Moby-Monday: Read Moby-Dick, or the Whale Gets It

Don't skip the chapter on Moby-Dick
Among Moby-Dick’s kabillions of pages of literary fallout, some of the most charming and passionate are essays by fans trying to convince other people to read the book. Saved from obscurity in the 1920s by a surge of belated good press, Herman Melville’s dense, challenging 1851 novel continues to turn readers into evangelists on its behalf. Christopher Routledge of Liverpool’s The Reader calls this tale of whaling and obsession “the ideal ‘desert island book'”; novelist Rebecca Stott says it’s her inspiration as a writer, a work of “mad genius” that she reaches for “whenever my nerve fails me.”

The white whale’s latest endorsement comes as a chapter in Jack Murnighan’s new book, Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits (Three Rivers Press, 2009). Admitting that Melville’s tome “is often thought of as one of the most boring, unfinishable books you can imagine,” the author reveals a secret: Moby-Dick “is funny, I mean really funny, as in one of the funniest books of all time.” The chapter—which Murnighan and his publisher have graciously allowed me to post in full on Power Moby-Dick—goes on to discuss that humor; reveal the book’s “best” line; and even (horreurs!) tell readers which chapters it’s OK to skip. (But don’t skip any.)

Cynics might wonder: if the book is so good, why does it need such a loud and fervid cheering section? Why not let people just read it—or not? The reason is that, like many of life’s most exquisite pleasures, Moby-Dick doesn’t always reward a casual first try. Fans don’t want the book’s bad reputation to make readers bail too early. After all, the more people they can convince to read the book, the more people there’ll be with whom to ponder its mysteries.

But fair enough. If you are a person who just wants to read the book (or not), you might consider signing up for “Read Moby-Dick This Summer.” The organizer, James Bickers, is sending out the whole book in emailed installments, starting July 1 and running through September 30—at which point, you can begin drafting your own “you gotta read this” essay.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Share this post :

Moby-Monday: Let’s Beat a Dead Horse!

Artist's rendering with baleen whaleWe all know Moby Dick is a badass—the erstwhile Badass of the Week, in fact. He can crush a wooden whaleship with his wrinkled brow. But can he crush Black Beauty? This is the question raised by a poll running on the Guardian (UK) website through the first week of July.

Along with Moby Dick, contenders for “Best Performance by an Animal” in the newspaper’s literary poll include Buck, the half-St. Bernard, half-Scotch-Shepherd dog from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild; the unnamed bear from William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; and lapdog Jip from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield. But it’s the autobiography-writing horse in Black Beauty who is currently giving everyone’s favorite cetacean a run for his money. In fact, the horse has been leading by a nose since the poll started a couple weeks back, albeit by just a dinky horse nose, not a mighty sperm whale’s.

Seriously: The terrifying freakish embodiment of God, death, nature, vengeance, or [insert true meaning of Moby Dick here] is up against a talking horse … and the horse is winning? Something is wrong here, my friend. Will you help make it right?

“Horse and Whale,” by Marilyn Burkhardt, used with the artist’s permission.

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Share this post :

Moby Monday – Jon Langford’s Whale’s-Eye View

In a world rife with fiction by people who maybe shouldn’t be writing fiction, Julie Schaper and Steve Horwitz tracked down a few people who weren’t writing fiction but ought to be. The two editors’ new anthology, Amplified, (Melville House, 2009) collects short stories by some of alt-country music’s most influential songwriters, including Laura Viers, Maria McKee of Lone Justice, and Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s.

Among these bright lights is Jon Langford of punk rock’s The Mekons and the proto-cowpunk outfit the Waco Brothers. And this is where Moby Monday comes in. Langford’s 1998 solo album, Skull Orchard, contains two whale-themed songs, and lyrics from both appear within Langford’s tragicomic story “Inside the Whale,” whose narrator is a beached Moby Dick.

“Apparently, I discovered, I am the very rarest stuff of legend,” says the whale, recalling the time he’d met a female dolphin—big fan—who had read Moby-Dick cover to cover. “She said you’d been looking for me forever,” he tells a human on the beach. “How was I supposed to know?”

In an elliptical tale that touches upon such curiosities as the original Captain Morgan of rum fame, forgotten boxing great Sam Langford, and an aching homesickness the Welsh call hiraeth, the author strikes a melancholy chord. But throughout, he also invites a happier sensation with which the Melville fan is well acquainted: the pleasure of looking stuff up.

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Share this post :

Moby-Monday – “Absolutely Hilarious”: The Twittering of Moby-Dick

“How many tweets would it take to tweet all of Moby-Dick?” cartoonist Adam Koford mused on Twitter last July.

The answer, it turned out, was 12,849, or about 45 Twitter posts per day for nine-and-a-half months—as programmer Dan Coulter, a Twitter follower and prior collaborator of Koford’s, discovered after he took the cartoonist’s question as a challenge.

Coulter’s robotic Moby-Dick Twitter feed started on July 28 and ended last Wednesday, May 13. While it was running, the robot (a script Coulter wrote in the PHP computer language) spit out one paragraph of Melville’s beloved and dreaded tome every hour during the business day, with the text sliced into Twitter’s signature 140-character-max dispatches. The account—with Twitter handle “publicdomain”—has attracted 418 followers, and today it begins blurting its next out-of-copyright text, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Why start with Moby-Dick? Koford says he was inspired by Twitter’s “fail whale,” the blissed-out white cetacean that appears onscreen whenever the micro-blogging network is overloaded. Though he had never read the full book on paper, Koford says, he’d read an “amazing” graphic adaptation by Bill Sienkiewicz. He had also endured an audiobook version narrated by actor Burt Reynolds. “He basically screams the whole book,” Koford recalls in an email. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I made it through that.” Still, Koford says, he loved the book.

Programmer Coulter was less enthusiastic. “I’m not a Melville fan,” he confesses. “I tried reading Billy Budd once, and I got about five pages into that. The language and the pacing has never been able to grab my interest.”

Reading 140 characters at a time, however, Coulter made it through Moby-Dick. And with the text in that format, he was able to appreciate Melville’s artistry with language. “It surprised me how poetic he could be at times,” Coulter says. “Stuff would come through that was really amazing.” Even more than the poetry, though, Coulter appreciated the humor inherent in the medium. “Twitter turned the book into this weird series of non-sequiturs—things that, taken out of context, were absolutely hilarious,” he says. “I don’t know that I would ever want to read Moby-Dick as a book, but as a Twitter feed, I really enjoyed it.”

A list of Coulter’s favorite funny Moby-Dick tweets appears in a wrap-up he posted to his blog last week. Fans of the book may recognize a few lines that are as amusing in context as out. This July 31 tweet, for example, follows narrator Ishmael’s first encounter with Queequeg, the Polynesian harpooner: “But I don’t fancy having a man smoking in bed with me. It’s dangerous. Besides, I ain’t insured.”

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Share this post :

Sailing and Books

On Thursday we got a call from Luke’s (5) daycare that they would be closed on Friday because electricity had to be turned off in that part of town for a few hours. A little while later my mother called to say that she couldn’t babysit Joy (3) like she does every Friday because she and my father had to attend a funeral. My wife Jenny has been extremely busy with work over the past few weeks so that left me to entertain our little people. Uh, oh! Thank god for friends! More on that in a bit.

Thursday night Luke and I took my podcasting partner, gCaptain CEO/blogger and friend Captain John Konrad with us to a book signing at The Book Stall in Marion. Another friend, Randy Peffer, is an English professor at Phillips Academy Andover and prolific author. His newest book is titled Old School Bones; fortunately for Randy, but unfortunately for us, the book signing was so successful that he ran out of books by the time we arrived so we had to back order it. Logs of the Dead Pirates Society

Randy also has several great maritime themed works including Watermen, a classic, and Logs of the Dead Pirates Society: A Schooner Adventure Around Buzzards Bay, one of my all time favorites. As its name suggests, Logs chronicles a sail training adventure with Andover students around Buzzards Bay on Randy’s Nova Scotia schooner Sarah Abbott. He also has a US Civil War maritime series coming out later this year. Randy writes!

At the book signing Randy asked if we wanted to go sailing Friday. Well, Captain Konrad unfortunately had to work but the little people and me were free so we took him up on the offer. Saved by sailing!

What an great day we had on Buzzards Bay. Here are a couple of pictures and a short video (the sound is terrible but you get the idea what kind day it was on the bay.)

Rounding the biggest mark in Buzzards Bay. Cleveland's Ledge lighthouse.

What was that? SSV Tabor Boy sailing by!

Continuing on the topics of sailing and books, in today’s (June 21, 2008 ) Weekend Wall Street Journal Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to solo circumnavigate the globe nonstop lists his 5 favorite sailing books:

  1. The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby (Houghton Mifflin, 1956)
  2. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. 1840
  3. The Acts of the Apostles circa A.D. 60
  4. Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, 1899
  5. Last Man Across the Atlantic by Paul Heiney (Mainstream, 2006)

Those are all great books for your maritime library. Of course, make sure you also have Watermen and Logs of the Dead Pirate Society too!

Finally, if you need more to read this summer, Bookmarks Magazine had a great article in August 2006 entitled 101 Crackerjack Sea Books by Dean King. This list should keep you busy for a while!

Share this post :

Monday Morning Motivator – The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

This morning while at Logan airport for an early flight to Bermuda I stopped by Borders and picked up Dan Pink’s new book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko – The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. I like the marketing campaign for this book is which pretty unique and intriguing; here’s a YouTube video.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtRNiMZsTro]

Written in the popular Japanese manga style, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is a quick and easy read and perfect for a short flight to Bermuda. Pink lays things out in six lessons:

  1. There is no plan
  2. Think strengths not weaknesses
  3. It’s not about you
  4. Persistence trumps talent
  5. Make excellent mistakes
  6. Leave an imprint

Okay, it’s not Good to Great or In Search of Excellence, but it is a fun book with some useful, if common sense, advice and the manga (cartoon) style is entertaining and engaging. While it clearly won’t be everyone’s taste, it does take a dry and much written about subject and presents it in a fresh and innovative fashion. Even if it doesn’t help you examine your career track, you can use it as a catalyst or inspiration for looking at things from a new and bigger perspective, just like Johnny ends up doing with his “Charger” shoes during Lesson 5.

Here’s a YouTube video of an excerpt of an interesting interview with Pink about the book.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZpRb9qUE7w]

I recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring an age old personal dilemma in a new way. It’s an easy, fun and quick read that just might set off a spark of new thinking. 

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko blog

Dan Pink’s blog and on Twitter 

Share this post :

Maritime Leadership Lessons on Monday Night Football

ESPN Monday Night Football One of my regular reads is the 800-ceo-read blog, which does great news and reviews on business books. Yesterday they were pleased to point out that a discussion ensued during Monday Night Football about a business book. (I missed it but it must not have been a very exciting game.)

But this wasn’t just any old business book; it was about Mike Abrashoff’s It’s Your Ship.

Here’s a reprint of the transcript from 800-ceo-read.com:

Continue reading Maritime Leadership Lessons on Monday Night Football