It’s Google’s fault. Reading Moby-Dick, I want to better understand this complicated, infuriating, wonderful book. I understand why critics argue it is one of the first modern novels. Melville inserts all manner of lists, definitions, a sermon and a play into the text. It is also a novel where not a lot happens, for a very long time. The guy who wrote the introduction to my version claims the story is pure adventure after Chapter 22 (when the Pequod sets sail). I’ve not read an adventure story where the action is interrupted for a disquisition on types, in this case types of whales.
So I’m reading this leviathan of a book, and I decided I want to learn more about the book’s context and so on. I Googled “reading about Moby-Dick” or “how to read Moby-Dick” or some such thing. Now I realize this is my fault, entirely. Google simply trolls the internet for whatever information humans care to upload to their servers. But what I got back made me realize how very far I am from mastery. I am so far from mastery that I realized I would have majored in English, were I given a do-over type collegiate opportunity.
Close textual readings. Figures of speech. Figures of rhetoric. Cosmopolitanism. Puritanism. Jeffersonianism. The nature of culture. What is a reader and the reader’s role in a novel?
I just find it easier to blame Google rather than my own unquiet, unsettled mind. Some people travel the world. I guess I’m someone who travels the as-yet unexplored avenues of my mind, and I suppose it isn’t a bad thing to want to be a better reader. It’s just that I’m not twenty any more, & I feel so far behind. Though to be fair this is what I want to be doing. Understanding what I’m reading – why an author uses a particular figure of speech and its effect on the story and how I might do or not do such a thing – this is the seed of all great writing.
Reviewing some of what Google coughed up reminds me that while I may be a good writer, I don’t believe I am a skilled one. By skilled I mean a writer who comprehends and executes figures of rhetoric and speech well; or has dispensed with them. I believe all the great authors knew or know exactly what they are doing. The rest of us simply bum a ride.∗