I had the pleasure of listening to the first three chapters of Moby Dick on my commute this morning.
Maybe it was the adaptation I downloaded from Librivox, but I don't think so. I could sense that it was written out, like a drawn out essay. My first impression makes me realize how hard this must have been for a seventh grader to try to read this. How the hell did I know about Narcissus and some of the other obscure references back in junior high? Now it seems a bit more rich and full of allusion. However, I don't think this reads well for casual consumption.
The first two chapters just seem a long way of telling us that Ishmael wants to go to sea as a sailor. Yes, there are reasons but are they truly necessary? Would a modern author even include these reasons in more than half a paragraph? Was this a product of its time.
The third chapter, the scene where Ishmael meets the harpooner that must share his rented bed, the strange Queequeg, is actually quite humorous. You have to put yourself into the 1850s mentality of the "strangeness" of a person from the South Seas being in New England.