all good things.

But Moby Dick, I regret to say, is totally overrated. I read this novel with an almost desperate desire to like it, but after about a hundred pages I gave into the lull of water-whale-ten pages about the uses of whale fat-how to spear a whale-some plot(?)-I’ve read five pages and don’t remember anything that happened but can’t bear to go back. I usually find abridged versions of books insulting (like we really can’t be trusted to read the whole thing?) but in the case of Moby Dick…I get it. Something like half the novel is devoted to minutia of whaling, and after a couple bouts with Melville’s long-winded explanations of, I don’t know, what type of spear is best used when faced with specific whaling conundrums, the thrill of it all wears off and it’s hard not to sleep through the novel, even the good parts.

Moby Dick is one of those rare books I feel so strongly about that I want to grab every copy I can find and remove it from public circulation. I want to tell everyone I know not to read this book. So, seriously: don’t read this, or if you do at least read something like Benito Cereno first, before Melville’s been ruined for you. (Because Marie at The Boston Bibliophile wrote a review of that novella today, and it sounds awesome. Granted, I thought the same about Moby Dick…before I read it.)

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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I loved Moby Dick – and especially all the digressions into whales and whaling! I think that it can be hard to stay with the book in the modern era, because following all the threads and thinking about how they relate to each other requires a kind of mental space that can be difficult to achieve when there are many competing demands on one’s time and attention. It’s a book written from the experience of being at sea in the pre-SATCOM era – no internet connectivity! – and perhaps it is best read in that kind of setting, with the mind-set that there’s nothing else to do and nowhere else to go so you might as well hop on for the ride with Ishmael and Ahab. I did get more out of listening to the unabridged audiobook on hour-plus commutes to and from the Navy Yard than I did out of reading the print version some years earlier, probably because my mind generally emptied out as soon as the car made the turn onto MD 4 (except for watching out for idiots switching lanes without signaling).

Comment by readersquest

(Or maybe my mind is just more empty than average anyway…)

Comment by readersquest

You have a good point here. There are some books that seem to require more attention than we’re able (or willing) to give them today. I read Moby Dick in less than ideal surroundings, pulling it out for lunch breaks at work, and I’m sure that contributed in some degree to my perhaps unreasonable hatred of the novel. I don’t think I’m near ready to entertain the thought of rereading Moby Dick, but if I do I may try to step back a bit, to devote myself to the novel when I don’t have anything else to do or any distractions from the internet, phone, work. This is something I should keep in mind when I’m getting ready to read War & Peace, too…I tend to read four or five or six books at a time, and I worry sometimes that that detracts from my reading of books that require a bit more devotion than, I don’t know, whatever piece of Booker-nominated commercial lit fic I pick up on a whim.

For now, I’m getting more interested in reading some of Melville’s shorter works. I remember loving Moby Dick early on, and maybe I’ll appreciate Melville more if I try something by him that won’t take me a month to read.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Completely agreed! I actually picked it up and threw it across the room several times. Herman Melville, you were just getting started, do NOT LECTURE ME on whale biology. Ahem. That was one book I definitely will never read more than once.

Comment by Jenny

I love Moby Dick. Really love it. However, I don’t think it is at its best until you finish it and can think about it as a whole. There are some chapters that I did really enjoy while reading them, however, including the “domestic scenes” between Queequeg and Ishmael.

Comment by Laura

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