Thursday 1 August 2019

Welcome to the Moby-Dick Readalong

Happy 200th Birthday Herman Melville!

From Herman Melville, Mariner and Mystic
by Raymond M. Weaver, 1921

On this day in 1819, Melville was born in New York City to Allan Melville (a merchant whose father was a Revolutionary War hero) and Maria Gansevoort (whose father was a commander at Fort Stanwix during the Revolutionary War).

Which is why I have picked this day of all days to start my long-awaited, much-anticipated Moby-Dick Readalong.

The plan is to read a chapter of the book, 

then listen to the matching podcast episode from the Moby-Dick Big Read.

That's 137 chapters (including the Extracts and Epilogue).

Trying to read Moby-Dick in just one month felt way too ambitious for me right now.
A chapter-a-day is also too big a commitment.
So I have simply set a start date and an end date with the idea of reading and listening to 3-4 chapters a week.
This allows for a slow week or two when life gets busy, with catch up sessions during the quieter weeks.
I will use a Google Doc spreadsheet to keep me on track, but I won't be following it religiously.

With such an auspicious start date - Melville's 200th birthday - I needed an equally relevant end date.

I chose the month he started writing Moby-Dick in 1850 - February.
Therefore, on the 29th Feb 2020, 170 years after Melville sat down to write this American classic, we will finish our Moby-Dick Readalong.

1st August 2019 - 29th February 2020

That's 30 weeks of Moby-Dick with 4 and half chapters a week to read and listen to. 
I should be able to do that (& still read other stuff as well). 

I will put up regular posts to see how everyone is going and provide encouragement. I will attempt to tweet quotes from each chapter and share images of my copy of Moby-Dick in the wild on twitter and instagram.

I will be reading the lovely Coralie Bickford-Smith designed 2012 Penguin English Library edition of Moby-Dick (with an Afterword by Alfred Kazin).

I'm expecting to hit some choppy waters along the way. Many respected blogger friends have not found Moby-Dick an easy read. Their current well-wishes are couched with knowing eye winks and the occasional guffaws.

Adam @Roof Beam Reader had this to say,
Stunning. One of the most – no, the most elaborately detailed book I have ever read. Not the most exciting plot, not the easiest language, not too many exciting sub-layers to the story. But definitely, positively one of the best books ever written. It took me 7 months to get through (and I’m an insanely fast reader) but it was well worth it.

Nancy warns us that 'there’s a lot of scrimshaw and blubber!' to wade through.

Fiction Fan was fairly scathing, 
My verdict – shows potential in places but requires a severe edit to rid it of all the extraneous nonsense and to improve the narrative flow.

I’ve come to realise that I have a complication relationship with this novel. Some parts of it I loved and thought were superbly conceived and written. Other sections made me despair and wish for an end to what seemed an eternity of boredom.

Katherine is considering rereading Moby-Dick with us (which is a good thing, right?) after reviewing it in 2017,
What I didn’t expect was just how odd of a tapestry this book is. There are adventure bits. There are poetical, metaphysical digressions. There is bawdy humor and Shakespearean soliloquies. And yes, a lot about whales and whaling.

Marianne @Let's Read had this to say earlier this year, 
I was reminded of lessons at school where all I wanted was that this class would be over and the next, more interesting one, would begin.

On a more hopeful note, Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker alerted me to this wonderful article,
Subversive, queer and terrifyingly relevant: six reasons why Moby-Dick is the novel for our times by Philip Hoare in The Guardian this week. Hoare says that,
Not only is it very funny and very subversive, but it maps out the modern world as if Melville had lived his life in the future and was only waiting for us to catch up.

I attempted to start Moby-Dick a number of years ago myself, but I couldn't make it through the first chapter! Trying to go with the flow of Melville's writing didn't work - it just washed right over me and left me numb and bewildered.

To get through this behemoth of a book, I will need all the help I can get - help from my friends and online help. I will not let this book defeat me! Therefore I will be researching the shit out of this (to misquote Matt Damon in The Martian).

According to Nathaniel Philbrick in Why Read Moby-Dick? there a few key points to keep in mind as we read this too long and maddeningly digressive American classic.
  • skim the tedious bits
  • prepare for digressions and detailed descriptions of whaling
  • read some of the sentences out loud
  • watch for insights into the American archetypes
  • & homo-erotic passages
  • note influences from Shakespeare, Hawthorne and the Bible
  • read a few of Melville's letters to Hawthorne 
  • engage with Melville's intellectual challenge & wit

I will add:


  1. Wow, what an awesome start to a much anticipated event. You've outdone yourself Brona with this introduction. I can't wait to get started!!

    1. Thanks Cleo. I had fun putting this together :-)

  2. I'm in! I was considering waiting until January, but what the heck. I'll get to read it with people this time! Plus, I love online annotated editions.

    1. Fantastic Katherine. Your previous experience will be greatly appreciated.

  3. Luckily I don't have a copy in the house or I'd have been inspired to drop my other projects and join in. I have read it in the distant past and will follow your posts with interest. Bill H

    1. What are your memories of your earlier read of MB Bill? Was it love, loathing or a mix of both? Any tips for how to get through the tricky bits?

  4. What a fun and informative introductory post, Brona, although I was worried when I saw all those nay sayers! Thank you for providing so many resources for us. Let the reading begin!

    1. Delighted that you're joining us Laurie. I thought it was best to be prepared for when we got to the tough bits, to know others had been there before us and got through them :-)

  5. No hints, sorry. I was a very unreflective reader as a young man. My biggest memory in fact is seeing the play Moby Dick Rehearsed on tv one cold Sunday night, and I've no idea why that has stuck in my mind for 60 years.

    1. I suspect you may be wavering about joining in Bill! I suspect one road trip soon, one secondhand bookshop somewhere, a copy of Moby Dick will jump out at you, calling 'it's time to reread me Bill' :-)

  6. Good luck for all participants!
    First pages draw you in....
    foreshadowing creates suspense that
    makes us turn the page. (sign outside the inn,
    tombstones in sailors chapel)
    You will see omens in every shadow!
    ps thanks for shout-out, Brona!

    1. And thanks for the encouragement Nancy!

      I'm enjoying all the random whale quotes in the Extract so far. It's building up the mystique and mythology of the whale in a subtle but dramatic way.

    2. The name of each major character has a hidden meaning!
      Many of the names in Moby-Dick were selected for their significance.
      Can you find it?
      Captain Ahab
      Good luck!

    3. Ohhh a name challenge! Excellent!

  7. I decided to do Dewey's 24 Hour Reverse Readathon with a Moby Dick theme. But why wait? I jumped in today, and I've already listened to the first four chapters on the podcast (helpful) while reading along with Power Moby-Dick (very helpful).

    1. Well done!! I'm planning on reading stacks on Saturday as well. Glad to hear that the Power Moby-Dick site is helpful too. I've only read Etymology and Extracts so far, haven't started the book proper yet.

      I'm also discovering the world of Moby-Dick adaptations - from Baby Lit books to a Geronimo Stilton graphic version and YA tales like Ness' And the Ocean Was Our Sky. Trying to work out how many I can fit into my schedule :-)

    2. I will have to see what else I can find. The Baby Lit, certainly. (BTW, look at the cover on that Baby Lit book. This is for little folks?)

    3. The smiling whale?

      These books tend to be for the (fanatic) adults rather than the babies I think. They're all tend to have simple images on each page the label elements in the story, but really only mean something if you know (& love) the book.

  8. Here's a lovely poem to kick off our reads: Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale by Dan Albergotti, read aloud starting at 2:50 by Garrison Keillor.

    1. Lovely Deb.
      It make be useful to remember these lines "Review
      each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
      of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
      Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
      of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart."
      at various times during our readalong :-)

  9. Thank you for the interesting introduction. It really feels like you are going on a difficult adventure. I will try to hang on, although I am in the middle of holidays, travelling and visitors. Not started yet, but feel secure I will be able to finish by February, with the useful help of your guidance posts.

    1. There's no hurry Lisbeth, although I've been pleasantly surprised by how much easier it is than I thought it would be (at least the first 6 chapters anyway!) but we haven't had an whaling chapters yet!
      My relaxed schedule will hopefully allow people to catch up easily or read ahead if they want to. Enjoy the rest of your holidays :-)

  10. In my experience Moby Dick is not a too challenging, even enjoyable, read, provided that you are spending a few weeks in an isolated cabin with no internet and are running low on other reading material. However, I'm not sure how to tackle it in a situation with less distractions... I did write a blog post inspired by it a while ago which was fun

    1. Thanks for the link - I'll add it to the linky above so the other #MobyDickReadalong-ers can check out your evolutionary approach to a Moby-Dick review :-)

  11. Yay!! One of my favorite books ever! I'll join in! :D

    1. Thrilled you can join us Margaret :-)

  12. Wish I'd known about this back when you first started. Moby Dick is one of the books that I plan on reading next year.


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