Friday, July 6, 2012

Moby-Dick read-along

Found at Goodwill recently: a VHS tape called "Moby Dick Read-Along with our Still Animation Video Classics."

On the back of the sleeve: "It's our mission to help create a reading environment in every home. We must spark the thirst for the pure joy of reading. More specifically, reading alone with the videos in our series will help viewers to develop confidence, self satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment."

Other titles, 72 titles in all, include: Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Christmas Carol, and A Midsummer's Night [sic] Dream. (I think not spelling the Shakespeare title correctly says a lot...)

It says specifically about Moby-Dick: "One of the greatest sea novels ever written...a true classic of world literature."

Amazingly, there are no credits attached to this at all, either at the end or the beginning. No pomp and circumstance, it just goes straight into the read-along. I wonder if this is even copyrighted then as I can find no information at all. I wish I knew how to upload a VHS tape to the internet.

The overall narration is not read-along, but there isn't much of that, mostly just that famous opening. Guess they couldn't do without that. The dialogue pops up on screen in word balloons with still animation as a pretty good voice reads through it all with a lot of gusto. Makes it look like a comic book. It is actually pretty nice. The plot and mystery seem tighter without all the fluff of the actual novel. Lots of the elements are there: Queequeg, Father Mapple is short but good, Starbuck. 

We even tend to know more about Ahab I think. He comes in quickly to the story and somehow I feel I know more about him. The Rachel's captain says Ahab has a boy at home. Ahab himself mysteriously says, "My wife's been alone" for forty years. If anything, I feel closer to Ahab with these tantalizingly small clues based on a shorter piece.

The whole thing lasts only 29 minutes. 

Even if I wanted the other titles, I would have no idea where to get them. There's no contact information or date of any kind on the sleeve. Even the VHS tape itself has a simple white sticker with the words "Moby Dick" in block lettering only--literally nothing else. I can't tell if this was some kind of teacher's aid thing or a commercial product. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Moby-Dick is the greatest American novel

Christopher Buckley on says:

"Moby-Dick" not only bests "Huck Finn," it's the novel that best captures our spirit -- and named that coffee chain

(Oh, by the way, Buckley is awfully anal retentive on that hyphen of our title, so don't forget it.)

He has a strange list, The Bible, Star Spangled Banner, The Constitution, and the daily New York Times that should be everybody' must-reads, must-memorize. But he also wants to include Moby in there: Which leaves me free to say to my three children — and everyone else’s children, for that matter — that I hope, my darlings, that you will take as much pleasure from the book that has always been to me the great American novel, “Moby-Dick.”

Is he being rhetorically funny when he talks about quoting Abraham Lincoln having read Moby-Dick but not Huck Finn because he died before it was published? I think this may be some sort of humor article, like Dave Barry.

It earned him a total of about $500 in his lifetime. Even multiplying that into 2012 dollars doesn’t quite mitigate the sting. But this aspect of Melville’s failure with the book is perhaps ennobling. If it had been a runaway bestseller, like a much later novel about a Great White Shark, its reputation today might be different. Hard to say. What is beyond dispute is that its author swung for the fence, went for the Big One, risked everything to put his genius and all his art on the altar.

I must admit that one of his main lines of reasoning is the fact that most people come to this book too early to really appreciate that. I can understand that--I hated The Scarlet Letter when being forced to read it at age 17 in English class but then I loved it when I was 30--read again simply because I had to turn it around and try to teach it to 17-year-olds. I tried to make it relevant and interesting, but you just can't make it interesting to a 17-year-old. Moby-Dick was kind of like that--I loved that last hundred pages or so, you know, where they were actually concentrating on the whale.