It all started when I typed three words in my internet search engine: “Moby-Dick jokes.” Oh, yes. I was brave. Brave, but still cautious. I scanned the results and when I saw a link starting with npr, I happily clicked. It wasn’t a joke but a story from National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” Three Book Series. This series has a writer recommend three books on one theme. The story was called “Mining the Classics for Laughs (Even Moby-Dick)”. In this installment the author is Jack Murnighan. He holds a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature from Duke University, and he’s the author of a book called Beowulf at the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits.
Did your ears perk up like mine did? One sentence made me immediately hop over to my library website and request his book. Here’s the sentence:
But here’s a secret key to finishing — and actually enjoying — these all-time intimidators: You have to realize how much humor is packed into each, and let laughter get you over the humps.
Laughs in Moby-Dick? Laughs even after the first thirty chapters? I am in. Here’s the book.
The preface to his book says that its a “field guide, helping you read and relish fifty of the biggist woulda-coulda-shoulda classics of all time.” Readers, there are lots of WEM novel titles on his list.
Pride and Prejudice
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Murnighan’s 50 Greatest Hits also include poetry and plays (some of which are also on the WEM list).
Now it gets complicated. I want a field guide. I need a field guide, but SWB says, “Remember: don’t read the preface unless it was written by the author (or translator); otherwise you’ll get an interpretation of the book before you’ve had a chance to form your own idea.” (WEM p. 69)
hmmmmm. Is a field guide a preface? No, but I know what Bauer intended. No cheating. Rats. So, this is what I’ve done. I’ve read Murnighan’s chapters on books I’ve finished: DQ, PP, JE. I like the book; it’s an enjoyable read. I feel rather smart since I’ve read the books! The writer has drafted a nifty cheat sheet at the end of each chapter that breaks down the book in discussion: The Buzz, What People Don’t know (But Should), Best Lines, What’s Sexy, Quirky Fact, What to Skip.
You can understand my temptation and since I’ve shared… now your temptation. I’ll make sure to tell you if I jump the stile and spend a little time with the field guide off the path. You do the same.
Did I ever find a whale joke appropriate to share?
Why did the whale cross the ocean?
To get to the other tide.