Moby-Dick

Eagle-eyed folks and/or those who follow me on my twitter feed will know that this book is different from most of the others I’ve read in that I decided to live-tweet it as I went. In other words, one chapter, one tweet.

Simple concept. I think it worked OK. It certainly focussed my mind, because as I was reading, I was considering what needed to go in the 126 characters (140 less the #mobydick hashtag and the chapter number) I had to play with. This was a necessary thing, because otherwise I may have drifted off entirely.

When I mentioned to people that I was reading Moby-Dick or The Whale, the general reaction was one of horror. Why would someone choose to do this to oneself? Widely regarded as a classic – hyped in the introduction of my copy as the finest novel in the English language – it’s often foisted on unsuspecting A-Level/undergrad students, and the scars are lasting. As a novel, it’s a hell of an encyclopaedia on 18th century whaling techniques.

Now, there are a lot of people out there who will argue that this is wrong, but the fact is that the story is… thin (SPOILERS: man has leg bitten off, swears revenge, fails, everyone dies, the end) the characters are – well, Ahab is a character. Queequeg is kind of a character. There are other people in the book, but they don’t seem real at all. Anyway, anyway, that doesn’t matter. There’s some good writing in there. And I do get that it’s supposed to be patch-worky and not easy to read and so on. But still, there didn’t need to be quite as much on the anatomy of whale heads. And inevitably, some of the jokes have dated badly. And quite a lot of the political satire passed me by.

But it was worth reading, because it’s clearly a big influence on lots of American literature that’s come since, and to not have read it would have left me with a gap. And I really enjoyed reading back the tweets just now…

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