A fan of Herman Melville must have patience. He must appreciate digression and the dissolution of pattern or plan. He must enjoy the sheer rush of words, a proper Biblical torrent of them. And he must be able to find pleasure in philosophical dialogue as much as in wild anecdote. But must he read Clarel? Can I call myself a Melville fan–which I am inclined, most strenuously, to do–without having tackled that blocky bulk of a book? It’s about a group of pilgrims in the Middle East. It consists largely of philosophical dialogues. And it’s five hundred pages long. Many is the time I’ve reached my hand towards it . . . only to pull back and choose to re-read Moby-Dick of The Confidence-Man instead. If you, too, have had these doubts, fear not! The Amateur Reader, author of the Wuthering Expectations blog, has come to our rescue! Along with Nicole of Bibliographing, she is reading Clarel and writing about the book–and the experience of reading it.
more from Levi Stahl at The Quarterly Conversation here.