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Book Talk

Moby Dick or, The Whale

by Herman Melville

Published : 23 Sep 2019 05:30 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 07:57 AM

Published in 1851, ‘Moby Dick Or, The Whale’ takes the mantle for the oldest American novel I've read this year. This is part of why the book stands off from some readers. One admirer of the book recently described it to me as a philosophical text. It is true. But it is my opinion that it is also a religious text. How can a reasonable person review such a book? I can't.

The Book

Moby-Dick opens with the infamous "Call me Ishmael." And it is Ishmael that leads us through the scant narrative and majority chapters that describe whales, hunting, sailing, and all things philosophy and theology. I won't lie and say I missed many of the brilliant threads of philosophy, theology, and sociology contained in Melville's writing. I found myself routinely smiling and laughing at the intellect and knowledge of the author. The author's ability to intertwine pragmatic and philosophical subjects is unparalleled. It is amazing to arrive at the end of a chapter and realize that another depth has been involved from the first word.

Thus, I cannot pretend to be capable of reviewing such a magnum opus. I must merely state that I enjoyed it. The book is arduous at times. The narrative portions are few and far between. And this is certainly discouraging to someone looking for a straightforward narrative based novel. This is where I believe it is crucial to read ‘Moby Dick Or, The Whale’ in some part as a religious text. The portions describing whales and whaling eventually strike one as a theology of the divine white whale than mere biology and history. This is not to demean the book as an over-stuffed allegory for divinity—it is far more than that. It is true that one can hear of distinct marine life and whale genitals without being overwhelmed by the underlying divine subject, but one cannot read long without understanding that Melville is probing eternity and divinity at a great depth.

Moby-Dick is beyond me intellectually at many points. But it is not beyond me emotionally. I enjoyed it thoroughly. What else can I say after merely one reading?

The Audiobook

The audiobook read by William Hootkins is beyond reproach. He is the most excellent reader that I have experienced this year. His familiarity with the text is obvious. His pacing, emphasis, and application of humor/irony are second to none that I have heard in this year.

If I come off as lazy in heaping praise upon Hootkins, I must confess that I am guilty. I am eager to re-listen to this audiobook. I would not have enjoyed this book as much on my own. His voice and inflection interpreted the text for me in ways I'm confident my tired eyes could not have achieved. This audiobook was a gem.

In conclusion, Moby-Dick is worthy of every praise heaped upon it—and potentially even some of the complaints. This book is without compare in my recent reading. While I regard individuals who find the book boring to be within their rights, I can't agree with the conclusion. I have finally read Moby-Dick and I can finally say that "yes" this books is the epitome of my literary taste.