Wednesday, July 30, 2008

whale of a tale

This weekend Miss Shirley and I are taking a little road trip to New England. Basically, she's tagging along and helping me drive on my trip, since the major stops along the way are the New Bedford Whaling Museum and a Norwegian-dance-related party in Vermont. (Miss Shirley knows the dances but hasn't done them in ages. Possibly years.)

I've done a bunch of stories about whales and whaling recently, and gotten really interested in the history of whaling. Then there was singing about New Bedford, and I kept hearing about the museum, and I was thinking about going to this party, so I thought, why not? It's all New England.

Well, as I was looking up New Bedford online, I kept coming across references to Herman Melville. I thought, ok, I'll get Moby-Dick out of the library and at least take a shot at it. I figured he'd pretty much blow through the New Bedford stuff in the first couple of chapters and I could quit any time after that. I mean, that book is famous for being boring.

Here's the thing: I love Moby-Dick. I'm about halfway through the 500-some pages, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Ok, it's confusing sometimes, and yes, there are sentences that are over a page long. But it's also funny and it's such a cool window into the past.

It occurred to me a couple of days ago: what I'd heard was so deadly about it was Melville's long digressions about whaling and ships and harpoons and the descriptions of how stuff worked, like the layout of the little boats they'd put out to chase after the sperm whale. Well, I LOVE that stuff! For someone with a minor whale obsession like mine, this book is basically perfect.


Sophist said...

I LOVE MOBY DICK. And going up to New England having read Moby Dick is the most amazing experience. Just imagining that these cutesy little seaside tourist towns selling saltwater taffy and homemade candles were populated by gruff, salty seadogs with peglegs is so delicious. And so real!

And yes, the descriptions of whaling and how things work are so fascinating. I agree, I couldn't get enough of the descriptions of how things are done on a whaling boat. Have you got to the part where they are dealing with the Ambergris yet?

I like the discussion of whether whales are fish or mammals, too.

towwas said...

Ooh, no, I haven't gotten to the ambergris part yet. Exciting! And yes, the whale/fish thing was funny and reminded me of that book I keep hearing reviews of, about the trial over whether a whale was a mammal or a fish. It's so fascinating to consider a time, not so long ago, when people hadn't bought into the Linnean system for classifying life yet.

Jason said...

So I should finally read this book? It's on my too-long list of to-be-read classics.

longdistancepunner said...

did you know today is melville's birthday? Your post is so well-timed!

towwas said...

LDP, I did not know that! Awesome!

miss shirley said...

I never knew whaling would be so interesting. Are you going to blog about the food because yum.