The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville"

It took me three tries before I finally succeeded in making it all the way through Moby-Dick.  If memory serves, I was 12-14 years old when I made my first two attempts (inspired by seeing the 1956 film version on TV).  Both times, I don't think I made it out of New Bedford.  By the time of my third attempt, I was a junior in high school.  My English teacher -- appropriately named Mrs. Fish -- required each of us to write a term paper on an American author selected from a list approved by (I presume) the school board.  We had to research our chosen author's life, read at least two of his or her books, and look into some of the relevant critical literature.

Title page to Syracuse's facsimile reprint
I chose Melville.  To aid me, I borrowed from the school library A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville, by James Edwin Miller, then-chairman of University of Nebraska's English Department.  Published in 1962, this was one in a series of "Reader's Guides" to various authors put out by Farrar, Straus and (it seems; information is sketchy) also distributed by Octagon Books and Thames & Hudson.  Another volume in the series, A Reader's Guide to James Joyce, came into my hands the following year and was still kicking around my parents' house as recently as 10 years ago. 

Recently, I returned to Miller's book to see how much of it, if anything, I retained after thirty-odd years.  It is now available in a paperback facsimile reprint by Syracuse University Press (with a new and very unappealing cover) and can also be found in Google books, surprisingly.

I did not retain much, as it turns out.  I can put my finger on only two things: Miller's map of the overall flow of Melville's output, and his interpretation of White Jacket's discarding his coat as an affirmation of "involvement" in the human condition.

"Something further may follow this Masquerade" -- tomorrow, perhaps.

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