Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Moby Dick

Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum disagree about Moby Dick . Yglesias:

All that said, I love Moby Dick. Every American should read Moby Dick, it’s our great national epic and you can’t understand the country without it.


I read Moby Dick a couple of months ago. I didn't care for it. I'll spare you the details since I'd just be opening myself up to quite justified charges of philistinism, and who needs that? But I will say this: I don't feel like I understand our country any better for having read it. ...

I have read Moby Dick but I don't remember anything much about it except that it was long and boring. So I agree with Drum.

As for requiring kids to read it, in my opinion this is wrong for anything less than a specialized college level course. Forcing students to read books like this seems like a variant of the theory that the worse a medicine tastes the better it must be for you.


  1. I avoided reading Moby Dick for years because of the common opinion that it is overly long and boring. However, late in my teens I decided to give it a try, and I borrowed a copy from my future father-in-law. Despite its length I quite unexpectedly found it to be a quick and fascinating read. The prose sets the moods with extraordinary vividness. Consider for example the final moments of the sinking of the Pequod (just before the Epilogue):

    "Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

    Nevertheless I must agree that reading the novel did not help me understand our country any better. Instead I gained something new that I did not understand: Why do so many of my countrymen not enjoy the book?

  2. I do like that one paragraph....perhaps I'll read it. Like War and Peace, it's a book we want to finish during the lazy days of summer, but never get to it.