Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moby-Dick Big Read: Try It, You'll Like It

In another wonderful case of serendipity, Susan - over at You Can Never Have too Many Books - posted yesterday about the online reading of Moby-Dick being sponsored by The Guardian newspaper.  Over the course of the next few months, 135 different celebrity readers from the U.K. will read the entire book, one chapter per night, until it is all done.  I've already made it through the first two chapters and can report that I am very impressed with the experience.

I call this a serendipitous event because just a few days ago I received in the mail the Library of America Melville volume that includes Moby-Dick - plus, I was already planning to read the novel before the end of the year because of a Moby-Dick-related book I received a while back from Oxford Press called Dive Deeper.  That book, by George Cotkin, centers around a chapter-by-chapter look at Melville's most famous novel, offering insights into the author's thinking, the historical period, and the book's key plot points.  In other words, it is an excellent companion piece to the novel, but as part of a three-way reading of the novel, it is already proving to be a step beyond "excellent."

I find reading along with the online-narrators and immediately reading the corresponding sections of Dive Deeper to be an effective way to enjoy the novel and, rather painlessly, ensure a deeper understanding of the work than I would have otherwise ever attained.  Serendipity, indeed.

I encourage you to follow the link back to Susan's place and, from there, to the Guardian article to get all the detail about the project, how it came about, and who some of the readers will be.  Those of you wanting to get a quick sample of what it all sounds like can jump from here to the Moby Dick Big Read site directly.

The book's first two chapters (a total of 10 pages) are largely scene-setters in which Ishmael introduces himself and explains why he wants to return to the sea.  By the close of the second chapter, he has found cheap - very cheap- lodging for the night in New Bedford's Spouter-Inn where he will share the bed with an unusual roommate called Queequeg.

Two insights I gained from Dive Deeper:  1)  Going to sea is Ishmael's antidote to the kind of depression that makes people suicidal, and 2) The preacher in the black church Ishmael accidentally enters in the heavy fog of the evening is perhaps patterned on Frederick Douglas who was in New Bedford at the same time Melville was there.


  1. Thank you Sam, for mentioning me, that was fun and very kind! I was coming here to see if you had listened to more, as I have listened to Ch 1 now as well as read it. It's very interesting to hear how the character of Ishmael comes through Tilda Swinton's reading, isn't it? I understood Ishmael much better after hearing him through her! I am about to start ch 2 and listen to it,before sleep tonight. It's so much fun!

    I really have to see if I can find that Dive Deeper book too, it sounds like a good companion piece to Moby Dick.

    Serendipitous indeed, for both of us!

  2. I owe you one, Susan. The Moby Dick Big Read is really going to be a fun way to read the two books together. I listened to Chapter 3 last night and can say that I've enjoyed two of the three narrators a lot, so far. I do notice they are leaving out words or changing the order of words on occasion, but I suspect that's totally by accident and not deemed worth going back and editing for.

    The Dive Deeper books is turning out to be a tremendously interesting help.