Moby-Dick: 99%

Okay, well, really 100%. Though my final issue of Moby-Dick from Serial Reader won’t arrive until later this morning; as luck would have it, I managed to read to the end using an analog copy.

And luck, or chance, did seem to have something to do with it. I’ve been tidying up (no, I have not watched Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. My current tidying initiative is the consequence of a need, long-neglected, and a Lenten resolution). So, anyway, I was clearing a shelf on a bookcase, and happened across the copy of Moby Dick pictured above.

The copyright is 1948, and this edition is a fifth printing, dated June 1953. My father’s name is inscribed on the title page. Given the timing, I have to think he acquired the book toward the end of his college days. And I acquired it roughly three years ago, when we were doing the final clearing of my parents’ house before selling it.

Talk about a long-neglected need. When I subscribed to Moby-Dick on Serial Reader, I wasn’t aware that this copy was sitting on a shelf in my house. I don’t regret reading Moby-Dick on my phone — the print copy is yellowing and would have been much the worse for wear, had I toted it everywhere with me and read eight pages a day for the last eighty days.

I just wish I had been a bit more cognizant of my belongings.

There’s so much I could write about Moby Dick as literature: how Melville spends a lot of time on whales, how he introduces compelling characters in the final third of the book (something I thought I wasn’t supposed to do as a writer), how he telegraphs the ending. But it’s getting late, and I want to wrap this up.

One of the benefits of reading on my phone: I can take screen captures of passages that speak to me. There are about sixteen screen captures from Moby-Dick sitting in my favorites right now. Many of the passages are pretty dark, and I’d hate to conclude my post that way. So instead I’ll end with a quote that strikes a nice balance:

“Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolesence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.”

 

Moby-Dick: 64%

Photo by Jennett Bremer on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I posted about my experience reading Moby-Dick on the Serial Reader app. I’ve kept at it, and am now more than half-way through. In about a month, I should be able to proudly state: “I’ve read Moby-Dick!”

Here are some observations from the first 80 or so chapters, and the Internet surfing those chapters begot:

  • I find myself rooting for the whales. The mariners on the Pequod have killed three so far (none of them Moby Dick), and the whole process is so brutal. And definitely fails all the modern-day “sustainability” tests. Here’s a passage I just read, regarding this one poor whale with a hobbled fin: “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.”
  • That quote, right there, and other passages like it, are the reasons I keep reading. Melville doesn’t hold back in his descriptions, but he also doesn’t fail to subtly point out the ironies of the whole whale-hunting thing. I didn’t live in the 1850s, so I can’t say for sure, but in certain respects, his writing feels like it was way ahead of its time.
  • Speaking of the 1850s, I guess phrenology and physiognomy were a thing back then. In a truly bizarro chapter, Ishmael compares the facial and cranial characteristics of a sperm whale to a right whale. Even more weird, he does this because a head of each was hoisted on either side of the Pequod. At one point, he refers to the head of one as “Locke” and the other as “Kant.” Referring to the philosophers John Locke and Immanuel Kant.
  • Fun factoid: I share a birthday with John Locke.
  • Interesting factoid: Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film, Moby Dick.

That’s enough for now!

Starbuck

The name Starbuck fascinates me. I’ve mentioned in this space before the first time I encountered Starbucks coffee, circa mid-1980s in New York City. (see Ode to the Starbucks on Upstream) For those who remember the 1980s, you’ll know it was a time when the coffee chain was not as ubiquitous as it is today.

I was excited by the name because of Lieutenant Starbuck, the character played by Dirk Benedict in the original Battlestar Galactica. At the time, I thought the name was a great fiction, like Luke Skywalker or Derek Wildstar. (Yes, I’m going full-geek with a Star Blazers reference. One day, I’ll expound upon how influential this animated series has been to me.)

It was probably young adulthood before I realized that Starbuck is a bona fide surname. And then not long after, that a famous fictional character held the name a century before Dirk Benedict suited up in his 70s-era space opera attire. I’m referring, of course, to Starbuck from Moby-Dick. Since I’m now 37% into that tome, I’ll share with you what I’ve discovered about the surname Starbuck.

The Internet tells me there was a renowned whaling family in Nantucket named Starbuck, who likely inspired Melville in naming the first mate of the Pequod. And that the name hails from the village of Starbeck in Yorkshire. Which dates at least as far back as the 1086 Domesday Book, where it appears as Starbok, a name likely derived from the Norse-Viking “Stor-Bokki.” There’s some Internet consensus that “Stor” means great, or large in size. “Bokki” is a little less clear — it either means “man” or “river.”

Whatever it’s supposed to mean, I think it’s pretty cool that Starbuck (or some variation thereof) appears in the Domesday Book. And it kind of blows my mind that almost exactly 900 years later, I see my first Starbucks coffee shop.

Bringing it one step further, I doubt I ever would have made the connection, had it not been an affinity for the name.

Moby-Dick: 18%

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

The first two weeks of 2019 have been busy. Busy for me, at least. I’ve been writing, working, following the Saints (we play in the NFC Championship game this Sunday). Was down for the count earlier this week with a migraine (not cool at all). But I’ve also been reading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, via an app named “Serial Reader.” (Thanks for the app recommendation, niece Cece!)

So far, my experience with this app has been very positive. Here’s how it works: Serial Reader contains a library of classics to select from — I think they are all works that are in the public domain. Then it parses out the tome to you in daily “issues,” that also show the average reading time. I’m currently awaiting Issue #16 (of 79), which has a reading time of 9 minutes.

My reading time usually takes a little longer, because, invariably, I’m conducting concurrent Internet searches to help ground me in Melville’s world of New England whalers, circa the mid-nineteenth century. Suffice it to say, my screen has seen a whole lot of info about Quakers, parmacetti (sperm whales), and stove boats (whaling ships), amongst various and sundry other archaic terms.

Two things to note: 1) That stated “reading time” seems to be key to me keeping up with this. Even in days that are jam-packed, I say to myself, “surely, I can find 9 minutes to see when they’re ever going to leave Nantucket!” And, 2) Melville wrote Moby-Dick in first person (I should have figured that out from “Call me Ishmael.”) And there’s a certain humor to his voice that I didn’t expect.

There’s a lot I could expound upon — like maybe offering up a few examples of that humor. And, my hankering to see In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a 2015 movie with Chris Hemsworth that I’ve half-watched before, and it’s based on the true story that inspired Moby-Dick. I really want to watch it again, in the context of my newly found nineteenth-century whaling knowledge.

Seeing as I’m going to be at this for at least the next 63 days, I’m sure there might be another blog post or two on this topic. 🙂