9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big Moby-Dick fan. Or, if it was a secret to you, then this might be the first thing you’ve read by me. Which is cool, if that’s the case (thanks!).

Anyway, in honor of Moby-Dick‘s 166th birthday, here are nine reasons that you finally need to read it. Now.

Ishmael is an extraordinarily funny narrator.

You’ve probably heard a lot of reasons to read Moby-Dick in your life. Great American novel and foundation of all literature and a genuine masterpiece and so on. But something that seems to be often lost in its recommendations is that it’s a genuine laugh riot.

Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a trend in which readers of Moby-Dick find it funny, yet think that the humor is something they’re discovering for the first time, like this listicle of all the sperm references and this thread in the /r/mobydick subreddit.

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Admittedly, not all of it is funny. The cover page is a little dull.

The reality is that, yes, Ishmael is a very funny narrator and Moby-Dick is a very funny book. As pointed out in this NPR article, it’s a good idea to read it looking for humor and “see almost immediately that Melville’s tongue couldn’t have been more in his cheek.” And yes, you’re not imagining it: there really are tons of phallus jokes, with the entire 95th chapter dedicated to “a very strange, enigmatical object” which is none other than a whale’s penis.

Ishmael is a wise and thoughtful and oddly progressive narrator.

He’s not just funny, of course. He’s also wise and poignant, with enigmatic, zenlike musings including:

“It is not down in any map any map; true places never are.”

And:

“Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

And:

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

It’s that third one that has sparked endless conversation, centered around the relationship between the “heathen” Queequeg and his bedmate Ishmael. Of course, the line above isn’t the only reference to the depths and threads of their relationship. Throughout the entire book, Ishmael and Queequeg form an intimate bond, to the extent that Moby-Dick has been considered the first depiction of same-sex marriage in American literature.

Of course, there are many stories and subplots in Moby-Dick, but the liberal Ishmael (and his partner Queequeg) is a constant reason to keep reading. Continue reading “9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday”

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Ten Ways to Celebrate #MoonLandingDay and Moon Landing Week 2017

The big week is here: Moon Landing Week!

Or at least, it eventually will be known as Moon Landing Week. For now, we know that this upcoming Thursday (July 20th) is the 48th anniversary of the Moon Landing… or perhaps we don’t. Perhaps you just learned that now.

In honor of this year’s Moon Landing Day, here are ten things you can do to celebrate.

Listen to JFK’s Space Speech at Rice University

In September of 1962, with little over a year to live, John F. Kennedy, gave a speech where he reimagined the history of humankind into a 50 year span, and told us what we could accomplish before midnight during these condensed five decades.

jfk-rice-speech

He tells us, in this speech, that space has the potential to be “a sea of peace” or a “new terrifying theater of war.” He also reminds his audience that sometimes the right thing is the difficult one:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

We could dwell at length on the lessons in this speech, the similarities and contradictions between that moment in America and this one. Regardless, it’s something listen to and consider on this Moon Landing Day.

Of course, Kennedy did not live to see the Moon Landing, but it did happen within the decade, as he envisioned.  Continue reading “Ten Ways to Celebrate #MoonLandingDay and Moon Landing Week 2017”

Why This Website Displays No Ads

You may wonder—or perhaps you may not—why this blog displays no ads. Nothing encouraging you to go to other sites, nothing in this margins, nothing at the bottom of the page. You will not be nudged toward fantasy sports, discount shopping, weight loss remedies, or ways to make extra money by working at home. I do not have an “Around the Web” section. The only pop-up is something encouraging you to subscribe to my email list.

Now, I’m not saying this to congratulate myself, or to tell you how lucky you are. I’m telling you this because I want you, dear reader, to buy my books. Continue reading “Why This Website Displays No Ads”

Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)

I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.

Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.

Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?

Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.

Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?

In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.

How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?

Flattered, I hope. By the effort, at the very least. Continue reading “Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)”

What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?

Or, When Did We Start Living in a Fictional Satire?

I’ve compared recent events—and, in particular, this presidential election—to many things: Armageddon, Alien, every Batman story, and almost every ’90s action movie.

But there is one painful metaphor that I have not explored: the 2016 election appears to have been written by writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut.

I first started pondering the question of did Vonnegut write our current political climate this spring, when my aunt (a librarian) pointed out to me how much Donald Trump resembles a Vonnegut character.

I soon googled trump vonnegut and was surprised not to see more about it. I found a handful of articles, but none that fully explored the extent to which the candidate Donald Trump seems to have sprung straight from a Vonnegut novel. Nor did anyone mention the extent to which this entire election resembles a Vonnegut-penned narrative and universe.

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The classic cover of Vonnegut’s masterpiece.

Listen:

America has become a Kurt Vonnegut novel.  Continue reading “What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?”

The Short Story I Wrote Inspired by Wes Anderson and Carlos Castaneda

You may have noticed this blog’s recent lowered activity. Nothing new since early August, with only a handful of new posts since the beginning of summer. What is the deal, you may ask.

Where is your latest needless fan theory? Where is my latest exhaustive Batman dissection? How have you still not reacted to the most recent Bond film? Have you finally tired of comparing the 2016 election to your favorite action movies? 

The answer to these questions is simple: I have been busy with other projects. One project, in particular: The Moonborn, an e-novel I will be self-publishing this November.

I have also been busy with another project: Wildcat, a short story I wrote years ago that I finally decided to dust off and self-publish. Here is its cover, created by artist Dusty Conley:

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Wildcat!

I wrote this story as a student at Denison University, and I think it’s the first thing I ever wrote that I still take pride in today.

Continue reading “The Short Story I Wrote Inspired by Wes Anderson and Carlos Castaneda”

Happy Black Friday 2015 from David Foster Wallace

A week ago yesterday – on Wednesday, November 25 – I came across a deal on Amazon: a free digital download of the SD version of the David Foster Wallace biopic The End of the Tour.

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This movie.

The deal materialized as part of Black Friday Week, the manic celebration of capitalism that has eclipsed Thanksgiving during the final week of November.

The odd thing was that it was being advertised as “Buy Movie SD Free,” a concept that’s hard to wrap your head around. You can buy this movie, to keep, digitally, Standard Definition (SD) for free.

But part of what makes it stranger is the idea of David Foster Wallace’s life being sold, for free, as a build-up to the biggest sales day of the year. Continue reading “Happy Black Friday 2015 from David Foster Wallace”

Why Are Trigger Warnings Less Accepted Than Spoiler Alerts?

I haven’t had anything to say about trigger warnings until now. I had been leaning on the side of “not necessary” or “too coddling,” as most of the media I consume had been framing them in this way. But I’m surprised to say that I think I’ve had a change of heart, inspired partially by this editorial published in The Guardian, “Trigger warnings don’t hinder freedom of speech; they expand it,” by Lindy West.

As West argues, a trigger warning is actually mean to “increase engagement and increase accessibility” and that paying attention “to the needs of students with PTSD doesn’t hinder academic freedom; it expands it.”

But I found myself getting distracted as I read her article, going down a thought tangent. It occurred to me that I constantly write things in which I warn people at the beginning of the article that they might not want to keep reading. I begin blog posts with “notes” and “warnings” and “spoiler alerts” all the time. Why? Because if someone hasn’t seen Fight Club, I don’t want to upset them. If someone doesn’t know what happens at the end of the ninth episode of Game of Thrones, I don’t want to ruin it for them.

"No spoilers."
“No spoilers.”

Continue reading “Why Are Trigger Warnings Less Accepted Than Spoiler Alerts?”

What Would Faulkner Say About True Detective Season Two?

In a previous post, I’ve argued that no one should call a show good or bad until the end is known. Which means, now that the end is known, we can decide if True Detective‘s second season was good or bad.

People love complaining about how confusing the plot of this season was. And I won’t disagree. The show’s storylines sprawled and overlapped, losing its audience. Some moments lingered, while other plotlines appeared and disappeared without explanation.

You didn't like it? Shhhhhh.
You didn’t like it? Shhhhhh.

But why is this a bad thing? Are we supposed to understand all the media we consume? Do things have to make immediate sense in order to be good?

TD’s second season and its response reminds me of a famous anecdote about William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler. Faulkner had adapted Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep into a film, and during filming he and director Howard Hawks realized there was something they didn’t understand. Had a certain character committed suicide or was he murdered and, if murdered, who did the murdering? And the best part, the part that makes it an anecdote worth repeating, is that Chandler couldn’t figure out the answer either. Chandler didn’t understand the plot of his own novel. Continue reading “What Would Faulkner Say About True Detective Season Two?”

Why Harper Lee’s “New Novel” is the Literary Equivalent of Greedo Shooting First

People love pretending that there is a new novel by Harper Lee, available in stores now. But we all know there isn’t.

I’m not going to go into all the details of it, because there are enough articles that already do, but basically: it’s likely that Harper Lee is being exploited, her supposed new novel is really just an early draft of the famous novel everyone has already read, and lots of highly questionable things have happened in this whole situation.

The main reason that I’m not going to read it is simple. I like To Kill a Mockingbird, and I don’t want to ruin it for myself.

Society has one simple trend: whenever something can have more money squeezed out of it, it will have more money squeezed out of it. Oftentimes, this takes the form of toys, food, spin-offs, sequels and prequels. But sometimes it takes a more sinister form.

What's next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?
What’s next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?

Of course, there are times when Director’s Cuts are needed. Blade Runner is a great example. The original film is so chopped up and bizarrely edited that the story lacks continuity and swims with nonsense. The Director’s Cut, for the most part, fixed those flaws. Continue reading “Why Harper Lee’s “New Novel” is the Literary Equivalent of Greedo Shooting First”