1800s Chunkster Classics

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Five words from the blurb: whale, avenge, sailor, whaling, crew

Earlier this year I read the wonderful non-fiction book, Leviathan, which contained everything you’d ever want to know about whales. The book also contained discussions on many aspects of Moby Dick. Filled with a new enthusiasm for this classic I decided  it was the perfect opportunity to dust off my copy and finally get around to reading it. That was nine months ago and I’m happy to report that I’ve finally made it to the end.

Moby Dick tells the story of Ahab, the Captain of a whaling ship, who sets out to capture the elusive white whale that bit his leg off on a previous voyage. The book mixes historical facts about whales and whaling with the fictional story of life aboard a whaling ship. For those with the time to analyse the text (or those with a study guide to hand!) this book also contains a hidden depth, packed with symbolism.

I loved this book, but have to admit that it required a lot of effort and perseverance to make it to the end. Some sections were easy to read, packed with atmosphere and totally gripping; whilst others were so slow and difficult that I struggled to read more than a couple of pages at a time. I’d like to be able to say that I found particular sections slow, but I’m afraid both the narritive and the historical sections contained moments of genius as well as long, boring sections. Perhaps it all came down to whether I was in the right mood to cope with the long-winded, descriptive sentence structure?

Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of mighty bulk, and striving in the Peqod’s gurgling track, pushed her on like giants’ palms outspread. The strong, unstaggering breeze abounded so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world boomed before the wind.

I think reading this very slowly was the right thing to do. Nine months was probably a bit too long, but the subtler details would be lost if you tried to read this too quickly.

Moby Dick is a wonderful story, but I think this is one of the few occasions where I’d have prefered to read the abridged edition!


Have you read Moby Dick?

Did you enjoy it?



32 replies on “Moby Dick – Herman Melville”

I’ve never come across anyone else who’s read Moby Dick if they weren’t made to do so at school. Love your category of ‘Chunksters’! So apposite. I’ve got Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety staring at me which I think qualifies as a chunkster and a half.

Victoria, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I didn’t realise that so few people read Moby Dick outside school, but having read it I can see why. At less than 500 pages it wouldn’t normally class as a chunkster, but the density/complexity of the writing leads me to making an exception this time.

I didn’t realise that A Place of Greater Safety was so long. I hope you enjoy reading it!

Never read Moby Dick, but I’ve had to give myself permission to read slowly my current book.

Every time a book takes me more than 2 weeks to read I start getting impatience, even when I’m enjoying it or the book is not the quick-read type. Just like the slow-food movement, someone should start the slow-books one, especially in the book bloggers community 🙂

Alex, I agree that bloggers would sometimes benefit from slowing down. I admit that I sometimes feel a bit funny if I haven’t finished a book in the last week, but I don’t ever read faster – I tend to just pick up a novella and make it to the end of that instead!

I dunno, I either have to read in one go or give up. I put Gormenghast down about half-way will all intention of finishing it but have I picked it up since? Nope, which is a shame. Maybe I will have to prescribe myself special Gormenghats reading time but it’s so hard to keep with everything these days.

Ellie, Gormenghast is an example of a book that timed reading worked really well for – I don’t think I’d have made it to the end if I wasn’t hosting the read-along. I really hope that you put aside the time to make it to the end of the second book (don’t bother with 3 + 4) because they are wonderful.

Kudos to you for conquering this whale of a book! I have a copy of this one, and even though I have an odd love for things that involve the sea, I think I need to be in a different place in my life before I can tackle it. I find that lately my attention span is stretched to the limits, so I just don’t have the stamina for loooooong books.

Steph “whale of a book” Groan 🙂

It sounds as though you’d love Leviathan. I suggest you try Hoare’s book now and wait until you have a large amount of spare time before tackling Moby Dick. Sometimes long books are well worth the effort (A Fine Balance)

It is a classic, but the thing that surprised me most when I read Moby Dick was the number of long, detailed sections on technical aspects of whaling. I think I could have done without those bits! 🙂

Graham, I knew that the technical aspects of whaling were present and I didn’t mind them to some extent. I could have done with them being pruned a bt though 🙂

Overall I really liked it when I was done- and I think I read it over many months as well….Sometimes I could only read a few pages at a go. I was surprised by the prose being just so beautiful (section of Ishmael looking at the stars that still stands out) and the descriptions of actually hunting the whale in the little boat was terrifying to me. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to make a living doing that. The book is still totally unique after all these years. Although the long section on what is a whale and definitions I did end up skimming… if I’m honest.

Heidi, Yes, I’m very pleased I read it and I think it is one of those books that will improve over time (as I remember the story and forget how tedious some of the sections were!) I can’t imagine whaling either. Far too scary and gruesome for me!

I’ve not read Moby Dick but have always planned to. I think I have avoided it out of fear. I like the idea of reading it slowly so as to not put undue pressure on myself. I’m not sure I will love it but I do think I should read it. You have encouraged me with this review.

Kathleen, I think I’ll find another classic to read in the same way. I’m so pleased I made it to the end of this classic and reading just a few pages a day isn’t a big commitment. I hope you enjoy reading Moby Dick.

I haven’t read this one; every now and then I think about it, but not often, although I do have a running list of other classics in the back of my mind that I hope to read. I did read Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife and found myself quite enjoying it, but partly because I was reading it with a friend; my hunch is that you’d rather read the abridged version of that novel too (if even that!). ::grin:: Congrats on striking this one from the TBR list though!

Buried in Print, I read Ahab’s Wife a few years ago and really enjoyed it too. I wonder if it will have a new relevance now I’ve read Moby Dick? I guess I’ll get round to re-reading Ahab’s Wife one day and see. 🙂

I’ve been looking forward to this review since it appeared on your currently reading shelf! It’s on my list to read one day. I love a classic, a challenge and I like to read slowly so this sounds like my sort of book. Glad you enjoyed it.

Liz, I’m sorry you’ve had to wait so long for my review! I’ll try to ensure that books don’t languish in my sidebar for months at a time again. I hope you enjoy reading it at some point.

Our book group read this last Christmas, and we all enjoyed it in one way or another. I was glad to have read it, and having visited that area of New England, found that helped to give me a good sense of place. It is one of those influential classics that resonates everywhere … and now I’ve read it, I spot all the references that abound. I particularly liked Queequeg who was a fascinating character.

Annabel, You have a very brave book group! I’m impressed that you all made it to the end. I’ve also visited New England and recognised the area. I look forward to spotting literary references to the book in the future – I’m sure I’ve already missed 1000s of them in books I’d read previously.

I have read moby dick and leviathon aI loved leviathon and it made me think so much of moby dick I went and spent more than I would on the everyman copy of moby dick ,I wouldn’t want to abridge it thou I hate abridge books ,all the best stu

Stu, I’m normally against abridging books, but on this occasion I think a lot could be cut without losing any enjoyment (for the average reader – I’m sure it all needs to be there for those studying it) I’m glad you loved Leviathan – I hope lots more people decide to give it a try. 🙂

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