how to catch a whale

Call me a below average reader. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – I decided to read Moby Dick.

I’m still going.

Moby Dick is itself my White Whale. Several times I have taken up the chase and left off after this Leviathan of a book has escaped my grasp. But not this time.  I have the madness of Ahab on me and I’ll pursue that thing to the grave if need be. It’s not that Moby Dick is a bad book, just that when life gets busy it’s not the first way you choose to unwind after a big day. Leaping astride its preposterous bulk is just the beginning. Still, I have discovered the secret: you can read it for a while and then leave it aside for days, weeks, yea verily even a couple of months and return to it and find you haven’t forgotten anything that’s happened.

Because nothing has.

Ah Ryan, you say, why continue? Why struggle, push, strive, beat and drag yourself on? Why not just curl up on your poo brown lounge with Twilight instead? Or wouldn’t it be better (as suggested by a good friend) to just get the audio book and have done in a mere 26 hours whilst stuck in peak hour? That’d make more sense, right?

No, no, NO! A pox on your shiny pop vampires and new fandangled technomological shortcuts!

For this book is pure delight. A delight I can’t quite put my finger on. The language itself is encrusted with barnacles and sea salt, chilled with the north Atlantic air, but then it’s more than that. Then there’s my till just now unsettling identification with Ishmael, whose itching discontent and simple joy at immersing himself into the world is one with my own. But go on. The book is a journey, a  voyage, is itself an epic. The Pequod’s ponderous pursuit of the white whale across the oceans can’t be rushed. It has to be savoured. Sat with. There’s a depth and breadth to this book’s vision that entices and yet eludes me, like the whale itself eludes Ahab. It appears simple but isn’t. Quickly jet across this ocean to your destination and you’ll miss the richness of the world beneath the surface. And no, kind hearted spoiler, I don’t want to be told.

In its slowness, in its breadth, in its misleading simplicity and its slow pursuit of an elusive object always somewhere out of reach there’s something of life here and I’m loving it. And so today on this 161st anniversary of Melville’s classic I will pick up the Leviathan again and drink it in.

With patience, with determination and maybe just a hint of obsession. That’s how you catch a whale.

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2 thoughts on “how to catch a whale

  1. Love this! It’s exactly right – MD is like no other book in the entire history of books; it’s all tangents and side-tracks. It’s more an experience than a ‘read’. And a strangely wonderful one at that.
    Some souls have suggested that, sub-text-wise, it’s just a Big Gay Novel. They may be right. Who knows? Who cares?
    Enjoy the journey.

    • Hey Glen. There’s a massive section I just got through recently that goes for over 100 pages without any progression of the narrative! At first I was thinking ‘what is this guy doing?’ But then you learn to roll with it and it’s all good. I like what you say about it being more of an experience than a read. It’s great though.

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