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