Monday, June 13, 2011

Reading Moby Dick on Nantucket

I just returned from a week long family vacation on Nantucket Island. We were there before the 'season' really starts, for which I am very glad. This is my third trip to Nantucket. The first two were at the end of September. I would not like to face the massive crowds of the season, where the year round population of 10,000 grows to about 50,000. We also had cool temperatures, while the rest of New England was experiencing a heat wave and thunderstorms.

I decided to bring along some reading options on my ipad. This is my first try with ebooks, and since there was limited space to bring things in the car (four of us and the dog amounts to a lot of 'stuff') I thought ebooks and the ipad were the way to go. Moby Dick is one ebook that you can download for free, so I though, yeah, I've always meant to read Moby Dick. Whales, and the sea and Nantucket is a whaling port, so it fits.

Little did I know that Nantuket takes a starring role in the book. The crew of the Pequod leave from Nantucket on their voyage. Although I doubt that the Nantucket of today is anything similar to what 'Ishmael' experienced:

"Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it -- mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond the sea for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that the people there plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis and three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snow shoes; that they are shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded and made an utter island of by the ocean, and to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantuket is no Illinois." Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 14, second paragraph.

A little wordy, but I wanted to give you a flavor for that, if you haven't had the pleasure of reading this 'American Literary Classic'. I think I've finally come to the realization that when you see those words connected with a book it's like saying someone's got a 'great personality' before you send them on a blind date with someone because you think they are desperate enough to try anything. This book would never make it past a modern editor to be published. I will say that it has some good character development, but the pacing is totally lost to chapters about whales, ships, rules of engagement for claiming whales hunted down by others, etc. This is not as bad as the book The Octopus by Frank Norris, which was not about the sea, but about the railroads being built across the United States. That book spent a whole long chapter on the plowing of a field. I consider it the worst book I have ever read. But I digress.

I managed to read close to 600 pages of the 800 plus the novel goes for. They still haven't seen Moby Dick and Captain Ahab has spent most of the book in his cabin, away from the action. I plan on finishing reading the rest soon, since I really hate leaving books unfinished once I start reading them, even when I suspect they will not end well.

A little trivia, being a big Starbucks fan (the Seattle Coffee chain), their name was selected from the book, after the character of the first mate. The name Starbuck is an old family name on Nantucket (along with the name Coffin, and Macy- yes the department store Macy). There are three Starbucks listed in the Nantucket phone book, and none of them are for the coffee shop, since there has always been a restriction on chain stores on Nantucket. I did notice that that rule seems to be slipping away however. I made several shopping trips to the Stop and Shop supermarket near where I was staying in Madaket, and on Nantucket Main Street I was disappointed to see a Ralph Lauren store. Oh well.

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