Moby-Dick is a notoriously difficult novel to finish. There is no shortage of evidence. Susan Wise Bauer, who placed this book on the reading list we unflinchingly follow, shares her own personal MD experience in The Well-Educated Mind:
My bête noire is Moby-Dick; I know it’s one of the great works of American literature, but I have made at least eight runs at it during my adult life and have never managed to get past midpoint. I even took and entrie graduate seminar on Melville, did a presentation, and got an A without finishing the book.
Nathaniel Philbrick, who’s read the classic twelve times and written a book called Why Read Moby-Dick? labels it a “mighty mess” and admits that,
There is an inevitable tendency to grow impatient with the novel, to want to rush and even skip over what may seem like yet another extraneous section and find out what, if anything, is going to happen next to Ahab and the Pequod.
There were certainly many times these tendencies tempted me, and it was nice to see that others smart people out there had similar reactions and would admit, “We feel your pain.“
Despite all of that, we did it. We finished! (If you haven’t yet, don’t worry, just keep reading! You can do it! We believe in you! Go! Go! Go! Yaaaaaay, you!)
But tell me, what chapter(s) did you have to slog through? Which ones were your White Whale? How did you traverse the waves? Did you channel your inner Ahab, rely on a calm-yet-caffeinated Starbuckish countenance, read the whole thing with a Queequeg dialect to keep it interesting? Did you abandon ship? (It’s okay, your secret’s safe with me.)
For me, it was the Whales-in-Art Trifecta (Chapters 55-57) that I feared would result in my tumbling off the mast-head in sheer boredom. Don’t get me wrong, I love art, but reading about the visual arts, void of actual visual art, is, well, as Martin Mull quipped about the connection between writing and music, a lot like “dancing about architecture.”
My end notes did point me in the direction of Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery: Sources and Types of the “Pictorial” Chapters of Moby-Dick by Stuart M. Frank, but I’ve yet to check it out. Maybe it will transform my least faves into my besties, but don’t wait for it, just tell me now, which chapters haunted you like Fedallah?