This Week, I Read… (2018 #1)

1 - Moby Dick

#1 – Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

I really didn’t want to DNF the first book of 2018. I trudged doggedly through the first third, alternately bored and disgusted. I skimmed the middle, skipping lightly over chapters that were obviously outdated “science” about whales.

At the two-thirds mark, I just couldn’t take it anymore. This book has nothing to offer me, and I wonder what, if anything, makes it relevant as a “classic” today.

As an adventure story, it’s plodding and dull. Ishmael doesn’t even get on the Pequod for the first hundred pages, and once he does, it’s still forever until they spot a whale and get hunting–even when they do finally do anything, the action stops for chapters at a time so Ishmael can educate us on whether or not a whale is a fish.

As a comedy (I’ve seen reviews saying it’s better to read it with humor in mind), it’s incredibly racist. I’m well aware that mid-1800’s America was racist from top to bottom, so I don’t need the extended Noble Savage trope embodied by Queequeg for the first hundred pages. Yes, Ishmael befriends him despite his strangeness, but in a particularly jocular and indulging way, like Queequeg is a clever puppy Ishmael is impressed with, instead of a human being. And aside from that, I really didn’t see anything else that could remotely be considered funny.

As a complete narrative, it’s desperately unfocused. The style changes from chapter to chapter with astonishing variety–sometimes it’s a college lecture, sometimes it’s a brief aside from Starbuck’s or Stubb’s POV (which honestly threw me the first time it happened,) sometimes it’s a rambling secondhand story (told at great length) from a crewman on a ship they encounter. Rarely it is actually about what I thought the book was supposed to be about–Ahab and his White Whale.

If I ever decide I want to know how it ends–miraculously it’s never been spoiled for me–I’ll look up the Wikipedia entry to find out, because I am never touching this book again.

2 - The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

#2 – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee

This book was charming from start to finish. The hype surrounding it had already gotten so huge by the time I got it that I was almost afraid I’d be disappointed, but I wasn’t. Monty is such an engaging rogue of a narrator, and he’s lovable despite his many, many flaws–his heart, though often dreadfully misguided, does end up being made of gold.

And the sheer amount of twists and turns in this plot make it an odd combination of unpredictable and completely logical. Each point follows naturally from the one before it, yet by the end of the adventure we’ve wound up so far from both where the story started, and where the characters thought they’d be, that the journey is absolutely wild and marvelous.

Okay, okay, I’m gushing, I know. But I fell in love so hard with Monty and Percy that I can’t wait to reread this!

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