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.

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