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Moby Dick (The World's best reading)
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Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0895773228
ISBN-13: 9780895773227
Publisher: Reader's Digest Association
Release Date: January, 1989
Length: 495 Pages
Weight: 2.15 pounds
Dimensions: 9 X 6.1 X 1.5 inches
Language: English
   
   

Moby Dick (The World's best reading)

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Moby Dick is a vast and dangerous white whale. An enemy for many years after the whale bit off his leg, the crazed Captain Ahab is obsessed with his quarry. Together with his extraordinary crew, Ahab braves the oceans of the world to hunt the fearsome Moby Dick. Geraldine McCaughrean is one of the most distinguished living childr...
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55

Customer Reviews

  your understanding might boil down to the quality of the gloss

Unless you are a naval historian or a Melville scholar, you probably won't have a rewarding (or even comprehensible) time with Moby-Dick at this remove unless the edition you're using comes with a good set of footnotes. Here's the skinny on the various editions currently on shelves:

THESE HAVE FOOTNOTES ON THE PAGE ITSELF:

* Charles Feidelson, Jr.'s annotated edition. Unquestionably the most all-around useful edition of Moby-Dick ever printed. Generous and highly useful footnotes right on the page, covering lexical, allusional, and cross-referential items. Two disadvantages: you may at times feel put upon by Feidelson's interlarded interpretations, and the thing is totally out of print. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964. ISBN: 067260311X

* The "Norton critical" edition, edited by Parker and Hayford. The edition most widely employed by scholars. Stingier with the footnotes than Feidelson, but still a good second choice. Many useful essays at the end. The layout of the text is a bit hard on the eye, though. Make sure you get the SECOND edition, from 2001. ISBN: 0393972836

* The "Barnes and Noble Classics" edition. The footnotes for the most part are skimpy and confined to obscure vocabulary, not cultural and literary allusions. ISBN: 1-59308-018-2

THESE HAVE A FOOTNOTES SECTION IN THE BACK OF THE BOOK:

* The "Oxford World Classics" edition. About 11 pp. at the end. ISBN: 0-19-283385-5

* The "Modern Library" edition. About 13 pp. at the end. ISBN: 0-679-78327-X

* The "Penguin Classics" edition. About 15 pp. of notes at the end by Tom Quirk. ISBN: 0-14-24.3724-7 (This is their fancy hardbound version: see next item.)

* The "Penguin Classics" edition. About 15 pp. of notes at the end by Tom Quirk. ISBN: 0-14-03.9084-7 (This is their paperback edition, which looks totally different but is exactly the same as the previous entry. This claims to be the "definitive text," but any such claim is spurious -- cf. Hayford and Parker [v.s.] for a good discussion of why. Penguin previously came out with an identical-looking but much thicker version annotated by Harold Beaver: the notes for that edition were copious, but on the whole too fanciful and self-indulgent to be of much use.)

* The "Library of America" edition. (This is the one included in the same volume with "Redburn" and "White Jacket.") About 9 pp. of notes at the end. ISBM: 0-940450-09-7

THESE HAVED NO FOOTNOTES WHATSOEVER:

Why do publishers still print editions of Moby Dick without any footnotes or glossary whatsoever? Who can read it? What a waste of paper. I get so irritated! In any event, the following publishers have decided you'd prefer your white whale raw:

* The "Bantam Classic" edition. ISBN: 0-553-21311-3 Ain't got jack.

* The "Everyman's Library" edition. ISBN: 0-679-40559-3. Zilch.

* The "Penguin 150th Anniversary" edition. ISBN: 0-14-20.0008-6 Bupkiss! Handsome, though.

* The "Arion Press" edition. ISBN: 0-520-04354-5. Also annoyingly oversized.

And that's my bit of altruism for the week.
 
  "Now the Lord prepared a great fish..."

I first read Moby Dick; or The Whale over thirty years ago and I didn't understand it. I thought I was reading a sea adventure, like Westward Ho! or Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym. In fact, it did start out like an adventure story but after twenty chapters or so, things began to get strange. I knew I was in deep water. It was rough, it seemed disjointed, there were lengthy passages that seemed like interruptions to the story, the language was odd and difficult, and often it was just downright bizarre. I plodded through it, some of it I liked, but I believe I was glad when it ended. I knew I was missing something and I understood that it was in me! It wasn't the book; it was manifestly a great book, but I hadn't the knowledge of literature or experience to understand it.

I read it again a few years later. I don't remember what I thought of it. The third time I read it, it was hilarious; parts of it made me laugh out loud! I was amazed at all the puns Melville used, and the crazy characters, and quirky dialog. The fourth or fifth reading, it was finally that adventure story I wanted in the first place. I've read Moby Dick more times than I've counted, more often than any other book. At some point I began to get the symbolism. Somewhere along the line I could see the structure. It's been funny, awesome, exciting, weird, religious, overwhelming and inspiring. It's made my hair stand on end...

Now, when I get near the end I slow down. I go back and reread the chapters about killing the whale, and cutting him up, and boiling him down. Or about the right whale's head versus the sperm whale's. I want to get to The Chase but I want to put it off. I draw Queequeg with his tattoos in the oval of a dollar bill. I take a flask with Starbuck and a Decanter with Flask. Listen to The Symphony and smell The Try-Works. Stubb's Supper on The Cabin Table is a noble dish, but what is a Gam? Heads or Tails, it's a Leg and Arm. I get my Bible and read about Rachel and Jonah. Ahab would Delight in that; he's a wonderful old man. For a Doubloon he'd play King Lear! What if Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of The Whale? Would Fedallah blind Ishmael with a harpoon, or would The Pequod weave flowers in The Virgin's hair?

Now I know. To say you understand Moby Dick is a lie. It is not a plain thing, but one of the knottiest of all. No one understands it. The best you can hope to do is come to terms with it. Grapple with it. Read it and read it and study the literature around it. Melville didn't understand it. He set out to write another didactic adventure/travelogue with some satire thrown in. He needed another success like Typee or Omoo. He needed some money. He wrote for five or six months and had it nearly finished. And then things began to get strange. A fire deep inside fret his mind like some cosmic boil and came to a head bursting words on the page like splashes of burning metal. He worked with the point of red-hot harpoon and spent a year forging his curious adventure into a bloody ride to hell and back. "...what in the world is equal to it?"

Moby Dick is a masterpiece of literature, the great American novel. Nothing else Melville wrote is even in the water with it, but Steinbeck can't touch it, and no giant's shoulders would let Faulkner wade near it. Melville, The pale Usher, warned the timid: "...don't you read it, ...it is by no means the sort of book for you. ...It is... of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hausers. A Polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it. Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book..." But I say if you've never read it, read it now. If you've read it before, read it again. Think Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Goethe, and The Bible. If you understand it, think again.

 
  Open your mind

Last year I decided to expand my intellectual horizons by reading a series of American literary classics. Moby Dick was the first book on my list. It took me three months to finish this legendary story and, looking back on it now, I must say that it was worth every minute. To others who are considering this effort I say this: buttress your stamina and open your mind. This is not John Grisham or Tom Clancy. You will be reading high literature and you will be required to think. If you do so, Ishmael, Ahab and crew will open a window to some of mankind's most profound questions: Is it better to fight evil or promote virtue? Where is the line between honorable justice and blind vengeance? Do bad things happen because the universe is evil or just indifferent? The true pleasure to be derived from reading this book can be found by closing its pages every so often and reflecting on the questions that it will raise in your mind. A completely different experience than breezing through the latest best-seller, but much more rewarding.

Be aware that Moby Dick is many types of books in one. It is part adventure story, part sermon, part history of whaling, part encyclopedia of whale anatomy, part metaphysical allegory. Expect it to change periodically as you move through it, be receptive to each part, and don't try to compartmentalize it as any one particular type of work.

 
  Approaching Melville with Fear and Awe

I find the prospect of reviewing this book quite daunting. Melville didn't write a typical novel in Moby Dick, even by his own standards. And reactions to the work are passionate and passionately divided, even to this day. Setting sail in this Melvillian squall is a difficult prospect, but despite my hesitations, I'm going to give it a go and say that, despite it's many technical flaws, Melville's book is the touchstone for American literature, much as Ives' music is the touchstone for American composition. Melville managed to find a voice that was distinctively "New World" and yet also universal enough to speak to the existential questions that have plagued humans since we first turned our heads to the sky to ask "Why".

Some things are truly subjective....such as book reactions. The issue with Melville in general is that he is a flawed genius. Moby Dick is not a perfect book in the sense than a Henry James novel might be perfect. It's not even as tight as Dostoevsky...and he's no model of literary tightness. I think when people have trouble with Moby Dick it's because that for them, the flaws outweigh the virtues....

The book is a stylistic hodgepodge, and this is probably exactly what makes it difficult for many readers. It starts out as a plain sailing yarn, much like Melville's earlier Typee or Redburn...or Richard Dana's Three Years Behind the Mast. But then it changes into a philosophical drama with many, many "informative" chapters that can at times read like a whaling primer rather than a novel. And the drama part is one part sea adventure and two parts Shakespeare....add to that a constantly changing philosophical view (God, as personified by Moby Dick and by other things, can be seen in the book as wholly good, Good but permitting evil, evil itself, good but locked in a battle with an equally powerful evil force, or finally completely indifferent to humans.)

I think for people who have trouble with the book, if Melville had taken just one of these tacts the book would be much easier to read and less littered with flaws. However....for me at least....I recognize those flaws and find the power in the book despite them...and perhaps even because of them. In a sense to me, Melville was using the Pequod as a symbol for all of the human world, and his radical stylistic inclusiveness IS actually exactly to the point of the book. Everything in humanity is included in the book, as all of human endeavor is essentially an existential quest for meaning in the face of an unknowable God (at least unknowable in any normal human sense)...and we bring everything, warts and all.

The character of Ahab can also be a stumbling block for readers. He is clearly monomaniacal, and for many, that singleminded desire for revenge obscures his greater humanity. The key to understanding Ahab though is to realize that he does indeed go through a change in the book. He begins as a man obsessed with revenge to the exclusion of human values....but he is also still capable of commanding love and respect from his crew. Even Starbuck, who most actively opposes Ahab, to some extent still loves the man and when given the opportunity to kill him and save the crew, Starbuck can't bring himself to do so. The tenderness in Ahab is shown in his relations to Pip, the addled cabin boy, but also peaks through briefly in the encounter with the Rachel, where Ahab almost gives into the pleas of the bereaved Captain who has lost his son to Moby Dick, and more fully in the marvelous "Symphony" chapter, where Ahab and Starbuck find a rare moment of communion in the beauty of nature and in their shared love of home and family. But despite all, Ahab can't let go of his quest to grapple with the bigger issue of good and evil that the whale has come to represent to him. It has become a compulsion with him and a fatal one.

One suggestion for reading this book is to read the Shakespearean chapters aloud. Much of the nuance in the characters of Starbuck, Ahab and Stubb is lost unless you bring the language to life. Melville's language is grand and was meant to be heard out loud. Another strategy is to view the John Huston film. Though the movie is deeply flawed, hearing Gregory Peck declaim Melville's lines helps to bring the character to more vivid life.

A final note on editions of this work. I have several and most of them are pretty equal in terms of the quality of the text. The Modern Library has the added benefit of Rockwell Kent's masterful woodcut illustrations. But to actually read the text I find the Bantam Mass Market edition is my favorite. The introductory note is excellent, and the book is stuffed with afterword material, including Melville's letters to Hawthorne while writing the book, contemporary press reviews of the work, and several excellent modern essays which help with understanding the greater issues behind this deeply moving and important work of American fiction.

 
  This book is gonna make it!

Finishing "Moby Dick" goes up there with my greatest (and few) academic achievements. It was a gruelling read, but---in the end---completely worthwhile.

I've been reading it for 6 months. I started over the summer, during an abroad program in Oxford, and I remember sitting outside reading when one of the professors came over, saw what I was reading, and said: "It's a very strange book, isn't it?"

Looking back, that might be the best way to describe it. The blurb from D.H. Lawrence on the back cover agrees: Moby Dick "commands a stillness in the soul, an awe...[it is] one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world."

Now there are those who will say that the book's middle is unbearable---with its maddeningly detailed accounts of whaling. Part of me agrees. That was the hardest to get through. But, still, even the most dull subject offers Melville an opportunity to show off his writing chops. He's a fantastic writer---his text most resembles that of Shakespeare.

And, like one Shakespeare's characters, Melville sees all the world as a stage. Consider this beautiful passage from the first chapter:

"Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnifient parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces--though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment."

The end of "Moby Dick" informs the rest of the book, and in doing so makes rereading it inevitable. It is telling that Moby Dick doesn't appear until page 494. It is telling, because, the majority of the book is spent in anticipation---in fact, the whole book is anticipation. It's not unlike sex, actually---delaying gratification to a point of almost sublime anguish. What comes at the book's end, then, is mental, physical, and spiritual release (as well as fufillment).

The book leaves you with questions both large and small. I was actually most troubled with this question---What happened to Ishmael? No, we learn his fate at the book's end, but where was he throughout it? We all know how it starts---"Call me Ishmael"---and the book's first few chapters show him interacting with Queequeg and an innkeeper. But then we lose him onboard the Pequod---we never see him interact with anyone. No one ever addresses him. He seems to witness extremely private events---conferences in the Captain's quarters, conversations aboard multiple boats, and--what can only be his conjecture--the other characters' internal dialogue. Is he a phantom? What is he that he isn't? Somehow I think this question masks a much larger and more important one.

Try "Moby Dick." Actually, don't try it---read it. Work at it. Like lifting weights a bit heavier than you're used to, "Moby Dick" will strengthen your brain muscle. Don't believe those who hate it, they didn't read it. They didn't work at it. Be like Ishmael, who says: "I try all things; I achieve what I can." Or, more daringly, be like Ahab, whose ambition is his curse, but whose curse propels and writes the book itself.