I don’t often recommend books. Oh sure, I’ve tried it in the past. One time a coworker asked for something new and different. I made the mistake of recommending House of Leaves. It turns out what my coworker was actually interested in was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell — a best selling often dubiously sourced but never-the-less interesting non-fiction work. Of course, I wouldn’t consider it “new or different” as the last book that coworker read was The Tipping Point also by Malcolm Gladwell.
But oh no, I made the mistake of recommending something solidly experimental with weird text effects. How dare I! My coworker was upset with me for the recommendation. As if it was my fault he didn’t enjoy the book — my fault that he didn’t know what he wanted.
All that said, I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t recommend books. However, Moby Dick is an amazing novel. No, I don’t recommend it. You‘ll find it boring. It’ll probably go right over your head.
I know what you’re thinking, “That wasn’t very nice.” No. It wasn’t. I’m trying reverse psychology to make you read it. Let me be clear here, Moby Dick requires a great deal of work to enjoy. In the first chapter the text makes four or five historical/mythological allusions — 2 of which I had to look up. That’s saying something since I studied philosophy in college. I’m not often stumped by allusions. One of those allusions was to Cato the Younger who fell on his own sword rather than live in Caesar’s world. If I had heard that story, I no longer remember it. The first line of the novel is an allusion in it’s own right. “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael being the abandoned son of Abraham — a hunter and wild man.
Perhaps that is precisely why I enjoy Moby Dick. The novel is packed with content. I’m not just referring to its 500+ pages of length but also all the rabbit trails in individual page. There is a maze of information in each chapter and the allusions you choose to follow dictate your experience with the book. It isn’t about the plot, of which very little happens in the first few chapters. It’s more about philosophy, about feeling existential, about having “itchy feet” and needing something more. It’s about right and wrong, vengeance and redemption.
Also, it has the best last 80 pages of any novel I’ve ever read.