Moby Dick – For the first time

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m kind of an anomaly. I’m a graduate with an degree in English Literature, but I’ve never once read Moby Dick.

It’s one of those strange books that everyone just assumes you’ve read, so it seems that it very rarely gets added to any reading lists any more. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t know something about the book. I know how it starts (“Call me Ishmael.”). I know the basic story line, and that a couple of the themes in the book revolve around obsession and revenge. I believe I’ve even referenced in it in some of my papers in college. I’ve just never actually read it.

Well, that’s about to change. With a much appreciated gift card I received for Christmas, I’ve now purchased a copy of Moby Dick and plan on taking it on as my next “To be read” book.

I thought I’d do something a bit different for this one, since I do know something about the book, and since it’s one that is more of the “literary” persuasion. I thought before I started reading it, I would come up with some questions to answer during my read of the book.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to put it out there for anyone else who hasn’t read this book. As I go along, I’ll note my observations and thoughts, and if you’re reading along at the same time I would encourage you to do the same. The depth of books like this often are only understood when the book is discussed, so I’d like to take this post as the start of a kind of virtual book club. There won’t be any reading assignments or schedules — nothing that concrete — but let’s see what we find out as we go.

Here are some initial questions that I have going into the book:

  • Who is Ishmael? The start of the book is with his name, so is he important to the story, or is he just the narrator and sitting on the sidelines?
  • Are there early indications of obsession on the part of Captain Ahab? Is he already obsessed with the white whale a the beginning of the work, or does that develop during the story?
  • What factors make the book a classic? It seems like kind of a niche story — why has it stood the test of time?
  • How much of the book requires knowledge of whaling? How much is given to us? It was written in 1851, so life was different, but not everyone was knowledgeable about boats and whaling, so how much are we spoon fed on that?
  • I know of Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the White Whale. A book this size and depth can’t contain only three characters, so what other characters play an important role in the book, and which ones do we find ourselves rooting for or against?

Well, that’s my first list of questions. Please, if you would like to play along at home, leave a comment. It’s all an experiment, so let’s see what we can figure out.

5 thoughts on “Moby Dick – For the first time

  1. Ha, I’m an English major too and I’ve never read Moby Dick. Though I do think I made it to page 5 once.

    Good luck! I’ll be cheering you on!

  2. I’m also an English Lit grad who has never actually read Moby Dick. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like there are actually a ton of “classic” books of which I’ve never even cracked the spine! Many of Jane Austen’s classics are even new to me! Hope your Moby Dick project goes well — I think I saw a review posted. I’ll investigate.

  3. Megan — Good point. There are quite a few books that are “classics” that I haven’t read, too. Great Expectations is one of them that comes right to mind. For some reason, though, Moby Dick has always been one that seems to haunt me. No review yet, but I will be posting an update soon. Thanks for the comments.

  4. There are many classics that I have yet to be read and I kick myself for it, but it’s true.

    Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, Treasure Island — never read a single one.

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