My friend, former classmate & colleague, and generally amiable gal, Tamara Holloway has a new blog. She's writing about Moby-Dick at the moment.
So of course, I got to thinking about the white whale myself and my first encounter with Melville.
I read Moby-Dick when I was 20 years old and in the Navy. Fitting, I guess, though at the time I was not on a ship but land-locked in the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by fighter jets, cotton fields, and methamphetamine people.
I read it because a tall, blonde, dashing shipmate of mine told me I should read it. I believed him because he had an easy air of nonchalance, was flip, good-looking, a scratch golfer, a stock investor, and a card-counting blackjack player. He let his hair grow too long and he put his feet up on his desk. I figured that he was pretty wise, and that if he said I should read Moby-Dick, I should read Moby-Dick. I hadn’t read *anything* at this point in my life except for comic books and pulpy sci-fi and fantasy books.
That same spring, I enrolled in a community college course–it was American History, part 1–taught by an old, Nixon-worshipping retired professor/Methodist minister. For one of our papers we had a “book review” option, namely, read a “great American novel” and write about it–what does it say about American History as you understand it, having been a student in this class for the past 16 weeks, and so forth. I wrote mine on Moby-Dick. I talked about Alexis de Tocqueville in the introductory paragraphs. Pequod as pre-muticultural multicultural America. Etc. I got an A and decided that I might keep going to college.
I remember hating the chapters on ambergris and whaling minutiae, not because I hate stuff like that but because I just wanted to get back to the damn story. I might have to read it again, 20 years on.