Friday, August 28, 2009

Giving up on Herman

How to describe the original unabridged version of Moby Dick by Herman Melville? . . . "a tedious slog of lengthy, sometimes unrelated, prose". Charles Dickens could nearly fill a page with a single sentence, making you re-read the beginning and end of it to remember what he's trying to say, but somehow if you got the rhythm going just right it could be a delight. Herman on the other hand wanders off through the cobwebs of his mind filling entire chapters with vaguely related descriptions of concepts, ideas, deep meanings and trivia. The saving grace of the novel is that the chapters are short, but after spending 5 weeks of bedtime reading slogging through 237 pages of the eight hundred and some total . . . I give up. Besides, I have the Gregory Peck version on DVD.

p.s. I took Herman back to the library and traded him for Dickens, "A tale of two cities".


Gordon R. Durand said...

Oh, skip all that and cut to The Chase — along about page 494 — chapters CXXXIII, CXXXIV, and CXXXV.

Greg said...

I suppose there must be some redeeming literary quality that makes Melville "classic lit", but I've never been able to see it.
The one that set the standard for me, and thirty years later remains without doubt the greatest novel I've ever read is Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamozov. Many people are intimidated by large, Russian novels, but once you get going in it, it's a page turner that carries you through. If it still seems to big to tackle, try Crime and Punishment. It's a suspense gripper that will keep you up way too late at night.
If you want something more to our culture in English, try Steinbeck's East of Eden. There's been two movies made of it, both of them quite good, but the book itself has all the philosophical ruminations that make it more than worth the time to read.

Julie said...

I can't remember if I recommended this one to you or Nancy but I really liked Steinbeck's "Winter of Our Discontent". The title is a little depressing but I thought it really addressed the small man's struggle; you know, those of us Obama is trying to help...thanks to all his help I may be on strike the first day of fall term...but I know I shouldn't whine since at least I still have a job.