I have just finished reading Moby Dick. I think you should read it too, and while you’re at it you may as well listen to the audiobook read by Anthony Heald, because his majestic narration is the only thing that will really do justice to Herman Melville’s masterpiece. It helped me slow down and appreciate this stunning, philosophical adventure. You could also read Nathaniel Philbrick’s great short book “Why read Moby-Dick?” to gain more insight into the history and significance of this novel.
Here are some things you should know:
1. You will be ready to set sail by page 1.
“Whenever I find myself growing grim around the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
2. If you, too, have a supreme case of Wanderlust, you will find a kindred spirit in Ishmael.
“I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
3. You will find adventure.
“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
4. You will find philosophy.
“Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.”
5. You will find friendship.
“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.”
6. You will find madness.
“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”
7. You will find serenity.
“There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner – for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”
8. Yes, you will find whales.
“Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peters, and like the great whale, retain, Oh man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”
9. And you will find a novel that is practically perfect.
“We must conclude by strongly recommending Moby Dick, or the Whale, to all who can appreciate a work of exceeding power, beauty and genius.” – From a review of Moby Dick by William T. Porter published in 1851.