Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: Why Read Moby Dick? Nathaniel Philbrick [Vol. 4, #26.5]

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As long as we’re critiquing, there are just a few other small notes to mention. Why Read Moby-Dick? is thorough in one sense and lacking in another. I have not decided if the 28 chapters comprised of two or three 5 x 3 inch pages act as carrots. They are enticing, granting small tastes of literary delight, ending in lines like this: “no crew member… is more important to Ahab than the turbaned soothsayer Fedallah” (36). This can only make me ask and say, “Why?! Oh, I have to read the book!” On the other hand, the carrot given is not a taste but a whole dish.  Let us take just one large example: Captain Ahab. (Spoiler alert!) One may not know Ahab dies in the end, let alone how he dies. Philbrick tells all and does so nonchalantly.  There are other plot details Philbrick gives away like free candy; it’s delicious but, in the end, spoils your appetite. After finishing Why Read Moby-Dick? I asked myself that very question. Why read a book I’ve been told too much about?

Still, one must take all factors into account before judgment. Philbrick presented the poetry, history, and philosophy of the literary language I love. He did so with precision, imagination, and the wonder necessary in approaching timeless words. What truth he speaks when he says, “Instead of writing history, Melville is forging an American mythology” (20).  The compliment Philbrick gives Melville of having the “journalistic ability to record the reality of being alive at a particular moment,” can be likewise given. Philbrick’s reader is taken through the adventure of reading Moby-Dick as if they are reading it. The catch is, pun intended, I still have to read the mammoth novel. And I will. I will patiently wade through the thick sentences, the extensive details, the crafted plot. I have no reason not to read Moby-Dick.


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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