Of White Whales: or, The More Things Change

Oct 29 2007 Published by under Family, Personal

Here's a quote for you. It's one of the ones that should make you wonder whether you should laugh or cry:

And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

"WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.

"
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."

That, if you haven't guessed from the name in the middle line, comes from Herman Melville's 1851 masterpiece, Moby-Dick.

Barnes and Noble should thank Chris Dodd. His selection of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick as one of the "best books" boosted their sales by at least the $9.95 that I plunked down for a copy last week. (The State of Texas might also want drop Dodd a quick note thanking him for the extra 82 cents of tax revenue.) I had to do it. After becoming the first Democrat to show a spine this century, Dodd caught my interest. When I noticed that his take on Melville's whale of a book included the line, "Every time I read this endlessly fascinating novel," I was really taken aback. Who on earth would read Moby Dick more than once? I know I swore it off forever after reading it in ninth grade. What sort of person would voluntarily subject themselves to the book more than once?

Then I remembered - I never actually read the book. I read the first fifty or so pages, left Queequeg when he was putting his boots on under the bed, jumped to the ending, and relied on the amazing Mr. Cliff for everything else.

That's when I really started thinking. The book is legendary, and not merely for its heft. It had just been recommended by someone I wanted to learn more about. And, for reasons I might elaborate on at another time, I'd been thinking a lot about the dangers of the obsessive pursuit of perceived wrong-thinking, regardless of the cost or consequences. Taking some time and reading the book seemed like a really good idea. I picked it up on Thursday, and started reading it this morning.

I'm not done yet - or, for that matter, very far into it (although I have passed my previous high-water mark). I've mentioned all of this merely by way of explaining why I made a couple of the neighbors look up at my balcony this morning, and wonder why I was laughing so hard.

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