A Whale of a Book: Reading Moby-Dick

When I was in college, I met up with a friend and her cousin for coffee, and while we enjoyed our lattes, he waxed lyrical about how Moby-Dick was the book that had changed his life. And I’ve heard similar things from other readers, about how Moby-Dick was a special book, something to be treasured, to be read again and again, sometimes even as often as once a year. But, then there are others who look at this hulking “whale of a book” and think No thank you! I think I’ll stick with something a bit smaller. Whatever your thoughts on the matter, I’d still like to recommend this as a classic staple of American literature. And the titles below will all be Moby-Dick themed. If you like what you see here, consider checking out another list I’ve made, of adventures set at sea.

Moby-Dick is a classic tale of adventure. Our mysterious narrator, Ishmael, opens the story by telling the readers that he has become thoroughly bored with life. And when he finds himself in one of these meloncholy moods, the only thing to do is to either commit suicide or go to sea. So, he decides on the former. Before setting off, he makes the acquaintance of a “cannibal” harpooner named Queequeg, and the two become fast friends, agreeing to sail on whatever ship will take the both of them. But, they are in for far more than they bargained for when they join up under Captain Ahab, a one-legged sea captain driven to madness in his desire for revenge against the white whale that took his leg. The story is a long one, perhaps more involved than most readers want, but if you’d like to get the bare-bones story without all the extra bits about whaling, then we have just the book for you! Moby-Dick in Half the Time keeps the main story intact, but removes the long lectures and lessons to get right to the heart of the action.

Still not convinced? If you’re thinking to yourself If I have to remove half of a book to read it, what’s the point? Then consider this title: Why Read Moby-Dick?. Despite being widely considered one of the greatest American novels, it seems like so many people are too intimidated to give it a try. So, Nathaniel Philbrick explains exactly why this book is totally worth your time. He carefully explains the book’s context, highlights its humor, and of course the unforgettable characters. This is a lovingly written book that inspires, and introduces a new generation of readers to this classic book. So, why read Moby-Dick? Check out this book and discover a plethora of reasons for yourself!

And while we’re on the topic of Nathaniel Philbrick, we have another book to recommend! In the Heart of the Sea is the shocking true story of the Essex, a whaleship that was wrecked somewhere in the South Pacific. This harrowing page turner tells all the fascinating details. In 1820, the Essex set out on a routine hunt for whales. Fifteen months later, it was sunk by an eighty-ton sperm whale. Fearing the “cannibals” that lived on the nearby islands, the crew attempted a 3,000 mile journey to South America, and over the course of three months, they perished from hunger, thirst, and disease. This shocking tale of man vs. the forces of nature was the inspiration behind Moby-Dick. If you enjoyed the book, there is also a movie version!

Let’s wrap up this list with one more book. We all know Captain Ahab as the mad whaling captain whose only thought is for revenge. But, Sena Jeter Naslund gives us a very different picture of this complicated man in her book Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer. Una Spenser is a woman watching her husband’s descent into madness and being helpless to stop or save him. This beautifully written story covers so much more than just Una and Ahab’s marriage, however. We watch her grow up, taking on a disguise as a cabin boy in order to sail the world, her courtship and eventual marriage to Ahab, and her husband’s fatal descent into obsession and madness. In the end, the story is more about Una than Ahab, as she struggles and ultimately triumphs in her attempt to rise up out of tragedy through her own courage and strength.

Erin

I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.