This summer, I decided I needed some new audio books to help occupy my brain during the long daily walks my cardiologist ordered me to take. I’d been rotating between a couple of good recordings of the Tao Te Ching and Chuck Palahniuk’s excellent Consider This (about which I raved in my previous WU post), but it was time for something new. While I find significant value in repeatedly listening to particularly good nonfiction audio books, I was hungry for some actual storytelling. More importantly, I wanted a story that would LAST, ideally through many hours of walking. Ultimately I wound up going with Herman Melville’s classic, Moby-Dick.
It seemed an ideal choice, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it’s long. Seriously long. With a word count that exceeds 200,000, most unabridged audio versions of Moby-Dick are 25 hours long or more, depending on the speed of the narrator.
And that brings up another consideration: I wanted a good narrator, if I was going to be spending so much time with him or her. Because the book is in the public domain and very popular, there is a wide range of recorded versions, so I “auditioned” a dozen or so samples before deciding on this excellent audio book narrated by Anthony Heald. After spending many hours with Heald in my head (so to speak), I’m convinced I made the right decision: He does an utterly marvelous job capturing the many moods of Melville.
I said I had two reasons for choosing this book, so now I’ll confess the main one: I’ve never actually read Moby-Dick. I thought I had – I mean, weren’t we all forced to struggle through it in high school English? – but once I looked at the first chapter, I realized it didn’t ring a bell at all. For one thing, within just the opening pages I encountered a cynicism and wit that I never would have associated with Melville, whom I assumed was all biblical furrowed-brow doom-and-gloom, all the time. I quickly realized that while I may have read about the book – and as a kid I loved the classic movie starring Gregory Peck – I’d never actually read the original book. This is a sensitive point for me, reminding me what a large gap there is in my cultural literacy, as I have read embarrassingly few of the commonly accepted “classic” books. So when the spirit moves me, I try to address that gap, one book at a time.
Ready to commence my journey with Ishmael and company, I began huffing and puffing my way around the neighborhood with my earbuds delivering Heald’s spectacular narration. Within half an hour, one thing was very clear to me: I didn’t know Dick. Moby-Dick, that is.
This was nothing like the book I’d anticipated. Melville’s voice (particularly as transmitted by Heald) was clever, witty and even… I struggled to find the word… whimsical at times. Definitely not the word I’d expect to use about the guy who gave us Ahab, that dark-and-stormy one-legged sea captain whom I think we can all agree has some serious issues.
As the days and weeks went on, Melville continued to surprise and delight me, leading me to many new discoveries about this book, 19th-century whaling, and the author himself. So in this post I’m going to highlight eight things Moby-Dick taught me about its author. [Read more…]