A Different Kind of Reading Guide

16 Apr

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.

Don Quixote
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
Madame Bovary
Crime and Punishment
Anna Karenina
The Trial
Native Son
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.


Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Moby-Dick, Well-Educated Mind


Tags: , , , ,

13 responses to “A Different Kind of Reading Guide

  1. Christina Joy

    April 16, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I can’t wait to read this! Maybe Murnigham was the previous owner of my DQ who scribbled “sexy” in the margains.

    • Christine

      April 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

      I’m sure he was.

  2. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Christine, we’re on the same page. I loaded the sample to B on the B last weekend. I would love to read it, but my library doesn’t own a copy 😦 Might consider buying the Kindle version. I’d love to know what you think after you read it. I came upon it through NPR too.

    And yes, I need a field guide! I’m not really interested in plowing through stuff that I only appreciate in hind sight. I am very glad that I read Why Read Moby-Dick? before reading MD. It greatly enhanced my experience with the novel. And guess what SWB? I don’t totally agree with Nathaniel Philbrick after reading the novel for myself! I might tell people to read the book for other reasons.

    My side-dish for Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Mightier than the Sword, by David S. Reynolds. Looks really good. Can’t wait to start it. I’m sure I’ll blog about it soon.

    • Christine

      April 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      I just finished Philbrick’s book. I had it for dessert after finishing MD. I think I’d like to see Philbrick and Murnighan have a face off about The Whale. Now I can look at B on the B a little more closely.

      My book on the side right now is a novel called “Ahab’s Wife”. It’s an interesting thought to write about the wife that’s so briefly mentioned, but if this book doesn’t quickly improve in the next 50 pages it’s going back to the library.

      • Adriana @ Classical Quest

        April 17, 2012 at 9:35 pm

        I remember when Ahab’s Wife was first published. I made a mental note then that if I ever read MD, I might give it a try. However, I’ll take your word for it if you don’t think it’s worth my time. My stack of books TBR is growing mightily.

  3. Tonia

    April 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

    My library has a copy – I just put it on hold. Looks like a nice read- thanks for recommending it!

    • Christine

      April 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      You’re welcome. Let me know what you think. I’ve only read a couple of chapters.

  4. Classical Madness

    April 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Love it! Can’t wait.

  5. Norma Carey

    April 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    shoot! I thought I posted something but I don’t see it. I bet I know why – I didn’t click post comment. I was wondering when you all have time to do the extra reading. I was patting myself on the back for finishing Moby Dick and even went back today to reread the ending and here you all are reading more! I have hooked up with a true group of pedantics and I think you all should start a class for me to audit. Come on, I am the retired matriach here and I cannot for the life of me figure out when you all do this reading/studying. I am beginning to think you have cloned yourself and like “Fringe” there must be two universes.

    • Christine

      April 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      You crack me up! When does extra reading happen? Any moment I can squeeze it in. Doesn’t everyone read while brushing their teeth? “Fringe”? Maybe in my other universe I have a tidy home and a plan for dinner!

      • Adriana @ Classical Quest

        April 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm

        I get very little sleep and I hardly ever watch TV. If something big happens in the news, my mom calls me.

  6. Ruth

    April 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    My library had a copy, and I just ordered it. Can’t wait to peek!

    • Christine

      April 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      Excellent! I hope it’s helpful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: