From the moment I started reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest book, Why Read Moby-Dick?, I felt as if I had met Herman Melville’s biggest fan and he proceeded to whisper in my ear for one hundred-twenty-seven exciting and thought-provoking pages. There were fights with whales, comparisons to current and present political situations, analysis of Melvilles’s letters and contemplations of his relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne – who served as reluctant friend to Melville and unwitting mentor for Moby-Dick. The result? Philbrick doesn’t quite convince me to pick up what he calls a “dangerously digressive, sometimes bombastic novel”.
Philbrick’s screed works to get you to appreciate Moby-Dick and may even get you to wish you wanted to read Moby-Dick – that’s how I felt – but he fails to provide more than his opinions, albeit fascinating ones, on the meaning of the novel. This is a man who has written an award-winning book, In the Heart of the Sea, on the real shipwrecked Essex (one of the inspirations for Melville’s great work). By his own admission he is fascinated by the sea, and has always been. His approach to this book comes with a breadth of knowledge that few readers could hope to match. I was more enthralled with his ability to provide history and analysis for the text than I was in reading the actual text. I already know that I won’t get from it what he did, and I liked reading what he had to say, but never imagined that I would begin to respond in the same way. The one piece of Philbrick’s advice I might follow is to read and savor a sentence or two from Moby-Dick. He’s not picky ya’ll, a sentence will do.
If you have ever read Moby-Dick, then I urge you to pick up this book. It’s short and offers fantastic insight that can only further enjoyment of the novel. If you are a big Melville fan, or like classics in general, then you may well need to pick this one up too – it illuminates two intriguing literary giants. Physically, Why Read Moby-Dick? is a gorgeous book -prettily bound in red with thick creamy scalloped pages- that makes a great gift. I love my history, literature and sneak peek into author’s lives, so I really enjoyed this one. I just didn’t want to read Moby-Dick. Recommended.