In Praise of Moby Dick

In our Pro issues, we run a regular feature called Book Brahmin where we ask people about their reading tastes. One of the books that creates a polarized response is Moby Dick--people love it or hate it, but Philip Hoare's (The Sea Inside) paean reaches a new level of passion (and unexpectedness).

He once faked reading Moby Dick: "Tried to read it three times. Only when I discovered how wickedly subversive, pornographically funny and deeply demented it is, did I realise it was my book for life. Until then, I just lied about it.... The power of reading it in New England and seeing whales in the wild for the first time turned me into a whalehead--or 'whale stalker,' as John Waters accused me. He also took one look at my whale photos and said, 'That's just whale porn.' "

His favorite line from the book: "those three short words which are an entire narrative in themselves: 'Call me Ishmael.' So, is that his name? That uncertainly pervades the rest of the book. You have this suicidal misanthrope who finds himself caught up in the madness of a ship of fools, observing nature in the most metaphysical manner, and who--spoiler alert--survives as an orphan of the sea. (It's amazing how many people think Ahab kills Moby Dick; in fact, the whale wins.)"

He's also passionate about Wuthering Heights: "It's a book to curl up on a sofa with, with a mug of tea and at least six ginger biscuits. [Haworth and the Brontës' vicarage on the moors] seems to me a deeply haunted place with its soot-blackened buildings and cobbled streets. Emily Brontë's imagination is beyond extreme, as her book is sui generis. It's the English equivalent of Moby Dick, full of madness and passion. And if the whale was a phallic symbolic to Melville, then to Brontë the moor was a sexual organ."

Check out Hoare's full Book Brahmin here. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

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