Monday, June 6, 2011

Stove by a Whale

 At some point during high school, I decided that I needed to read Moby Dick. Even then, I think, I knew my calling as an English scholar, that my commitment to musical theatre was fading and I needed to start preparing for my future discipline. 
Or maybe I was just a stupid teenager who read big books for show. 

Either way, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had a tempestuous, tenacious relationship with Melville from then on. "Why do I need to know how they swab the decks?" I wailed. "Can we stop talking about harpoon technique?"
Perhaps if I'd known Melville based his gargantuan tome on a real live story, I would have found it more interesting. Probably not. But what I'm trying to say is - Moby Dick was REAL. And there weren't no happy ending for them fellas, either.


A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this book. I've been a Nathaniel Philbrick nerd-fan for four years now, since I read Mayflower. (Every American needs to read this book. Not even kidding. Did you know Squanto was evil? It's TRUE.) The man can make any history into a fascinating adventure-mystery tale. If I was ever to teach Moby Dick (or any of Melville's sea stories, for that matter) I'd have the students read this first. Philbrick explains the Nantucket culture, ship life, and the whaling industry with clarity, sharp and urgent prose, a sense of humor and humanity (he was an English major, yepthat'sright).

Did you know that men spent 3 years at sea? Did you know that men went out in these tiny little boats and stuck their own dang tiny harpoons into these enormous creatures? Did you know how amazing their ships were?

Oh my word, yes, I admit it. I'm interested in whaling. And I sort of have a huge academic crush on said Nathaniel. 

I won't say much about the Essex history except: a whale rammed their boat. But they didn't die then, oh no. There were 94 more days of horror at sea in tiny boats to come. Fascinating. Terrifying. Superlative-ing. It - it even - it makes me want to (sort of) read Moby Dick again

And if that's not an endorsement . . . 

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