It’s common knowledge in the literary world that Moby-Dick is a long, arduous read. I have been paddling the murky waters of this novel since the better half of last year. I know of others who had started but never finished the journey. The way I see it, this book is either embraced by long distance readers or shunned by short story enthusiasts.
To be honest, I am not sure what category I fall into. I navigate leagues of long fiction when they are engrossing. I swim seas of short stories when they are collections I can’t read enough of. But this tale from 1851 is a whale I cannot harpoon. Still, I am not ready to abandon this ship.
By supplementing the book with SparkNotes and Wikipedia, I have arrived at some theories. Every Clevelander, including me, should know exactly what Herman Melville was trying to say when he wrote this book. Like captains in blind pursuit of whales, we obsess over things we have no control of (insert favorite Cleveland ballclub here).
This book is very long. I am reminded of what my grandma said years ago while we were watching The Natural. When Roy Hobbs, bleeding, steps up to the plate and waits for “the pitch.” Even if you’ve seen the film and you know what happens next, the creators antagonize you with climax-building pans of the crowd and both benches before narrowing in on the pitcher. Then a few more shots ricochet off pitcher, batter and catcher. Each takes his Oscar Award winning time. Fans are on their feet. Hobbs wipes the sweat from his brow. I’m on the edge of my seat. We are witnessing a moment in cinematic history. But Grandma can’t take it anymore. “OH THROW THE DAMN BALL ALREADY!” True story.
I have read 275 pages of Moby-Dick. I just want to see that whale appear so something can happen and we can all go home. But I promised myself that I would finish it, even if it means reading other books when I need to take a break. I am willing to sacrifice meaningful months of my middle-aged life because I like the challenge this book gives me . Smart people have told us for years that it is good to step out of our comfort zone and try things that don’t always go down smoothly.
I have many ways to pass the time in Cleveland when reading this book. Little road trips with my family to beautiful towns like Cleveland Heights and Berea. Hot dogs at Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue. Walks along the Cuyahoga Valley. I don’t have to voyage far from home to get inspired.
But one size does not fit all. One can always take a more imaginative approach. For example:
1) Start a family and name your children after characters in this epic novel. There is a national shortage of babies named Ishmael, Ahab, Queequeg, Starbuck and Stubb. With a bit of ingenuity, and some luck finding the right mate, Cleveland can become the capital of children named after characters in a really hard book.
2) Set sail on the choppy waters of Lake Erie and head to Sandusky. I’m betting you’ll find Bessie, the slithering monster of Lake Erie lore, long before any whale makes its first appearance in this tale.
3) Try reading it on the mighty banks of the Cuyahoga River. It’s much quieter than, say, the Maple Heights branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Trust me.
4) Seinfeld fans will like this one. Act like Kramer and hit golf balls into the lake. Sink a hole-in-one without getting the ball lodged in a blowhole!
5) Go for a walk in historic Lake View Cemetery. But please, leave your copy of Moby-Dick in your car. There are plenty of other places in Cleveland where you can bury books.
6) Follow the Cuyahoga County corruption case. You’ll be glad to learn that a lot of wrongdoers are having a whale of a time avoiding sentences. With Moby-Dick, all you have to do is convince yourself that you are having a whale of a time reading lots of sentences.
7) Start a support group for frustrated readers. Hi, my name is Bob. I’m reading Moby-Dick. HI, BOB!!!
My apologies to Melville.