Monday, August 9, 2010

seeking sentiment in tar and blubber

When asked what I’m doing this summer, my stock answer is “reading Moby-Dick.”

Due to budget cuts, the library where I work part-time is closed this month. As for my other job, running a non-profit that serves impoverished school libraries, there’s not a whole lot to do when school isn’t in session. So, August is a slow month for me on the work front. And if I’m going to be honest, June and July weren’t exactly bustling either.

I would have liked to use this free time to travel a bit, but my bank account is still recovering from The Great Engine Explosion of February, which was followed a month later by P.S. You Need A Brake Job Too, Sucker! Oh, and then in April, How About a Retreatment of a Root Canal from a Endonondist who Claimed to be In-Network, but Oops!, $1200 later, Turns Out He Wasn’t?

That leaves Moby-Dick and Me. Hello, summer.

I don’t think I would’ve picked up the book on my own, but a couple of library school alums formed an MB reading group, and I was inspired to join. It’s also Shannon’s favorite book. I miss her a lot, so I figure reading MB is sort of like us hanging, tickling each other’s brains. All of that said, I’m pretty sure I’m the only group member who is actually reading the thing. Over on the MB Facebook discussion page, it’s crickets.

I’m treading along at a moderate pace because, of course, I’m reading too many other things. I’m nearly finished with Just Kids, Patti Smith’s account of her early years with Robert Mapplethorpe, and I’m still plugging away at The Collected Stories of Deoborah Eisenberg, which at 960 pages is actually four books in one. Four hundred pages down, I’m halfway through the second book. I’ll continue reading the stories intermittently, alongside Lydia Davis, which means I probably won’t wrap it up til Christmas. I preordered the new Franzen novel, which should arrive on my doorstep in a couple of weeks, and I’m dying to read David Lipsky’s account of traveling with David Foster Wallace during his Infinite Jest Book Tour. Also, I would like to read most of these 100 recommended magazine articles (note that seven DFW articles made the list, which, fortunately, I've already read).

I'm also practicing a fair amount of yoga, running through my neighborhood’s canyons and, now that the Dolls’ annual summer hiatus has concluded, I’m back in roller derby training. So, I guess I'm keeping busy. But what I really should be doing is learning Spanish.

From SparkNotes on Moby-Dick: The movements of whales, like all of the secrets of the ocean, are largely hidden, and the whalemen’s struggles to piece together what they see and hear resemble other people’s struggles to make meaning out of life or stories in books.

A few weeks ago, I went to a screening of my friend Rick’s films. I brought a date, and we struck up a conversation with Rick’s new roommate, Larry.

"How is your summer going?” Larry asked.

“Well, I’m reading Moby-Dick.”

“Are you interested in whaling?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then why are you reading it?”

Before I could answer, my date interjected.

“Maybe because it’s in the canon? It’s a classic.”

“Yes, but I don’t understand why someone would read it if they weren’t interested in whaling."

“I’m fine with the whaling," I said, "but I guess I'm more interested in the book thematically, and in Melville as a writer."

Larry looked perplexed.

“But it’s about whaling. How can it hold your interest if you don't care about whaling?”

The date interjected again. “Do you really think every person that reads Moby-Dick does so because they’re interested in whaling?’

“Most, yes.”

And from here, the conversation between the men – neither of whom had actually read Moby-Dick – escalated. I extricated myself, floating toward the table where a bottle of whiskey twinkled.

"Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever."