Thursday, 22 March 2012

How I discovered that I wanted to read Moby Dick



 Me and the whale.  That's how it feels.  I took the kids to our Canadian Museum of Nature last Friday, on our last day of Spring break vacation.  The museum has just opened a special exhibit about whales, highlighting the Maori culture and history with whales, as well as some history of whaling, and the threats that face the whales today.  My kids thoroughly enjoyed it. There are interactive games for them - the youngest enjoyed playing the one where the dolphin has to swim through the water and try to survive many dangers, from nets, to plastic bags, to sharks and killer whales. It took him many tries to succeed, though he enjoyed the red screen of death too.  He also liked watching other kids play, though he complained if they took too long at the computer.  He spent his time lurking there, waiting for a gap so he could try again. My daughter was thrilled with the sonar game, where you can turn the dial and hear different whale noises, and compare them to human noises.  We got to hear the blue whale, which has a very slow and deep voice, and the humpback whale, one of my favourite whales, with their haunting songs.  There were skeletons of various whales, and little movies exploring different aspects of whale history.  My daughter though was traumatized to learn that killer whales hunt everything in the oceans.  She hadn't realized that they ate everything, until we looked at  one skeleton of a sperm whale and read that when it washed ashore, the scientists discovered it had teeth marks all over it's body, including the dorsal and side fins and tail,from killer whales. It had gotten stranded on shore trying to escape them.   That left such a memory with her that tonight she said she'd had a bad dream about killer whales last night.

I think now that seeing that whale skeleton, the one of the sperm whale, started something for me.  I have always loved whales and dolphins.   I've seen them in the wild, and at sea worlds, and at one point I wanted to be a marine biologist so I could study them.   I can't do math so my dream didn't live for very long, though my love for whales has.  At the museum on Friday, I watched a video - very short, three minutes long - of a sperm whale hunting a giant squid.  I came out of the video and suddenly, I thought, how could Ahab have hunted a sperm whale around the world?  They dive so deep; how did he know where to go to find Moby Dick?  And it suddenly was time to read this great classic.  I'm pretty sure we had to read it in high school  and I'm pretty sure I skipped most of it.  I did not want to read it then, it was a book about hunting a whale!  and I was all about animal rights ( I still am). Now, I'm curious about  Ahab and Moby and this incredible voyage to hunt him down.  I'm not going to enjoy the hunting scenes and I'm already steeling myself for them.  I couldn't even look at the nets at the museum and read about all the deaths every year because of them, it makes me so mad that we won't find another way for the fisherman to fish, and dolphins and turtles and other sea life to live, all at the same time.  But I have to read Moby Dick now.  It's pretty amazing when a science exhibit leads to literature, isn't it?  Exciting, too.  There is something about watching the sperm whale dive so far down that it's all dark around him, and he echo-locates the squid through his sound waves, and they fight it out way deep down there in the dark of the ocean.  The giant squid and the sperm whale are the only natural predators for each other, too.
                                         
 Books I'm reading now
I have two projects on the go - reading The Morville Hours with Cath at Read-Warbler, and reading Bernie McGill short stories (they are online, Mel has the link) and her novel  The Butterfly Cabinet with Mel at The Reading LifeThe Morville Hours is  a wonderful book on so many things to do with building a garden and thinking about everyone that went before on that land: history, gardening, the shape of the land, weather, it's beautiful and restful to read.  The Butterfly Cabinet looks really good, with secrets and death and love all wrapped up in memories.
                                                                   
 I couldn't wait to finish either of those projects first though!  I went out and bought a copy of Moby Dick on Monday.  Ifeel a little like Ahab himself, caught up in passion and excitement.  I'm excited to be reading this, at long last! I love the edition of the book I bought.  The pages have a thick texture and the ends are uncut, and I love the cover. It's so fabulous - dramatic, with the whale leaping up, huge, and the boat and the little dinghy with the crew chasing.... I'm going to start the book tonight, and read each book on the go as I want to dip into them.  Since other than The Butterfly Cabinet  - which isn't here yet, I'm waiting for my copy to come in to the library - I am reading a bit slowly to savour each book, I can take my time with Moby Dick and the great adventure, remembering what it's like to live on the ocean and the feel of the waves under the boat, the sound of the water splashing against the hull, the feel of the open water and the sky.  And I'm going to cheer for the whale.

19 comments:

Kailana said...

I always avoided Moby Dick because it sounded silly, but so many people love that book I have rethought my initial ideas. I will read it one day instead of never...

mel u said...

Moby Dick is just a total master work, the moment captain ahab first appears on deck is totally exciting. The prose is just overwhelming. I am looking foreard tonour Mcgill Project, maybe we should push it back to the 29th or so, let me know

Debi said...

As much as I'd love to go to your museum exhibit, I have a feeling it wouldn't lead me to read Moby Dick. That book just scares me. :P But I must say it was delightful reading how it brought you to that point! Hope you enjoy every second of it!

Trish said...

Love this story Susan! And it will probably lead to a successful and understanding reading of the book. I read it years ago for a college course and it was really hard. BUT, I re-read much of it for my term paper and was able to enjoy it because I could get passed the writing (Melville and I will never get along, I fear). I do hope that you enjoy it!

Nymeth said...

This post put a big smile on my face, Susan, and I recognised so much of my own thought processes in it. I've yet to read Moby Dick, but I know that feeling of knowing the time to tackle a certain book has come. Good luck with Moby Dick - I can't wait to hear all about your experience with it.

Cath said...

Just got back today. Haven't read any more of The Morville Hours but hope to this weekend. I'll be in touch asap.

Moby Dick is one I've always thought I should and *would* read one day. And probably will. I think the only book I've read by Melville is Redburn which was fantastic. Look forward to your thoughts on MD.

Susan said...

Kailana: I avoided it because I didn't want to raad about the obsession. Funnily enough, I now recognize that people can get obsessed, and I want to see what happens to Ahab! lol and how he finds the whale, of course.

Mel: I'm glad you have read it! and enjoyed it. I've been in touch, will email shortly about the stories :-)

Debi: Hmm, you know, you do live close enough to come to the museum on a quick trip! lol and then we could meet up, which would be delightful :-) It is fun how we find our way to reading a 'big' book, isn't it? or better yet, how classics are still relevant to life.

I'll be letting everyone know how I enjoy it. I'm starting it this weekend.

Trish: I hope I enjoy it too! thanks for sharing that you enjoyed more upon the reread - sometimes that happens, we aren't ready for a classic in high school, but later on find we are. I'm hoping I will enjoy it too, at least the parts about Moby not being hunted! I hear there's lots about whales in the book, so I'm looking forward to that too.

Nymeth: Thank you! It was such a fun moment when my thoughts flew to Ahab like that. I'll be starting it this weekend, so I'll let everyone know as I go along. I do look forward to reading it, which is exciting. What classic did you find yourself ready to read, any recently?

Cath: welcome back! I am looking forward to your pictures of Wales! I'll be in touch too about The Morville Hours. I hope you had a wonderful relaxing holiday.

Hardly anyone talks about Redburn here, unless they have read all of Melville. How did you come to read that one, and not MD or Billy Budd, his other more well-known novel?

Kathleen said...

I've always loved whales and dolphins as well. I've always been intimidated by Moby Dick and thought I wouldn't like it. I'm really looking forward to your review. Maybe I will get over my fear and read it one of these days!

Cath said...

Redburn was a random grab from the library. I read somewhere that it was one of *the* books to read if you wanted to know what life was like on sailing ships in that era. The descriptions of Liverpool Docks in Victorian times were superb. Plus I think the book is slightly autobiographical. I thought it was an amazing book. I just checked and I have three of Melville's other books on my tbr pile - Moby Dick, White Jacket and Typee. And now of course, I feel like reading of them. LOL.

Robin McCormack said...

I just read Moby Dick so the museum visit sounds fascinating. The book is interesting because it is through several points of view and at times reads like poetry. There is a lot of history and everything you ever wanted to know about whales. Have fun reading it.

Susan said...

Kathleen: Fingers crossed then that I enjoy Moby Dick and can help all of us get over our fear of it! lol

Cath: ooh now I want to see if I can find Redburn! Especially as I lived on a sailing yacht for 2 years as a teen. I can compare notes.

I like that you have MD already on your TBR pile! We could do another shared read, though this one will be slow because we have The Morville Hours to finish, and it's Carl's OuaT challenge now. Let me know :-)

Robin: Oh, I guess I didn't go far back enough on your blog to see your post! I'll come look for it again. I like that MD has a lot of history, and much info about whales. I'm curious to see what was known about whales back then, and about life on the ocean.

Aarti said...

This is a really lovely way of describing your motivation for the story :-) I really like when art an life collide in that way and one informs the other in a very tangible way. Great post!

Cath said...

To tell the truth I'd forgotten that I have Moby Dick. LOL. Yes, we can do a shared read and the other books you mentioned on my blog (Ship of Magic?). I need to answer your e.mail and will do so soon. My daughter and grandson just went home so I need a rest right now. LOL. Later...

Susan said...

Aarti: thank you! It is fun when classics are relevant, isn't it? when they have meaning in our lives.

Cath: Yes please get a rest in! lol you just came back from holiday, too :-) I know everyone is glad to see you. I'm going to email later about The Morville Hours, most likely tomorrow. That will be fun to read MD together too :-)

Cath said...

Okay, that's a plan then.

Here's something odd. I left a comment on your OUaT post last night. Actually saw it posted... and this morning it's gone. Blogger seems to have eaten it. I'll come back later and re-do it if it doesn't reappear.

Stefanie said...

I've read Moby Dick twice once in high school and once just because. I liked it much better the second time. Aside from the brutal whale processing chapters, it is a great story. I hope you enjoy it. And Morville Hours, what a wonderful book!

Susan said...

Cath: I'm having problems with blogger too. It seems to be random bloggers as well. Ugh! I got your email, so I'll answer that :-)

Stefanie: Yes, if I have to, I will skip through the brutal whaling practices. It was enough to see the films etc back in the 70's and 80's when it first became public knowledge. I am waiting until my cold finishes so I can read it properly.

Isn't Morville Hours beautiful? I'm loving it. Did you post about it? We'll link when we do our post, then :-)

Donna said...

I saw this exhibit while it was in Chicago and had to go because I had just finished reading Moby Dick. My daughter spent Jan-Apr 2011 in New Zealand and knew much about the Maori culture which she shared with us. Unfortunately because of the earthquake in Feb. 2011 she was unable to go on the planned whale watch. I loved the exhibit and the book. To say Moby Dick is about chasing whales just scratches the surface of the novel. I hope you like it.

Susan said...

Donna: Thank you so much for leaving your comment. Did your daughter enjoy seeing New Zealand? That was such a terrible earthquake, wasn't it?

I didn't get as much time to read about the Maori culture as I wanted to, as the kids didn't want to read so much as see things. I want to go back this summer by myself and see it at my leisure. It is fascinating by how much of the New Zealand culture and naming of the land is about the sea and the creatures in it.

What did you think of the exhibit?