To Moby Dick, the best book I never read

google doodle, moby dick, melville
Today’s Google Doodle: Moby Dick

Thank you Google, for the Google Doodle this morning.

I saw the Google Doodle this morning about Moby Dick and would love to write something erudite about it but you know, I never read it. Nope, not even when it was assigned in high school. That is not to say I didn’t learn a lot about writing from Melville. As soon as I realized Moby Dick was about hunting and killing a whale I made the decision not to go through the same anguish I suffered with The Red Pony, Old Yeller or Bambi. I invested in the Cliff Notes and checked a couple of books full of Melville & Moby Dick  literary criticism out of the library and got to work. I skimmed for quotations, word-play and literary devices without ever approaching immersion in the emotional impact of the work. The paper received a good grade as I recall but what I always remembered was how much I enjoyed writing it. It was the first time I understood the difference between a kid’s book report and a research paper. I realized that my “job” was to understand what other’s had said about a book and where they got their views and then add to the conversation in a way that showed my comprehension of the literary work itself and its place in literature. I had quite frankly been unable to learn that by writing about books I loved because in reading them I became so beguiled by the words and emotions that the literary devices and plot structures were lost on me.  

Do you remember when you “got” it? 

Did you really read Moby Dick?

Thank you Google for the Google Doodle today and thank you to Herman Melville for Moby Dick, the best book I never read. 

4 thoughts on “To Moby Dick, the best book I never read”

  1. I did read Moby Dick. I was a sophomore in high school and I was…frankly…completely baffled. I totally get what you say about getting caught up in a story and unable to step back and analyze an author’s craft, structure, intentions, et al. Even though I wasn’t afraid of being traumatized as I was by Bambi and Old Yeller, I was unable to say anything about the book because I couldn’t get out of the “Huh? Oh, wow…huh! Oh, wow…” space. I don’t remember at all what I might have said about it in any essay or exam, but I probably did not get a grade worth writing home about.

    I don’t think that I’ve ever “gotten it” about the difference between immersion and research regarding a written work. What I have “gotten” is the peak experience of simultaneously noting a device of a craft while experiencing the emotional impact of it. My epiphany happened in music school upon a listening to the last movement of Mahler’s Symphony #6 (The Tragic). The device was a “deflected cadence”: one where the harmonic progression leads one to expect a resolution in a major chord and it resolves instead into something else. Recognizing the technical term for what I was hearing while feeling crushed by its blow changed my appreciation of music forever.


    1. Yes, it is that feeling of looking at it while being in it and I didn’t get that about literature until then. Understanding the different types of understanding (for lack of a better word) that come from shifting points of view. Like watching a movie over and over again to “see” how it is done even while you are feeling it get you again.


  2. I first encountered Moby Dick in 1976, my senior year of High School. At first, I was actually excited with the assignment — adventure on the high seas — what’s not to like, right? But my enthusiasm quickly waned in the first chapter as I crawled through rambling paragraph long sentences. Having spent many Summers with my Grandpa reading John Carter of Mars stories, Hardy Boys mysteries and James Bond novels, my pulp fiction senses rebelled and my Sag Moon kicked in — okay, we’re outta here — real adventure awaits us elsewhere. With the book tossed aside, I was free of the chains of literary drudgery — I could breathe again and life was suddenly filled with endless adventurous possibilities. In fact, why stop there? This whole High School thing was really crap. Why sit indoors reading, writing and talking about Life when all we had to do was walk outside and experience it first hand? All I had to do was pack a knapsack, grab my walking stick and head for the nearest horizon. Yes!

    But then my Virgo Sun, sensing a need for some project planning, asked, “What’s the plan, Stan? Are we really dropping out of school? How do you want to handle the parental briefing or are we running away?” Frown — okay, I admit that might be a bit extreme. “Ah, so we’re staying put? So how does that play out? Are we blowing off a teacher we respect? Are we going to withdraw in the classroom and sullenly refuse to participate or better yet, lead a protest by the entire class?” Big sigh! No, we’re not. In the mid-70s, there were many issues needing protesting and this wasn’t one of them. So it was back to the drawing board. Okay, how about this? Having read the first chapter, I’ll read the final chapter and hope that’s enough to survive the essay exam without feeling too compromised. Well, it worked — I got a B which I took as validation of my assessment of this literary gem and my approach to it.

    And yet, as I fess up 35 years later, I do find myself wondering if “Moby Dick” is really that bad or was it just a poor choice to foist upon restless teenagers? Maybe now, with a bit more maturity on my part and a greater appreciation of the finer things in life, it would be a good time to read it while smoking a stogie and sipping a fine Scotch…..nah! I’ve got John Carter books loaded up on the Kindle — I’m outta here! — Scott Bruce Duncan */:-)


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